Helena Bonham Carter talks to Helen Hoehne about her new role in The Crown
Princess Margaret and her husband, Lord Snowdon, had a very combative and competitive relationship. Season three is certainly an eye-opener into their highly unusual marriage.
Well, they were very, very similar and a lot of people who knew them said that the problem was they were too alike. They both needed the same thing, which was basically they both wanted the most attention. Both of them had to be the star and, as there were two stars in the marriage, they combusted. They were extinguishing each other all the time, instead of letting the other shine.
How intimidating was it to play such a well-known figure? You played the Queen Mother, of course, in The King's Speech, so this was not virgin territory for you.
It's always daunting to play someone who is so well known. It's very difficult to get to the private side and everybody has an opinion about the royal family, everybody. When she was alive, I think people tended to enjoy disliking her and so it's interesting now and what The Crown has done for her PR in a way, because I think Vanessa (Kirby, who played a young Princess Margaret) in the previous two seasons have rehabilitated and rejuvenated her.
I know you consulted with a medium to talk to the late Princess Margaret for advice and approval. What would you have done if she'd said, "I don't want you to play me"?
I would have absolutely said, "Well, tough." And I think she would have respected me for it, too.
How did you come up with the idea of talking to a medium?
I thought it was a good thing to do and a fun thing to do.
Do you do it as part of your normal life?
Sometimes, yes. Not regularly, but this was just out of curiosity. I have met people, mediums, who have these gifts and I just find it fascinating. And I have had some very interesting experiences.
I would sound completely bonkers if I said any more about it.
Are you a fan of the royal family?
I am fascinated by them as individuals because of their dilemmas and the fact that they have this whole other dimension that none of us have to really worry about, which is the public and their position. Their job is to be an institution and how do you function and satisfy that private life too and live a balanced life yet be perpetually public? You're constantly representing and really not belonging to yourself at all because you belong to the people. It's your job that you never have a moment off.
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You mentioned that people might think you're a bit bonkers. Can you talk about the way in which people see you?
I don't even know how I see myself. I think I am utterly normal and sane. Everyone else thinks I am completely insane.
When you're a parent and an actor, it must be strange to be waited on hand and foot on set but then go home and you're cleaning up everyone's messes.
Yes. If you are an actor, you are completely infantilised. You're told what to do, somebody comes and asks you, "Do you need water, food, anything?" You're parented all the time but at home, it's the opposite. You're making the decisions, no one is telling you what to say or what to do.
You have an interesting family – full of politicians and public figures – could you have ever had a "regular" career and worked in a bank, for example?
Actually, my brothers are bankers, they took the practical route. I didn't realise I was actually going to make a living as an actor.
Your great-grandfather was Prime Minister of England – doesn't that put you in a category where you would might have more of an inkling into the royal family a little more than the average person?
People think I'm more aristocratic than I am because of my great-grandfather and it was made a big deal of when I first got into the public eye. And when you're a Prime Minster you get a title as a going-away present but we're not innately blue-blooded. It was something my father used to get annoyed about and he'd say to me, "Why are they making you more aristocratic than you are?" We're upper-middle-class but we're not aristos. My mother's side is more aristocratic but in an Austrian-Jewish-French kind of way, not the English side.
As a mother, what did you want to impart on your kids?
Manners are very important.
Biggest lesson you learned as a parent?
I remember when my first was born and my mother said to me,
Welcome to the world of guilt." Very true.
The Crown, season three, starts on Netflix on November 17.