Helena Bonham Carter

Helena Bonham Carter's latest roles have seen her play very bad girls in Novacaine and Fight Club, a wheelchair bound neuron disease sufferer in The Theory Of Flight and a simian femme fatale in Planet of the Apes. Not a bad repetoire for someone who once quipped that critics looked for the "Helena Bonham Carter" role in every period piece that hit the big screen.

"I should get a few ribs taken out, because I'll be in a corset the rest of my life," she once said.

Ten years on, said corset is gathering dust as Helena is quickly becoming known for playing oddball characters instead of delicate English roses. "I hate this image everyone has of me as a prim Edwardian," she says. "I want to shock everyone!"

High society roles, however, would indeed seem to suit the actress, who is the granddaughter of a Baroness and a Spanish ambassador to Norway and Canada and the great-granddaughter of former prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith. Her father Raymond is a former merchant banker (her two older brothers, Thomas and Edward, are both bankers as well), and her mother Elena a psychotherapist.

Helena, who was born in London in 1966, grew up wanting to go into acting from an early age, making her professional acting debut in a TV advert aged 16. The break came just four years before she gained international stardom in her first collaboration with director James Ivory, A Room With A View in 1986. She spent much of the next decade in a corset, starring in big screen versions of classic novels such as Where Angels Fear To Tread and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and works of Shakespeare, including 1990's Hamlet and an update of Twelfth Night in 1996.

Though she also garnered much acclaim and a BAFTA nomination for her role in 1992's Howards End, it was The Wings Of A Dove, a film adaptation of the famed Henry James novel, that made her Edwardian typecast official, gaining her a shelf full of accolades and her first Oscar shortlist. However, at least one film choice foreshadowed the off-the-wall turn her career was about to make her co-starring role as Woody Allen's neurotic American wife in 1995's Mighty Aphrodite.

"I have this sort of idealistic belief that we're all capable of being many different people," she says. "That we have many facets, but we just bring out different bits not necessarily consciously according to who we're with. I don't know, I'm probably more naturally quirky and probably feel more comfortable playing sort of modern-day oddballs."

Her natural quirkiness might explain Helena's infamously outrageous sense of style and her recent taste in boyfriends. Though she dated fellow period piecer Kenneth Branagh for four years after meeting him on the set of Frankenstein, her current flame is Tim Burton, the wacky mind behind Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks! and the film that brought them together, Planet Of The Apes. In October 2003, the pair announced the birth of their first child, a boy. "I find it romantic bearing his illegitimate child and living next door," Helena said just prior to the birth. "I don't know if we'll marry."
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