The Interview: Helena Bonham Carter

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The Independent Online

Helena Bonham Carter, 35, first squeezed into period costume for her role in Lady Jane. A high profile career in corsets followed, including, famously, A Room with a View, Howard's End, Where Angels Fear to Tread and Wings of the Dove. However, during the last five years she has moved into the 21st century, notably with her role as a depressive self-help group addict in Fight Club. Her latest incarnation is as a glamorous chimpanzee in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes. She lives in North London.

Why did you decide to play an ape?

I couldn't say no. It was the most bizarre, absurd and ridiculous offer I'd ever had. Tim told me I was the first person he had thought of to play Ari. How could I turn him down?

Did he explain why he had you in mind?

Tim needed someone who didn't have to use words to express their feelings. I always wanted to do a silent role, because I think I'm much better when I don't speak. The eyes are possibly the most important tool in film acting and as I was wearing a mask they were all I had to work with.

Could you relate to her?

Absolutely, she is basically a liberal human rights activist and is disgusted with the way humans are treated. She has a strong belief that humans are intelligent and have souls. I'm from a dying liberal dynasty, so Ari is just me in a monkey suit. Perfect.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

That I'm very ladylike. People think I'm cultured and intelligent, especially in the States. But I think they assume all British people are that way. To tell you the truth, I drink a lot of Diet Coke, and belch. I've also been known to use the F-word.

Tell us a secret about yourself.

Well, I recently began to write a diary. My grandmother had written her memoirs and they were published. She was a celebrated politician and member of the House of Lords. I lead quite an interesting life so I decided I should try to get something published. I started writing a diary but soon realised that even I was getting bored with what I was saying, so stopped doing it.

Is it true you flunked ape school?

Yes, I'm very embarrassed about it, but I did buckle down and pass eventually. Ape school was hard work – we had to learn the basics of ape anatomy. We spent ages learning how to walk – in a semi-squat with flat feet, bottoms in. It's hard to do that with grace.

How long did the make-up process take?

Four hours every day. It was hell.

Was it uncomfortable wearing a mask all day?

Most things on the whole were difficult to do. Eating – not advisable, unless accompanied by a mirror, because we didn't know where our mouths were. We were completely disabled in some ways, because we also had rubber ears, so we couldn't hear very much, and huge teeth, so we couldn't speak very well.

How did you feel the very first time you looked at your new ape face in the mirror?

In complete shock, and that was only halfway through make up. I was this bald, grey, wrinkled, strange creature. Once I was painted I looked a little better. I had Janet Jackson hair. I personally wanted to look much more ape-like. I had a big problem with having eyebrows, but Tim wanted me to be more human. I was always trying to mess up my hair, smudge my eyes and do everything I tend to do to my own face.

Do you like watching yourself on the big screen?

No, I'm not somebody who enjoys watching myself. I find it's like painting a picture blind. You have this movie running on in your mind of what you think you are doing. And then you see it, and it's usually a far cry from what you've been imagining. It does help, though, when a few years have gone by, and then you can perhaps watch it with a degree of objectivity instead of indulgent self-criticism.

What did the apes do in between scenes?

We all stood very still. That was the Zen of being an ape. We'd say things to each other like, "How's your upper lip?" – they could get unstuck very easily. There were a lot of depressed apes. I was okay – I was pretty laid back. Although I was about to start a support group like in Fight Club – Apes Anonymous. People talking about the agony of sitting still for four hours in the make-up chair.

Are you prepared for the huge fan-base this movie will launch?

I hope we don't disappoint the fans of the original films. But no, I'm not prepared. I'm already getting photos of me as a chimpanzee to sign – it's ridiculous – and it's done with all straightness. You know, please will you sign this?

Are you working on anything at the moment?

No, nothing. Honestly. I'm trying to get a life. I have worked on three films back- to-back in the last year. I think it's about time to see if there is life apart from work.

'Planet of the Apes' is released nationwide on 17 August

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