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Mirror, Mirror: Becoming Elizabeth Taylor

Helena Bonham Carter breaks down her transformation into the violet-eyed screen legend for the TV movie ”Burton and Taylor” (Oct. 16 at 9 p.m. on BBC America) and explains why she brought her own diamonds to the set

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The Persona
Talking to Taylor’s friends (including a goddaughter) helped Bonham Carter understand the icon’s mix of humor and vulnerability. ”She was difficult to capture. You couldn’t just do three things. But that’s what I loved about her. She had as many facets as a blooming diamond!”

The Voice
Watching film clips, Bonham Carter noted how the British-born Taylor changed her accent to fit her surroundings. ”She would go from England to America in one sentence and back,” she says. ”Her vowels were really open. She had [in Taylor’s voice] fuuuun!”

The Face
In addition to shaping her brows and lips with makeup, Bonham Carter wore contacts tinted to match Taylor’s violet eye color. ”I was really sad when I took them out at the end [of the shoot]. All that was left of Elizabeth were these two squashed lenses. I still have them.”

The Hair
The British actress was wary of copying Liz’s look because ”very quickly you could just look like a man in drag,” so the hair team created styles that evoked Taylor without mimicking her. ”We were trying to create an essence — as if Elizabeth and I had a child.”

The Clothes
Helena is also very curvy, so we went with the curves,” says costume designer Susannah Buxton, who has also worked on Downton Abbey. Color played a key role: ”She loved purple. Everything was bold. There was nothing apologetic,” says Bonham Carter.

The Jewels
They were going to cover me in [costume jewelry], and I said, ‘Uh-uh. Elizabeth knew her jewels,”’ says Bonham Carter, who brought in an heirloom diamond hairpin from her own jewelry box and borrowed a tennis bracelet from Cartier. ”You can tell in real life: Boy, those were real.”