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The King's Speech - Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush interview

The King's Speech

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HELENA Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush talk about some of the issues surrounding The King’s Speech, such as gaining an insight into the royal family, meeting the real-life Queen Mother and overcoming stage fright professionally in their own careers.

Q. Helena, did your views of the British monarchy change at all during filming? And how much did you know about this period in history beforehand?
Helena Bonham Carter: No [laughs]. I was aware that he had a stammer but I was unaware to the extent of how chronic it was so what I think this film shows is a whole completely fresh angle on a very famous period of history. For us, the abdication came very close to being a proper crisis in the monarchy. So, the pressure on this man and the personal crisis was new to me. What I also thought was interesting was that it’s a story about the most reluctant king.

He didn’t want to be king and I suspect that Edward VIII didn’t want to be king either… [because of] the duty, the responsibility, and the sheer hugeness of the job. I certainly would never want to be royal – even though I effortlessly am at times! Actually, that was partly why I did play it because I knew I could indulge in being queen [laughs]. So, he (Colin) was king and I was queen and we could behave outrageously and it would be accepted – “she’s getting into her part”.

Q. You’ve played a few queens lately…
Helena Bonham Carter: I have and they are really enjoyable! I just do queens. It’s enjoyable to put it on and pretend but then you can take the crown off and sling it across the room… you don’t have to be a nice smiling one. She, the Queen Mother, was extraordinary because she was a professional public figure and an expert at it, but she had the character and confidence [too]. She married a man who was not born to be king, and wasn’t really constitutionally meant to be king, just in the way he was built, so you get that and then you have to do a job you’re not suited to. But luckily I think he drew upon her confidence… where he lacked it. It was a true partnership in that there was a symbiotic thing going on – she was the classic woman behind the man. Sadly, it wasn’t called The Queen’s Speech, it was called The King’s Speech and it was about the man behind the man and I’m just in the background.

Q. And Geoffrey, as a colonial, from a country that has rather mixed feelings about the monarchy, did it warm you more to the monarch?
Geoffrey Rush: Yes, I’ve always had an intriguing and fascinating obsession with the whole dynasty of British royalty, back a millennia and a bit, the complexity and the history and the shaping of the various houses, the sometimes bloody passing on of a weirdly-claimed lineage. I suppose the House of Windsor, for me, was the first reality TV show. I remember the first time they let the camera into the palace, which must’ve been the late 60s/early 70s, it was a sort of At Home With The Windsors, probably the beginning of the demystifying, I just found intriguing. I’d like my country to be a bit more adult and independent, but I do find the presence of Royalty and monarchy in contemporary life still intriguing.

Q. How are you with public speaking, have you ever experienced stage fright?
Helena Bonham Carter: I’m suffering from stage fright right now. I don’t like making speeches and this is not my idea of complete joy sitting up here [at a press conference], much as you’re all lovely [smiles]. I’m the kind of introvert actor who likes putting on other people’s clothes and pretending to be somebody else, which is completely crazy choice of profession. So, I don’t enjoy public speaking and I have every sympathy for anyone who has to do it and doesn’t enjoy it.

The King's Speech

Q. And Geoffrey?
Geoffrey Rush: I get asked to do a lot! I’m a patron of the film festival in Melbourne and ambassador for the Melbourne symphony orchestra and a few more public things like that. I’ve discovered now I prefer to prepare a few notes or actually write the speech so I can really hone it down to hopefully be entertaining, try and get a laugh at least by the second line, and then say what you need to say. The only experience I’ve had, in the early 90s I was working in the theatre and I went through a very bad period, 3 or 4 years, of dread inducing panic attacks before going out on stage and then I got an international film career and they sort of disappeared [laughter]. I think that was the cure. I heard this thing from Seinfeld on the plane. He said, do you know, more people have a fear of speaking than a fear of death. So at a funeral, most people would want to be the person in the coffin rather than the person delivering the eulogy!

Q. Helena, did you ever meet the Queen Mum?
Helena Bonham Carter: I did meet her, I think she came to the premiere of A Room With A View, when I was very young, all those centuries ago. I got what most people perceive, this great grace and she was great about being gracious. She always had that cloud of charming vagueness, but underneath it, having read about it, she had a huge amount of inner strength. Cecil Beaton said she was a marshmallow made by a welding machine! And he was a great friend. So, I thought if I can try and get that duality.

Q. When you’re playing a character like this do you try them on at home?
Helena Bonham Carter: Yes, otherwise they wouldn’t be any fun. Certainly in this case, you’re playing a real person so you have a real responsibility so I did read the William Shawcross a bit, and that got a bit samey to be honest, Hugo Vickers wrote an unauthorised biography and I read that. I didn’t actually have that long, I only had two and half weeks and I was playing a witch in Harry Potter at the same time. In fact, I don’t think I ever said ‘yes’ to this job.

My son, who is six, said on one occasion: “Mummy, do you have to be the witch or the Queen tomorrow?” And I was like: “That’s a good question!” I had the teeth for the witch, and she’s very screamy, so that was quite exhausting, so it was nice to have the weekends off as the Queen. So, anyway, you do all the reading but ultimately you have to serve the story. So, I took what was relevant, and I watched a bit. Obviously, I don’t look like her I hope, not that I mean that in a disrespectful way! I mean in her latter yes, I mean … oh, Jesus … dig, dig, dig. And Colin doesn’t really look like him [George] but you try and capture some kind of essence.

Read our review of The King’s Speech

Read our interview with Colin Firth