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Attend the Tale: 'Sweeney Todd' Exclusive with Helena Bonham Carter

On a cold, drizzly day (somewhat suitable, one might say) at the Claridge's Hotel, there was a feeling of excitement in the air that you could cut with a knife as the cast and creative team of the highly-anticipated new movie-musical Sweeney Todd crowded a press junket in London.

In a very special BroadwayWorld exclusive, London reporter Nick Hutson provides a very special Q/A series with the likes of Johnny Depp, renown composer Stephen Sondheim; plus stars  Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, and director Tim Burton and the stars of tomorrow Ed Sanders, Jayne Weisner and Jamie Campbell Bower. 

Stay Tuned as BroadwayWorld brings you even more exclusive content and features on Sweeney Todd! In theatres for limited national release December 21, 2007 and wide January 11, 2008.


The movie now presents another ingenious interpretation of this infamous character.  Helena talked about how she first discovered her when she was only just thirteen.

Helena Bonham Carter: I saw it when I was thirteen; when I first heard it I was thirteen and I loved it.  I loved the score and it was before it had come over it was in America – New York and I loved it.

Contrary to common belief Helena has to audition for any movie she's involved in under Tim's direction.   We asked her what the audition process for Sweeney was like.

Helena Bonham Carter: He (Burton) came to me and said, you know, "I am going to do Sweeney Todd," which we both knew we loved; one of our mutual passions was the musical.  I remember when we were getting together we played it; we courted over Sweeney Todd! So he knew that…he also knew that I've always wanted to learn to sing so he said "Look, how about this: I think you're right for it. You know, I want you to be considered because you shouldn't be not considered just because you go out with me, however you're going to have to audition along with anyone else who wants to." They have to audition anyone who goes up for it because they have to sing and he said "It's up to you" and I said of course I'll go for it because if I don't get the part, at least I'll have learnt to sung or had the voice lessons that I've always wanted to do anyway so I went to a singing teacher. Tim said "On top of that I don't want to have ultimate approval – it's Sondheim who will ultimately cast", so it was scary, I just had no choice because I so loved Sondheim.  I so love the part and I love the material and the music and the lyrics and he's a genius, so I just thought I can't lose.  It's a tall order anyway to learn to sing in three months so I'll have a good excuse if I don't get it so I did it. I auditioned for Tim on video and he didn't talk about it for five weeks…that was tough.  Then he auditioned other people…didn't talk about it…he didn't talk about and then finally he said "You know what, I think you're alright and you can sing this part".  Luckily Sondheim, a week later, saw them and he agreed with Tim.  Also, you know what, I didn't want to be cast if I was not up to it – I would've hated it.  It would have been horrible for the film and horrible for me and horrible for us, so we just had to go through that.

Helena saw the musical when she was thirteen, but what first attracted her to the musical?

Helena Bonham Carter: I think, to be honest, the music.  For some reason viscerally the music.  There's some such beautiful tunes frankly – and there's a yearning and there's a sort of romance to it…and humor.  Songs like "Pretty Women" and "Johanna" and I love "A Little Priest too."  I just love the music and it's so heart rending.

We wondered what her views were on Mrs. Lovett as a character.

Helena Bonham Carter: What I loved about it, and what's…you know she was so complex and she could have so many different colours and you could still play it billions of different ways.  That's always the exciting with a part that's well written is so many different ideas occur to you.  I think they're both victims in a way.  She's the most amoral – she's got no excuses for what she does.  He's obviously a victim given what's happened to him, so you can kind of justify his killing; you see a reason behind it – a powerlessness and he goes off the end.  She's immoral though it's not quite explained why she's…she's pretty mad and delusional herself.  That's her tragedy: she's in love with somebody who doesn't even notice her.

The character of Mrs. Lovett not only has incredibly difficult lyrical word play and tongue-twisters to take on, but difficult movement to undertake whilst singing.

Helena Bonham Carter: You had to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse it and practice it because…it's different: on stage you know you have to do it all in one; on film you know it's going to be cut around but because it's cut around you have to do it in continuity so you have to really learn it back to front to know when you're going to pick up the rolling pin and when you're going to smash the dough.  It's all written into the music; the pie making is written into the rhythm of the music and he actually…you know, all the off beats are smashing the pastry but it all had to be decided which beat I was going to role the pastry out and which beat was going to be what – and you obviously had to do it exactly the same every time you did it. So…it was hard.  I know that song – I could sing it.  The rhythms are all over but they're fascinating and once you start looking at it there's a reason for every single break-up of rhythm.  It's not all over the place.  It's really easy to learn in some ways because it's justified by its own logic and the thinking behind it, and there's always a reason for why it goes up and it all seems perverse and there's an off beat and it's all there.  In "Worse Pies," it's like a minute and a half you're in and you kind of know her already.  It's like bang – she's a chat-aholic…it's like a monologue. 

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DreamWorks Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures Presents a Parkes/MacDonald and Zanuck Company Production, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by Tim Burton. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and John Logan; Executive Producer Patrick McCormick.

Based on the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler; originally staged by Harold Prince. From an adaptation by Christopher Bond, screenplay by John Logan. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton join forces again in a big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's award-winning musical thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

"Depp stars in the title role as a man unjustly sent to prison who vows revenge, not only for that cruel punishment, but for the devastating consequences of what happened to his wife and daughter. When he returns to reopen his barber shop, Sweeney Todd becomes the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who 'shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again,'" state press notes. "Joining Depp is Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney's amorous accomplice, who creates diabolical meat pies. The cast also includes Alan Rickman, who portrays the evil Judge Turpin, who sends Sweeney to prison, Timothy Spall as the Judge's wicked associate Beadle Bamford and Sacha Baron Cohen as a rival barber, the flamboyant Signor Adolfo Pirelli."

For limited national release December 21, 2007 and wide January 11, 2008.

(photos courtesy, top to bottom): Helena Bonham-Carter movie poster; Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham-Carter

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From This Author Nick Hutson

A pianist and composer, Nick holds a degree in composition and has just completed a masters in musical theatre writing. Writing credits include: CoasterBoy: The (read more...)

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