- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2015

Helena Bonham Carter feels it’s important that the women she portrays are both family-oriented and educated. Accordingly, she plays Dr. Clair, an entomologist in “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet,” opening Friday in the District.

“It’s nice to have women that have two identities,” the twice-Oscar-nominated English actress told The Washington Times from Europe. This is more satisfying, she said, than merely “playing a woman who’s just there because she’s the mother of the protagonist.”

Based on the book, “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” follows the ingenious titular character (Kyle Catlett), a Montana boy with a passion for science whose invention catches the notice of the Smithsonian in Washington. After tragedy befalls young T.S., he makes the unwise decision to travel — alone — across the continent to the nation’s capital.

“I think it’s arguable that she should have been concentrated not on her bugs but more on her son,” Miss Bonham Carter said. “And she is so absent-minded, that’s why … what happens happens.”

The film is directed by French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose “Delicatessen” and “Amelie” entailed elements of magical realism. Miss Bonham Carter, 49, says that Mr. Jeunet’s artistic aesthetics jived with her own.

“Definitely his POV and his magic … the way he sees the world, and also the way he portrays it totally enchanted me,” she said.

Mr. Jeunet wrote the role of Dr. Claire specifically with Miss Bonham Carter in mind.

Mr. Jenuet has been working in Hollywood since 1997’s “Alien Resurrection,” during which his limited English led to communications problems between director and actors and crew. While his grasp on English has markedly improved in the years since, Miss Bonham Carter, whose mother is French, was able to switch languages on-set as needed.

“I would make him try and communicate in English, but if it really was a problem, then we’d do it in French,” she said. “He’s a clown, Jean-Pierre. He’s very, very fun. I understood him anyway without him speaking. I knew what he wanted.”

Miss Bonham Carter is herself a mother of two with her former partner, director Tim Burton. As Dr. Claire is both a mother and a scientist, Miss Bonham Carter had unique insights to the issue of working mothers.

“When people say that a mother shouldn’t work, I think [that] is completely selfish,” she said. “I have to work, otherwise I’d go bonkers.”

When asked if she mentored young Kyle Catlett on the Alberta, Canada, location — subbing in for Montana — Miss Bonham Carter cautioned that while she’s happy to talk shop with fellow thespians, show business is a career one should consider carefully.

“I think it’s an awful profession to enter in as a child, or even as an adult, frankly, so good luck to anyone who survives,” she said, adding she advises aspiring actors to have a backup plan “just in case.”

Strong words from an actress who was considered so promising that Cambridge University’s drama school turned her down allegedly for fear she wouldn’t complete her coursework. Miss Bonham Carter, a veteran of such films as “Fight Club,” “Sweeney Todd,” “The King’s Speech,” the Harry Potter franchise and dozens more, laughs off the assertion, claiming this was perhaps an invention of the Merchant-Ivory team, who cast her in 1985’s “A Room With a View” when she was all of 19.

“I just think they turned me down because I wasn’t a good enough actor,” she demurred. “I think … because I had done … ‘A Room With a View,’ there was a cynicism I wouldn’t necessarily stay for the three years if I got another job,” she said. “As it was I was glad they turned me down, because I got to carry on acting.

“As my dad said, you can always go to university, but you can’t manufacture a break or a hit.”

As “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” revolves around the premise of a young child simply up and walking off, it’s natural to inquire if Miss Bonham Carter ever felt like going on walkabout in her younger days.

“I got to the bottom of the drive and then sat on the flint,” she recalled. “I was very angry. I didn’t survive long, and I came crawling back. I think it started to rain.”

Incredibly, for such a seasoned actress, Miss Bonham Carter said: “I haven’t watched many movies in my life, unfortunately. I tend to just make them.”

When asked if she might like to appear in another film that allowed her to sing, as she did in “Sweeney Todd” with Johnny Depp, Miss Bonham Carter laughs heartily.

“Oh I would love it,” she said. “Can you ask around if anyone will cast me? I don’t think anybody else wants to hear me sing, especially the two children I have.”

“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” premieres Friday at the District’s Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market and the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax, Virginia.

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