Helena Bonham Carter once said she felt like screaming every time someone used the word ”alabaster” to describe her skin. It was 1986, and the young star of the period pieces A Room With a View and Lady Jane was being hailed as the quintessential 19th-century pale, fragile naïf. The 26-year-old British actress has since come to terms with her distinctive turn-of-the-century looks or she wouldn’t be costarring in Howards End and Where Angels Fear to Tread, both adaptations of E.M. Forster novels. In fact, she has now appeared in four films based on books by the acclaimed British author.
Director James Ivory first got the idea to cast Bonham Carter as the passionate Helen in Howards End while directing her unbilled cameo in Maurice (1987). ”I was in this very bohemian-looking costume I’d picked out,” she remembers, ”and Jim was staring at me, saying, ‘I’m trying to figure out if you’re old enough to look credibly pregnant playing Helen.”’ By the time he started work on Howards End three years later, she was ready.
Bonham Carter expects to be in for some jokes when Howards End opens in her native London. ”I’m a genre unto myself there,” she says. ”If a period film opens and I’m not in it, the critics write, ‘And the Helena Bonham Carter role is played by…’ Period movies are my destiny. I should get a few ribs taken out, because I’ll be in a corset for the rest of my life.”