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Exclusive: Helena Bonham Carter talks 'The Lone Ranger,' 'Little House' dream

Published On: Jul 02 2013 02:07:05 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 02 2013 04:24:52 PM CDT
Helena Bonham Carter in 'The Lone Ranger' 3

Walt Disney Pictures

Helena Bonham Carter in "The Lone Ranger."

From "The King's Speech" and "Les Miserables" to the seven films she's done with her longtime partner and professional collaborator Tim Burton, there's no question that Helena Bonham Carter makes the most of all of her roles, pouring her heart and soul into everything she does.

And in the case of Red Harrington -- a feisty Old West madam in "The Lone Ranger" -- the revered actor gives it some extra leg, too.

"It's a good part, even though it's tiny. I couldn't pass up being a peg-legged whore with a gun in her leg," the wonderfully blunt Bonham Carter told me with a laugh in a call from London.

In an exclusive interview for the U.S., Bonham Carter told me that the part of Red "so up her street," because apart from her special gun accessory, she gets to dress up in wonderfully flashy period clothing.

Plus, how often do you play a madam and get a chance to pay tribute to the film icon who famously said, "Come up and see me sometime?"

"Victorian-era prostitutes always wore the nicest clothes that were so full of color, so I knew from the costume standpoint, I'd be bliss-filled -- and the role gave me a chance to do a bit of Mae West," Bonham Carter enthused.

Opening in theaters Wednesday, "The Lone Ranger" tells through the point of view of Cherokee Indian warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp), the origins story of the famed masked man, who transforms from John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of law, into the legend of justice known as the Lone Ranger.

Red comes into play in the story when she reveals that Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) -- the sadistic villain the Lone Ranger and Tonto are hunting -- is the outlaw responsible for the loss of her right leg.

"The Lone Ranger" teams Bonham Carter with longtime friend and co-star Depp for the sixth time. The big difference in this go-round, however, is that the two are working under the auspices of Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski instead of Burton.

"It was kind of funny at first working without Tim -- it felt like we were missing something," Bonham Carter observed. "But then it quickly fell into place. Gore obviously has a long friendship with Johnny, too -- they have a jokey shorthand that is a totally different language -- much in the same way Tim and Johnny have a shorthand."

As for her direct experience with the two filmmakers, Bonham Carter found a lot of similarities.

"There's a lightness to Gore and Tim -- they're both very quick," Bonham Carter said. "They know both know what they want. I've never worked with Gore before, but I found out he's so prepared. I've never worked with somebody so prepared. He's so immensely visual and dynamic. Tim and Gore are not totally dissimilar, but obviously, Gore doesn't have curly black hair."

Verbinski told me in a separate interview that the production's cast and crew were smitten by the star's effervescent personality.

"She's just a gem to work with -- she's really nutty, and I mean that in the best way," Verbinski said. "She just makes us all laugh on set and her energy is outrageous. Early on, thinking about that character and trying to figure out who to cast, it hit me that it should be Helena Bonham Carter. There is nobody else. I was thinking, 'No wonder we've been struggling trying to figure out who to cast. She's the one.'"

Verbinski said what makes Bonham Carter a one-of-a-kind is that she's game to take risks with a character.

"She has the willingness to experiment," Verbinski said. "With some veterans, they come on and do their one thing, but Helena is willing to try stuff, move around, adjust and play with the character at bit."

In this instance, the two-time Oscar nominee was willing to play around with full size prosthetic leg that encased some real firepower within.

"What I learned, which was slightly horrifying, was just how empowering and how fun it is to shoot a gun -- and when it's actually attached to your body, it's extraordinary," Bonham Carter, said, laughing.

"It was really fun, because I had three different legs to work with," she added. "I had a wrap-around fiberglass thing, one to strap on, and the one I had for the actual shooting. It was this huge leg that was super-heavy, and it had all of the mechanics of a gun inside. It cost about $40,000, and was beautifully made and engraved."

With any luck, Bonham Carter said she'll get her hand on one of the legs as a memento of the production.

"I did say way back to (producer) Jerry Bruckheimer that 'I'm keeping the leg,'" Bonham Carter quipped. "Gore had a lot of other things to do, but at one point he did swear on his life that when it came to it, I was getting one of the legs."

Trip back to the prairie

While "The Lone Ranger" marks her first time in a Western, she said she's not exactly a stranger to the genre.

"I was brought up on them in the '70s on Saturday television. All my childhood I remember watching Westerns, but probably because of the influence of my brothers because they had first choice of the telly because they're older than me," Bonham Carter, 47, remembered. "We watched shows like 'The High Chaparral' and all the old films like 'High Noon.'"

Bonham Carter said her Western-flavored favorite was the classic TV series "Little House on the Prairie," which was set in the northern environs of Walnut Grove, Minn.

"Honestly, I wanted to be Laura Ingalls in my childhood. I was desperate to be Half Pint," Bonham Carter confessed. "I watched it all the time. I can't wait until my daughter Nell gets older so I can force-feed her the 'Little House' books."

In the meantime, Bonham Carter will be keeping herself busy preparing for the live-action adaptation of "Cinderella," in which she was recently cast to play the Fairy Godmother; and filming "Turks & Caicos," a BBC movie she's filming with Ralph Fiennes and Winona Ryder. In addition, she's anxiously awaiting the television debut of the BBC production "Burton & Taylor," where she stars as screen icon Elizabeth Taylor.

And if Bonham Carter somehow gets her druthers, she'll find a "Little House on the Prairie" movie somewhere in her future.

"I joked with Michelle Pfeiffer on 'Dark Shadows' about doing a grown-up version of 'Little House,'" Bonham Carter beamed. "She said she could be Nellie Oleson and I could be the grown-up Half Pint. I'll play her with braces and pigtails."