Helena Bonham Carter Talks About “Corpse Bride”

Helena Bonham Carter on Her Initial Involvement in “Corpse Bride:” “Well, first of all he gave it to me to read, I think just because I’m a friend obviously. I made a child with him – so he just wanted me to read it anyway, you know, just to see what I thought. And I did think it was a beautiful script and really moving. Actually, a brilliant script. And that’s the thing with animated films – I often feel that puppets get the better parts compared to us normal actresses. But, so he gave me that and then he wanted me to play Victoria, actually. He let it slip that, ‘You know, would you be interested in playing…?’ ‘Of course, you know I’d love to.’

He wanted me to play Victoria and I was kind of like, ‘Hmm,’ because it was sort of… Victoria was sort of [the] drama ingénue [and I] kind of did that, you know – to death.
I felt like I was going to be type cast as a puppet as well. He said, ‘Well who do you want to play?’ I said, ‘Well, Corpse Bride.’ So then he went away and thought about it and then he came back and he said, ‘You know what? I’ve been thinking about it and, yeah, yeah, I could… But, you know, in animation we kind of need to, I mean would you ever think of any…’ He did all these abandoned sentences [and] went on and on and on. And finally I said, ‘You want me to audition, don’t you?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’

So I went off and did my little audition and, luckily, two weeks later… Because nothing was said between us for weeks, I thought, ‘Is he going to mention it?’ And then finally he came up to me very solemnly into my house. We have the same house, it’s just a weird house with my bed and then his bed. And he came in – it was kind of like a sweet marriage proposal, you know? ‘We would like be very honored if you would consider playing the role of Corpse Bride.’”

Helena Bonham Carter Explains Her Approach to Playing Corpse Bride: “I think it’s just the same with any part. You try and find the human aspect in it. But it’s just a part of you.

…What I loved about playing the corpse is that obviously somebody else got to do the physical part. It appeals to the part of me that likes playing character parts and getting the chance to get away from my own physicality. But you still have to make it real and human.”

On Providing Feedback Before the Start of Production: “He would talk about it. I would say pretty much when we sort of first got together he started talking about this story that had been percolating around – and he’d actually designed. There was a real Corpse Bride, which we still have, which is the original one. But that must be about 10 or 11 years old now. She’s in really bad shape actually. …She’s on his desk. And then all his designs and things, and he was slowly drawing all the characters. I remember when he literally drew skeletons. You know, the skeleton band and so we’d just talk about it. But, you know, I don’t think I put anything particularly into it, and I certainly don’t assume that I’m going to be part of something until he asks me.”

The Nitty Gritty of Recording Her Voice for “Corpse Bride:” “I think just because of scheduling it’s quite hard to get anyone in the same room at the same time. We were all on our own, like in little booths, and they bring in an actor. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the actor that you’re [working with]. You know, I didn’t do one-liners opposite Johnny [Depp]. I just did it opposite a young man called Victor. A small 6-inch man called Victor. So you always have somebody to act opposite. You have to have something to react to. First off, they animate to you. You’re kind of providing the score, I think, to which they’re choreographing everything.”

On Working With Danny Elfman on the “Tears to Shed” Song: “I loved it because I’ve always wanted to be in a musical and no one would let me up till now. And so I had these two verses and I’ve always been an admirer of Danny and his music. I just think he has genius but he’s such a nice [guy]. He’s a real modest man and also he’s a great teacher. And he’s a singer. I mean, I think he’s not given enough credit. His number ‘Bonejangles’ in this thing – he’s got such a terrific voice and you forget he was in Oingo Boingo. But he’s such a great singer himself so we just went and did a couple of sessions in the recording thing. He taught some really good things like, ‘Stop thinking about the notes.

You’re being too reverential about the notes. Just act it, think it.’

We tried all different ways. He swears he didn’t have to twiddle too many knobs for me. He didn’t have to do the… Because you can actually have a pitch button, you know, to get people on pitch. He also said I had exactly the same range as Marlene Dietrich. But then having said that maybe I don’t have the legs to play her. (Laughing) But he said, ‘You’d make a great Marlene if anyone…’ You know, vocally – maybe in stop-motion.”

On Frequently Collaborating with Partner Tim Burton: Bonham’s sense of humor and quick wit was apparent throughout the press conference, no more so than when Carter spoke about getting cast in Burton’s films. “I hope I don’t just [get cast] because I sleep with a guy he gives me a part. But you know what? Actually it’s quite the opposite. Because I sleep with him he asked me to audition, you know? So it obviously doesn’t work for me.”

Helena Bonham Carter on Working with the Same Director Multiple Times: “I definitely like working with the same person twice – and three times and four times – particularly if they’re Tim, because he’s pretty good. And also, like on a film it takes a few months, or a couple of months or even weeks. So by the end of the – and it goes with not only the director but everybody involved – it takes such a long time just to get to know somebody and trust someone and work out how they communicate and what they want and dah, dah, dah, and feel safe with them. It’s you have to start right back at the beginning with a new job, you know what I mean? Why does Johnny [Depp] and Tim work and Danny [Elfman] and the whole lot of us seem to be just a bit too bordering the incestuous. It’s like, ‘oh, god, it’s the same shebang again.’ But for all of them it feels like you’re never going to be able to repeat yourself because everybody wants something different. You all grow together and evolve together and they all feel safe together. Plus it’s fun. You get to see each other.

I’m glad I was in ‘Charlie’ and in ‘Corpse Bride’ – apart from personal reasons – the parts themselves. I don’t think I’d ever do anything, and Tim would never ask me to do anything – he’d never ask me if it was inappropriate.”

Helena Bonham Carter Doesn’t Think Tim Burton’s Stories are Dark: “You know I argue that, and may be that I’ve lived with him too long, but I wouldn’t say it’s that dark, you know? I mean, it’s about death but actually it’s an immensely hopeful outlook. Because all the people in the land of the dead have a great [time]. They’re colorful; they’re having fun. And the end is very poetic and hopeful and beautiful. He’s got a black sense of humor and an un-politically correct sense of humor.

Put it this way – I’m just so glad he gets it out of his system. Sometimes I look at his little notepad and he just jots around and sketches incessantly. And then sometimes I go like, ‘Oooh, a bit dark…’ You’re right, he has a bit of a dark thing going on but it’s always funny.”