Helena Bonham Carter Almost Said “No” to Playing Elizabeth Taylor (We’re Glad She Didn’t!)

What convinced Helena Bonham Carter to take on the role of Elizabeth Taylor in 'Burton and Taylor?' Find out here!

Helena Bonham Carter Dominic West Burton and Taylor

Looking forward to seeing Helena Bonham Carter tackle Elizabeth Taylor next week in Burton and Taylor? After the disaster that was Lindsay Lohan and Liz and Dick, we certainly are—although apparently it was a near thing: Helena almost said no to the project

 Vogue UK chatted with the actress at this past Monday’s premiere of Burton and Taylor, and somewhat surprisingly, she had cold feet when she first heard about the project. “I nearly didn’t take the role,” Helena confessed. “When I first found out about it, I thought, ‘Elizabeth Taylor? I should run a mile.’ Even my mum said, ‘Don’t touch that with a barge pole.’” What changed her mind? “But it was the script that won me over—it was such a touching, sweet story,” she said. “The fact that it was about two of the world’s most famous stars was incidental.”

This is perhaps one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard an actor say about taking on a well-known, real-life person as a character. It’s easy either to buckle under the pressure, but at the end of the day, actors and filmmakers are storytellers: It’s not enough just to be your role. Once you’re there, you need to tell a story with it, too. This is something Helena excels at as an actress (and which, notably, LiLo kind of, um, doesn’t), so I kind of can’t wait to see what she does with it.

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Which, of course, brings us to how she went about building Elizabeth Taylor as a character. Helena noted, “I don’t look like her at all, but I had to forget about what she looked like and think about the woman. She was phenomenal. What was inside was extraordinary—which is impressive considering how beautiful she was on the outside.” She continued, “She was fun, witty, practical, clever, and wise. She had an amazing strength of character and was never a victim. To sustain that amount of fame and beauty from such a young age—look at stars like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland and what happened to them. Liz Taylor lasted eight decades. She survived all those drugs, all that fame and drink. She loved life and had a great appetite for it. There will be no one like her ever again.”

Burton and Taylor, which co-stars Dominic West as Richard Burton, will air on BBC4 in the UK on Monday, July 22 at 9pm. We haven’t yet been able to find out when it will air in the US, but we’ll keep our ear to the ground; we’ll report back when we hear something! In the meantime, check out the trailer here:

Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s senior editor.

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