Exclusive Q&A: Helena Bonham Carter Plays (Big) Head Games in Alice Through the Looking Glass

By Tim Lammers

Helena Bonham Carter is back and giving everybody a piece of her very large mind again as the Red Queen, Iracebeth, in Alice Through the Looking Glass, the hotly anticipated follow-up to Disney’s blockbuster live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland in 2010. In the film, Bonham Carter reteams with Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Johnny Depp (The Mad Hatter), Anne Hathaway (The White Queen) and the late Alan Rickman (voice of Absolem, the caterpillar-turned-butterfly), and is joined by her Sweeney Todd and Les Misérables co-star Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays Time.

In an online exclusive interview with D23, Bonham Carter discussed her excitement over getting back into the headspace of the Red Queen and working again with some of her wondrous collaborators.

Tim Lammers (TL): Was there a certain amount of reconditioning, vocally, since you screamed “Off with their heads!” quite a bit in Alice in Wonderland?
Helena Bonham Carter (HBC): It turned out to be very exhausting on the first day of production. I thought to myself, ‘I remember how to play this,’ and by lunchtime I didn’t have any voice left because I had been screaming for an hour (laughs). It was fun for a bit, then I realized, “I can’t do anymore and now I’m mute.”


TL: And was it exhausting, physically?
HBC: It was much more exhausting. The Red Queen is an exhausting character to play. I had a lot more to do and I think my part is actually bigger in this film. And, she’s unhappier. Can you believe it? And she’s even angrier.


TL: The Red Queen was taken away to be imprisoned at the end of Alice in Wonderland. Where do we find her in Alice Through the Looking Glass and what are her motivations?
HBC: When we meet her she has been banished to the Outerlands and the only thing she has is time, and the notion of time is personified by Sacha Baron Cohen’s character. I love him and he loves me, but I only really love him because he has an object that I want—the Chronosphere—which you can use to travel through time and turn back time. I want it to travel back in time to get my crown again, but Alice wants it to help out the Hatter and his family… We also find out why she has such a big head.

The White Queen

TL: I can’t imagine anybody reacting well to her head swelling to twice its size.
HBC: In the film, you’ll realize why it totally wasn’t my fault. You find out why it’s so big and who’s to blame. The Red Queen has a huge inferiority complex because of her big head. That has a lot to do with her sister (The White Queen), who’s got a perfect head and is perfect all around. The second film investigates the relationship between the two of them. I want to be queen because I’m the oldest, but Mirana comes and steals my throne and my crown.


TL: How did you wrap your head around playing a character with such a big head?
HBC: When I was first approached to play the role, I spoke with [screenwriter] Linda Woolverton and we talked about the Red Queen having a big head and how angry she was. I played her the age of my daughter, who was 2 at the time. She had tantrums all the time and had no inhibition with her emotions. So in that way, it was fun to play someone who was entirely selfish and has a big head, just like any toddler.

TL: Who does Iracebeth remind you of in Alice Through the Looking Glass?
HBC: It’s a lot of fun because there’s a bit of Miss Havisham [from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations] wrapped up in the Red Queen. She’s been banished to nowhereville and she still thinks she’s queen. There’s a bit of delusion involved. There’s a bit of Sunset Boulevard in there, too. She’s a bit lost in time, clinging on to an illusion.


TL: Alice Through the Looking Glass marks your seventh film with Johnny Depp. I can’t help but think part of the reason you keep doing films together—part of the intrigue is wondering what creative new ideas this guy is going to bring to the table.
HBC: I always wonder what he’s going to come dressed like. I’m deeply envious of his costumes most of the time, and his accessories. He always has tons of accessories and has never been minimal in his tastes and nor am I, frankly. Johnny’s completely eccentric in his choices, so it’s always fun to see what he’s going to do next. He’s completely unpredictable, and that is, of course, if you can tell where he is because most of the time he’s completely unrecognizable.

Mia Wasikowska

TL: Of course, the film also reunites you with Mia Wasikowska. Could you sense any differences in Mia between the first and second films?
HBC: She hadn’t changed that much between the first and second film, even with all the success she’s had. She’s so indelibly sweet and wise. It’s a clever and interesting mix, how she’s so wise and has an old soul, but incredibly, has a naiveté, too, and a modesty. Mia’s so well-adjusted. There’s such a genuine truth to her. She’s grown, but doesn’t seem that much older, visually. As for the rest of us, we had so much makeup on that you couldn’t tell if we aged or not (laughs), but Mia hadn’t really changed that much except she had shorter hair.

Alice and Absolem

TL: Sadly, Alice Through the Looking Glass is Alan Rickman’s last film. When was the last time you saw him?
HBC: It was about 18 months ago in a restaurant and he was sitting with his wife, Rima, and we had a big hug. [After he passed, there was something] about his butterfly character that I said to his wife that I felt was poignant. There was a saying I read, ‘Just when the caterpillar thought it was all over it became a butterfly.’ I love that saying and I thought that applied. I love the idea that maybe he has become a butterfly, not physically, but in that it’s about a transformation. Death is transforming. I don’t think it’s the end, but unfortunately it’s the end of us seeing Alan in his usual shape.

TL: I can’t go without mentioning that one of my favorite film songs in the last year was your “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” as the Fairy Godmother at the end of the credits of Cinderella. That was so terrific.
HBC: There’s a funny story about that. [Cinderella Director] Ken Branagh wanted me to record the song when I was in Shepperton filming Alice Through the Looking Glass. At the end of shooting one day I went to composer Patrick Doyle’s office in full Red Queen makeup to sing “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” [huge laughter]. It was just to check out the key I was going to sing it in, and here I was having a full sing-along in my full Red Queen outfit. Patrick, whom I’ve known for years, was in absolute hysterics. There’s a video of it somewhere.

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