Mel Gibson – drunk one night with Alan (?), home & started quoting sonnets. Alan told Zeferelli months later…
“He’s got huge screen charisma and to sustain that amount of screen time with just your face, he’s got a great unpredictability about him, a sense of danger – he demystifies Hamlet who’s usually played by wimpy men who aren’t sexy… Mel made him more of a carnal man” against all those British people/actors who thought they had more right to the role.
“It was ridiculous. This was on a live TV show & they ask you rather silly questions, particularly on live television, I said as a joke – they said “so do you find Mel Gibson attractive?” and I’m so sick of talking about Mel Gibson and his looks – I mean, sure he’s good looking otherwise he wouldn’t have that image – so I said ‘well actually, if you really want to know, he’s not the perfect male specimen. He’s got a lot more to him.’ They didn’t ask me the more interesting thing like what’s he got. (laughs) Of course, they said: what do you mean he’s not the perfect male specimen. So I said well physically he doesn’t have the perfect body proportionally, which he does, and he’s the first to say it, the first to be embarrassed about his sex symbol image – and it debases him because he owes his success to a lot of other qualities which are far more important than having a good sex body, I mean body – going a bit haywire (laughs) – he’s got a great face and great charm and he’s very, very funny. He’s hysterically funny on set, really goes gaga and he’s a great impersonator, and he made Hamlet funny whereas a lot of others wouldn’t have, and he’s very witty – I think it’s quite refreshing, and having an Italian direct it too. Actually there wasn’t a lot of questions about that.
Loved working with Zef. “He’s very irreverent about the takes which is probably what we needed – he didn’t think twice about cutting off bits and chopping off there, and everyone’s going “ah, you can’t do that” (in US accent) and he just said ‘stuff it, we’re not making it for purists, they can go and see the local Rogets & Co.”
HOW DID YOU FEEL WORKING WITH PEOPLE, AS USUAL, WHO ARE TWICE YOUR AGE?
In that picture I really look the baby, I didn’t realize how young I looked in that. I’m used to it. I’ve always worked with people older than me.
DID FEEL PATRONIZED?
Sometimes, I get a bit pissed off and angry when people patronize me (laughs), a bit like Ophelia frankly, and I’ve always worked with people who are much older and I’ve always got on with people that are much older anyway (says in mature voice) so I don’t find it a problem, and it’s great because you just – there are lots of stories and I’ve never really known any different.
Although lately I’ve worked with people who are my age and it’s good fun – it’s different – being on Where’s Angels and Howards End… which I just did which is another EM Forster with Merchant Ivory – yeah yet another one (laughs). I must have read a few at school, but I just reread Howerd’s End and I much preferred it now. I find I understand them much better coming to work on them as an actor than studying them at school where they didn’t really make much sense and they were quite clinical. You know, ‘oh this is a good quote for the mother/daughter relationships or the bla bla bla relationship.”
FUNKY, MODERN IN GETTING IN RIGHT?
I loved doing Getting It Right. I’d love to do that again.
YOU WERE ALWAYS IN BRITISH ROSE TYPE ROLES
And you know I’m not British at all. I don’t know whether… my mothers half French, half Spanish. My dad’s very British but my mother couldn’t be further from British. (Helena was born in Britain) – she’s very continental and I hardly have the English rose looks. I think at the moment there’s a lack of it so they think oh we’ll just shove Helena Bonham Carter into this role. English roses have blonde eyes and blue hair … I mean blue eyes and blonde hair. It might be the skin, but even then it’s supposed to be pink and I’ve got this anemic white look.
SO YOU DON’T THINK YOU’RE AS BEAUTIFUL AS YOUR CO-STARS SAY IN MOVIES ?
I didn’t say I wasn’t beautiful! (laughs) I don’t think they have anything else to say because all my parts like Room – all that was required was for me to be visually attractive, and innocent. Frankly, if you’ve got the looks – well I don’t have a great body so I’m not going to be the sort of sex symbol… or I haven’t been asked to….
WHAT’S NOT GREAT ABOUT YOUR BODY?
I’m short and I don’t have long legs. I think frankly it is sexy to have extra weight etc. but then you go and see something like Thelma and Louise and there they are with these 6 foot, absolutely unbelievable – in America they perfect this, but it’s an unreal female body. It’s nothing to do with the female image – it’s sort of like this boy, androgynous, with no hips or child bearing thihgs. It’s all sort of selling of this android thing. It’s all sort of selling of this android thing.
WHAT DO YOU THINK DIRECTORS FIND SO ENGLISH ABOUT YOU?
It’s a very upper middle class look, an England that’s gone, a sort of pre First World War.
YOU DON’T FEEL CONTEMPORARY? YOU BEHAVE MUCH LIKE YOU ACT, GRACEFUL, SOFT SPOKEN.
Well, I can’t appreciate that. It’s probably just my background and education and accent that’s upper middle class… but it’s not representative of Britain now. I’m not an aristocrat. This is what is bugging. Should we just choose our food… grilled tuna without oil and an assortment of vegetables, as well as a tomato and onion salad, Perrier water, but without any dressing on the salad.
I know they had high teas in Jane Austin’s day but we never do. I’ve got to get this straight because lots of people get it wrong – I’m not this aristocrat with land and a title. We don’t have that. We’re not that level at all. I mean we do have a title because my great grandfather was made a prime minister, and my grandmother because of what she did in politics, she was awarded a what is it? (also couldn’t remember the word for childbearing). We’re not aristocratic, just come from a comfortable upper middle class background.
YOU DIDN’T GO TO OXFORD?
No, I didn’t. I was about to do Oxbridge when I got Lady Jane which was the first film I did about Lady Jane Grey.
WHICH ONE ACTED WITH HUGH GRANT?
I didn’t really act with Hugh. I was just hanging around set when he was in Maurice just watching it being made and I just had a 2 second extra bit because they needed somebody who had an equity card. But I got to know Hugh because of Maurice and Merchant Ivory. I don’t think it’s particularly a privilege or an advantage to be upper class (perceived as such). Being in the theater of film business – basically, any politics that are going to be left so you have to keep on apologizing for the fact that one’s upper class, and certainly with my name – it’s definitely meant that I’m typecast. People are reluctant to use me in other roles… Some of the cousins do hyphenate it (surname) but not us.
WHAT DO YOU OLDER BROTHERS DO?
Edward and Thomas are both investment managers. They are 4 and 6 years older than me. Nobody else in the family is in the drama business. My mom’s a psychotherapist and my dad’s a retired merchant banker.
SO HOW DID YOU GET INTO IT?
I just wanted to. I think in our class at school there was a sort of fever of wanting to become an actress and a lot of rivalry (laughs). I’m still a great friend with one of them who has become and another one who’s about to. They both went the long way around, and probably the more sensible route of going to university and then drama school. I never went to drama school. I thought about going but in the end I decided I’m working and learning – and it’s one thing of learning and training, but then also getting the jobs and getting the break – and once you’ve got the break you can’t really afford to ignore it.
ARE THERE OTHER THINGS YOU WANT TO DO?
There are. I think everybody’s got to diversify, keep one’s interests up, but it’s all a bit shadowy. I want to do other things, probably connected with acting – nothing specific, I won’t think ‘now I want to become a producer.’ What’ll happen is that I’ll end up producing by mistake. I don’t know really but I know I’d like to contribute more on a different level than just acting. I think also it’s quite dangerous to just rely on acting – it’s fickle and it’s part-time.
ARE ALL THE MERCHANT AND IVORY PEOPLE GOOD FRIENDS?
Yes, I stay good friends with Isabel and Jim, and Rupert because we keep on doing so much work together. Merchant and Ivory are very into re-employing people that they’ve worked with before just simply by the fact that they like them and it’s exciting to work with the same people again – just made Howard’s End with very much the same crew, wardrobe and hair departments, and you get the language – usually it’s only by the end of the film that you’ve gotten to know everyone and then you start exploring things… certainly with the Edwardian era… and since I’d done Room and Where Angels I was very anxious to not repeat things and although it’s the same period, it’s a different look and they know the period so back to front that they go beyond it just being a period look