First-time Oscar-nominated actresses Helena Bonham Carter and Julianne Moore had only just met when they sat down after the Academy Award nominees luncheon and talked to each other and The Times about their movies, their nominations, the perils of publicity, who they think was overlooked by the academy, bad reviews, Hollywood and themselves.
Each of them--one is British, one American--has arrived at this prominent juncture by doing their best work in distinguished independent films rather than in big-budget studio features, and their nominated roles reflect the kind of choices both have made up to now.
Bonham Carter is up for best actress for her role in Miramax's "The Wings of the Dove" (directed by Iain Softley) as Kate, the fallen aristocrat scheming to win both a man and another woman's fortune against the backdrop of Edwardian England and Venice. It's another "corset drama," as she calls them, adding to the list of literary adaptations for which she has become best known, including "A Room With a View," "Howards End" and "Where Angels Fear to Tread."
She also starred as Mary Shelley in the 1994 Kenneth Branagh film "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" and subsequently became involved with Branagh romantically.
Moore, by contrast, has undertaken a wider range of riskier character parts. She's nominated for best supporting actress for her performance as the coke-addicted yet maternal porno actress Amber Waves in New Line's "Boogie Nights," director Paul Thomas Anderson's breakout independent feature that revealed the lesser known family aspect of the '70s pornography industry.
Previously seen in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Steven Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd Street," Moore also appeared in the low-budget 1997 film "The Myth of Fingerprints," directed by Bart Freundlich, with whom she had her first child (a boy, Caleb, in November). She is currently starring in the Coen brothers' "The Big Lebowski."
Bonham Carter, 31, is the great-granddaughter of World War I Liberal Party Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. She did not attend university but went straight from London's exclusive Westminster school into acting professionally.
Moore, 36, grew up on the East Coast, graduated from Boston University and began her career acting in regional theater before landing a role as a good and evil twin on the daytime drama "As the World Turns."
After arriving separately for the interview in a room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the two posed easily together for pictures, then took seats side by side on a couch.
Question: Did they lecture you at the luncheon about keeping the acceptance speeches short?
Bonham Carter: Yes. We had the lecture. It's imperative to be entertaining and brief. It's not good enough to win, you also have to be funny.
Moore: I know, I thought, "Oh, my God, to be brief and be funny on top of it?"
Bonham Carter: It's hideous. It's an actor's dream and nightmare, I think. If you get an award, yes, but then you have to stand there with the biggest audience you'll ever get and you're least equipped at that moment to be coherent.
Q: And I would think the excitement of the moment would negate whatever preparation you'd done--although an actor might be accustomed to having to deliver on the spot.
Moore: You never get used to it.
Bonham Carter: I suppose some people do like standing up in front of an audience, but they're a different sort of actor.
Moore: I think very few actors do like to stand up and just talk. That's very rare.
Q: But isn't being able to command attention what you do as an actor?
Moore: It's really a different skill, I think every once in a while there are actors who are great at it.
Bonham Carter: I prefer to get away from myself [in roles]. Like Julianne does in her character parts. Of course, I never get them. But the whole blather that comes with the Oscar thing, the sort of personality thing that you go on the chat shows, that's completely different from portraying a character.
Moore: And the more known you are, the more difficult it becomes to maintain some mystery of the character. But then you can't get a job unless you're well-known!
Bonham Carter: No, it's all a big paradox. You get to be so well-known you don't need any publicity. But then they know everything about you.
Bonham Carter: But you're quite versatile-looking. So you could change characters and not be recognized. On my actor's envy list is anyone with lighter skin, with fair eyes and not dark hair because they're more versatile than me or have the potential of being versatile.
Moore: Really, you think so?
Bonham Carter: Well I think on the whole. I think I've got a particularly bold look and I've got the old eyebrows.
Q: I remember you saying when we last talked that you thought it unfair that reviewers often described you as perfectly suited to play English aristocrats when in fact your family heritage was more diverse. Your mother is Spanish-French?
Bonham Carter: Yeah. I'm not exclusively English or aristocratic. [to Moore] But you're not typecast, are you?
Moore: I think one of the things that happens actually is that I get scripts for whatever I've done last.
Bonham Carter: So, you get the ex-drug addict?
Moore: Yeah [laughing]. Or the mother thing, from "Nine Months." I think that's one of the things that happens in American movies, you're identified by what you've most recently done. They have a very short memory.
Bonham Carter: But then what I've done is mostly what I've done my whole career.
Q: When you were here to promote "Frankenstein," I think the headline on the story in The Times was something like "Helena Bonham Carter Says Goodbye to the 19th Century."
Bonham Carter: Yes, well I've always been saying goodbye, it's just that [laughter] it's been a perpetual goodbye. You know, I have done other things, but they've not been successful as the corset dramas. And also, people want to have a label for you.
Q: Now, have each of you seen the other's movie?
Bonham Carter: It's a mutual congratulation time, is it?
Moore: She's wonderful. I mean, really, really wonderful. I mean it. I know, I know . . .
Bonham Carter: [Laughing] Yes, carry on.
Moore: No, it's really subtle and very tragic, it's lovely, and [her performance] is the whole movie.
Bonham Carter: Well, I'm on screen most of the time.
Moore: You say, "I'm on the poster."
Bonham Carter: I'm on the poster.
Moore: But ultimately I thought the film was her tragedy. Very, very sad.
Bonham Carter: Part of it, as far as getting awards is getting the roles. I think with her [Kate], the success of it perhaps has been as much Iain Softley's doing and the writing. And the fact that she seems very morally ambiguous. People are intrigued by that. She was so manipulative.
Moore: Yeah. I think what's interesting about her is that she's complex, like most people are. People are not like most actors in the movies. And when we do see something that really is close to life, it's confusing.
Q: Helena, what about seeing Julianne in "Boogie Nights"?
Bonham Carter: She was crap [laughter].
Moore: [laughter] I hate her.
Bonham Carter: She's a sad character, wasn't she? She was very, very [screwed up]. But you're great at [screwed up].
Moore: That's my specialty.
Bonham Carter: I like [screwed up] people. I think it'd be great to have a [screwed up] part come one's way. But how can I say something intelligent and not just be blandly admiring? How did you feel about the whole nudity thing?
Was it fun to do?
Moore: Yeah, it was fun. Don't let me talk about it, I thought you were going to.
Bonham Carter: I loved your moment as you came out after the child and getting the divorce money, trying to get that, coming out of the court. . . . That was awfully good. It's a desperate world, though. It seemed to be so much about people who were so lost. And yet you were going to be the mother. They needed a mother. Did you go and meet lots of people like that?
Moore: [long pause, laughter] I don't want to talk about it. You know why? Because I've had to be interviewed so much about what I did on "Boogie Nights." I feel like I've been talking about it for a year.
Q: I've heard at least one prominent actor say that he didn't go to the movies very often because "if it's good I'm jealous and if it's bad I'm bored."
Moore: God, I'd hate to have dinner with him.
Bonham Carter: We're not all like that.
Q: Let's talk about the Oscars and your nominations.
Moore: I realized this morning, there are 10 women nominated out of all the performances this year. You think: Ten, that's not very many people. And there were a lot of people who were wonderful who weren't nominated, too, so when you think how slender this thing is, it is delightful to be acknowledged.
Q: It's not just a cliche?
Moore: No. I mean, I never thought I'd meet Helena. Honestly.
Bonham Carter: It took us an interview to do it.
Moore: [laughter] Here we are talking to the press.
Bonham Carter: Where we can really talk about the things we want to talk about. Of course, they're not publishable.
Q: And I assumed you were telling the entire truth here.
Bonham Carter: I used to read interviews with myself and think, "Oh, that's what I'm like?" Then you begin to figure out that actually it's a different kind of performance. Yes, on one level you're yourself in the interview and when you do Lettermans and Lenos of this world, but you have to perform because you have to protect ultimately your own privacy. And in a way, the further that people get it wrong--certainly in my country--in a funny way it protects your privacy because it's just so not to do with you.
Q: I can see how that might be beneficial unless what was written was cruel or malicious.
Bonham Carter: Of course the British press are constantly cruel and malicious. About two months ago there was this big article about whether I can act or not.
Bonham Carter: Oh, yeah. I mean, I'm sort of a national joke. And even other members of the British press are writing in defending me so it isn't just me being paranoid. You can't take it on or otherwise you'd go bonkers. It's funny though, when people now assume you're happy with the Oscar nomination, but you know what? Getting an accolade is really nice but it doesn't have the same impact as getting a bad review. Get a bad review and you remember, I believe, every single word.
Q: [to Bonham Carter] How do you look back on "Frankenstein" now?
Bonham Carter: I loved doing it. I watched it on video recently and I thought it was a really good movie. It was an extraordinary experience the amount of sheer hatred that came our way when it came out. I mean, it became almost a historic flop before it came out, certainly in England. But I loved doing it. And to be honest, which I said then, I didn't want to really play the part. But in the end I wanted to work with Ken as a director and the whole thing was an adventure.
Moore: I think she's right, yeah. I've never regretted doing a job. Everything you do, you gain knowledge from it. You have a good time.
Q: Tell me about the morning of the nominations.
Bonham Carter: The thing is, one sort of barely knows one's own reaction before one has to start describing that reaction.
Moore: It's true. It happens so suddenly, and then you get a list of the people you're supposed to call to do interviews. They say, "How do you feel?" and you're like, "I don't know, I haven't had a moment to really think about it." And it's such a big deal in this town. If you're in New York or London, it's delayed, but everybody gets up here. Anyway, the baby woke up at 5:20. So . . .
Q: He knew.
Moore: There I was in bed and I was nursing him, just sort of sitting there.
Bonham Carter: That's perfect.
Moore: I know, I know. My boyfriend had gotten up because he wanted to watch it. So he was in the living room watching TV, I'm in bed just thinking, "Please God, just let this be over," I just wanted it to be over. And then Bart came in and told me.
Bonham Carter: It was 8:30 in New York and my mom was with me in a hotel room watching CNN. And my agent was there, too, he wanted to come up and watch it. . . .
Moore: That must have been relaxing, huh?
Bonham Carter: And my mom was so nervous, she was going, "It really doesn't matter, darling, it really doesn't matter."
Moore: That's lovely.
Bonham Carter: Then she was on the ceiling when it happened. And that makes it more real, having a parent there.
Moore: Yeah, my father was the first person to call.
Q: Do you think actors really do vote for what they think are the best performances or for the people they like personally?
Bonham Carter: I think on the whole actually, because I'm a very moral person, I do vote for somebody's performance--unless it's [up against] a really good friend [laughter].
Moore: [laughing] No, but you do. You feel a responsibility.
Q: So who are some of the people you think were overlooked?
Bonham Carter: All the "L.A. Confidential" men, I thought.
Moore: I thought so, too. And "Ice Storm." I thought "Ice Storm" should have been acknowledged in all categories--the movie and Kevin [Kline] and Joan [Allen] and Sigourney [Weaver], Christina Ricci. I mean all of them, they were tremendous. The movie was like, what happened?
Bonham Carter: I haven't seen "The Boxer" yet, but I'm sure . . .
Moore: "The Boxer" was phenomenal, the two of them [Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson] were great. That's the thing, you see these performances and you're like, wow. Leonardo DiCaprio didn't get a nomination when everyone else on "Titanic" did. Why? He was great. It's a little confounding. You have to take it with a grain of salt, you really do. It's a crapshoot.
Q: Even knowing that it's somewhat arbitrary and inexact, it still must be fun.
Moore: It's incredibly flattering, are you kidding?
Bonham Carter: Oh, it's hugely flattering. But it's also very heart-warming. Because this profession is hard, isn't it? All the public see are us congratulating each other on these award shows. What they don't see or read about is when we don't get the part, or the downside. But at the same time I do feel very lucky. Without being falsely modest. I mean to get into the Oscar league it has to be a happy accident of being in a movie with a high profile.
Moore: It has to have achieved a certain stature for anyone to even acknowledge the performances.
Bonham Carter: It has to be well-released. Like "The Boxer" was a badly timed movie. The whole strategy is involved. Depending on what else came out that weekend and how much publicity it gets and the write-ups and, you know. It's all so terrifying.
Q: The timing seemed to be right for "Boogie Nights," didn't it?
Moore: It captured people's imaginations for some reason. Yeah, so you wonder why something like that worked really well and another movie can fall in a sinkhole and disappear.
Bonham Carter: But there's hipness, though, too, and you can't chase after it. You're either hip or you're not. "Boogie Nights" was definitely hip.
Q: I remember you talking about hipness last time you were here and saying that you thought you were very unhip.
Bonham Carter: In fact there was an article quite recently talking about the exact thing: why I was unhip.
Moore: [laughing] That's funny. That's classic.
Bonham Carter: So don't sit too close to me. It might rub off.