British Stars Put Film Ahead of Relationship
Calgary Herald, January 17 1999
by Jamie Portman
More than 30 years ago, Elizabeth
Taylor and Richard Burton launched a torrid romance that almost
derailed the filming of Cleopatra and plunged 20th Century-Fox
studio into near bankruptcy. The intensity of the two stars'
affair made international headlines and disrupted production
of what at that time was the most expensive movie in Hollywood
In 1991, a comedy called The
Marrying Man turned into a production nightmare when the love
affair between stars Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger spilled over
onto the set and led to angry confrontations with veteran writer
Neil Simon and director Jerry Rees.
The moral of these stories is
fundamental: if you're a romantic item off screen while working
together on a film, make sure it doesn't cause damage to the
At least, that's the way Kenneth
Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter see it. Which is why they want
to get one thing straight: the fact that they're currently a
"couple" -- and the target of sharp scrutiny by the
British tabloids -- has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact
that they're co-stars of a new movie, The Theory Of Flight, or
with the quality of the performances they deliver.
The bottom line is that they
consider themselves professionals. That means it was their responsibility
to keep their relationship on the back burner during filming.
They also find it ludicrous that
anyone should suppose that actors who have a relationship in
real life will automatically be more credible together on the
"From my point of view,
it would be foolish to think I have a better chance of making
the relationship in this film work because of acting with Helena,"
says Branagh. "My faith in this project started absolutely
with the script."
Branagh says that people have
the strangest ideas about the acting profession. He argues that
if you're a pro about your craft, it shouldn't matter whether
you're acting partner is someone you've known for 10 years or
someone you first met last week.
"Great things can be achieved
if you already have a rapport with someone," he admits.
But he stresses that the same results can be achieved "with
someone you just met this morning."
Bonham Carter, 32, agrees with
Branagh that being a couple in real life doesn't necessarily
lead to a more persuasive relationship on screen. She does admit
that good off-screen chemistry can be a help in front of the
camera, but she also warns of pitfalls -- the kind of pitfalls
that plagued Cleopatra and The Marrying Man. She talks balefully
of performers "taking advantage of a movie set to play out
their couple fantasies."
"You do have to be professional
about it," adds Branagh, 38, who was previously married
to actress Emma Thompson. "You can't allow something like
this to be some kind of excuse for playing out your relationship."
Both actors say that the quality
of their new film was the first consideration when each of them
decided to do it -- not the fact that they would be working together.
Bonham Carter -- diminutive and
forthright, her hair sprouting the rat's nest tangle which is
an off-screen trademark for her -- treats questions about her
relationship with Branagh with a mixture of amusement and exasperation.
"Maybe it's none of my business,"
a reporter asks her at a media session, "but are you two
actually living together?"
"You're right," Bonham
Carter replies sweetly. "It is none of your business."
But she does admit she recently bought a house in London after
years of living with her parents. Branagh won't confirm whether
he's sharing it, but does confess he enjoys puttering about the
In The Theory Of Flight, Branagh
plays a frustrated young artist who experiences a life crisis
and ends up in trouble with the law. Instead of being fined or
going to jail, he is sentenced to community service; that brings
him into contact with Bonham Carter's character, a feisty young
woman in the later stages of Lou Gehrig's disease.
The Irish-born Branagh says the
task facing both himself and Bonham Carter was to make audiences
"believe the central dilemma of these people -- her actual
paralysis and his spiritual paralysis." He believes he can
view the contribution of his co-star objectively.
"She's a very disciplined
and funny professional. I knew that she would commit herself
totally to communicating her character's condition in a way where
people who actually have this condition would feel happy and
well-served. She took that very seriously -- as she did realizing
the other side of the character, which is alive and funny and
provocative and quirky and eccentric and joyful."
Although it's a British film,
The Theory Of Flight has yet to open in the United Kingdom. When
it does, the two actors expect the Fleet Street press to have
a field day.
"We're definitely a target
couple with them," Bonham Carter shrugs. "Individually,
we're targets, too. We both had a rough time with the press before
we were together . . . and it's boring to have these constant
arrows, but inevitable in this kind of situation. But it's also
a sort of protection because it's not connected with who you
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