The Illusion of Effortlessness Requires a Great Effort
Subject: Helena Bonham Carter, 44-year old English actress
Date of Assessment: November 19, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Versatile, ethereal, Burton
Negative Buzzwords: Typecast, overrated, Burton
The Case: Helena Bonham Carter can do what few leading ladies in Hollywood can do. That is, this woman can rock a corset and updo like nobody's business and with far more aplomb than the likes of Keira Knightley. Let's be upfront about the Burton in the room though, for it's simply impossible to ignore the perpetual threesome between Carter, Johnny Depp, and director Tim Burton, the latter of which has also been Helena's "domestic partner" since 2001. Now, would Carter have appeared within several Burton films -- Planet of the Apes; Big Fish; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Corpse Bride; Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Alice in Wonderland -- if she weren't also sleeping with the man in charge? Perhaps not, but if Helena weren't around, who could better fill those ultra-stylized gothic stiletto heels? Certainly not Christina Ricci (who has spent a great deal of her career attempting to override the Wednesday Addams Syndrome, which was necessarily prolonged by her own participation within Sleepy Hollow) or (as a much worse alternative) Winona Ryder. Of course, the question arises whether Depp is subject to the same scrutiny as a favored Burton player; and indeed, the jokes have run rampant in the same sort of regard. Still, teflon Depp generally rises from the ashes while Carter, who holds no less of an impressive resumé, must somehow pay for her own continued involvement.
Not quite fair, is it?
Ordinarily, I'd probably be the first to call out anyone who profits from a romantic relationship with one's boss, but the simple fact of the matter is that Carter is one hellaciously talented lady. So what if she's his so-called muse? Just because these two eventually became domestic partners doesn't make their professional partnership any less worthy than, say, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorseze or Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino. Then again, audiences have hungrily rewarded the Burton-Carter partnership, particularly when it includes the added secret ingredient of Depp. Together, this fruitful threesome has spawned a few of Burton's highest-grossing pics to date with Alice in Wonderland doing the unthinkable by crossing the billion-dollar worldwide threshold. Some would even point out that Carter's Red Queen stole the entire movie out from underneath Depp's rather uninspired take on the Mad Hatter and Hathaway's sleepwalking version of the White Queen.
Ironically, many of Carter's critics complain that this proven and promising actress has fallen victim to typecasting as the latest of Burton's eccentric mad women, yet the past decade has actually freed Carter from her former cinematic sentence. Before Carter turned chronic collaborator with Burton, she was best known as a woman of the classics. As such, Carter participated within adaptations of a few Shakespearean works [Hamlet (as Ophelia) and Twelfth Night], along with the big-screen translation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and (most notably) an Oscar-nominated turn in Henry James' The Wings of the Dove. In the late 1990s, a pivotal change occurred with Carter's unsettling presence in Fight Club, which took Carter out of her former reputation as a corseted aristocrat and positioned her as a versatile actress capable of carrying the role of an anti-heroine and emotionally masochistic girlfriend of Tyler Durden. Shortly afterward, Carter made her long-standing acquaintance with Burton, but it's not as if she hasn't made herself available for other projects as well; instead, she's lately focused upon a well-rounded set of roles, including featured parts in the most recent three installments of the Harry Potter franchise, Terminator Salvation, and a critically-acclaimed performance in Enid.
Perhaps the most telling evidence of Carter's enduring talent can be found in the Oscar buzz that's already circulating for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in The King's Speech. Further, Carter has previously been nominated for a Golden Globe (Sweeney Todd) and a BAFTA (Enid); she's also been celebrated for her roles in A Room with a View, Lady Jane, and Mighty Aphrodite. If you ask me (which, admittedly, you have not), it's about time that Helena Bonham Carter receives recognition as an extraordinarily capable actress who can both turn in the most subtle of performances and, alternatively, crank things up several insane notches. For some readily accessible evidence of Carter's abilities spotlighted within a two-player show, hit the Netflix Instant Watch button for Conversations with Other Women, a fairly engrossing little indie romantic drama (if you're into that sort of thing). Or you can just do what millions of others have already done and stick with enjoying her mainstream fare, which would place you within some awfully good company.
Prognosis: As long as Tim Burton's making movies, Helena Bonham Carter will have a rewarding acting career. But even if Burton retires or the aforementioned relationship hits the skids, Carter will churn out regular appearances on the big screen. It's a "win-win" situation if there ever was one.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.