I'M NO HOME WRECKER; Helena Bonham Carter on her affairs with Branagh and Burton.
HELENA Bonham Carter has lived with the whispers and insults for seven long years. She has silently endured the derogatory names she has been called and constantly refused to answer back.
But now she has broken her silence to talk for the first time of the hurt she feels when she is branded a hard-hearted home wrecker and selfish sexpot.
"Yes," she sighs, rolling her eyes and smiling ruefully. "I'm a habitual, serial home breaker, apparently.
"It gets frustrating because I know the story and the truth of it. It is very hurtful and, frankly, some of the things I have been called are quite libellous... But it's part of the price of being in the public eye.
"People will make up stories that are so much more interesting than reality."
The petite, dark-haired English beauty is talking in a Los Angeles hotel suite about the private pain that her not-so-private romances have caused her.
Wearing a black sweater and long black skirt, she looks out at the garden as she relives the gossip that has dogged her.
It began when she and Kenneth Branagh became lovers after they worked on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994, which he directed. At the time, Branagh was still married to Emma Thompson but he left her the following year and they divorced in 1996. Helena and Branagh remained together until 1999, although for much of the time Helena continued to live with her parents in North London. Just a few months before the relationship ended, she said: "I've had loves in the past but this is the most long-lasting and grown-up." Her faith, however, wasn't well-founded. Not long afterwards, she had to announce: "I am very sad to confirm that Kenneth Branagh and I are no longer together. The decision was mutual and no one else was involved." Then, 18 months ago, in an eerily similar scenario, Helena, 36, became romantically involved with Planet Of The Apes director Tim Burton, who is eight years her senior. On set, the film-maker seemed to be the picture of contentment with his fiancee, actress Lisa Marie, who played one of the apes alongside the English star. Lisa and Tim met in 1992, shortly after his brief marriage to German artist Lena Gieseke ended. The besotted couple quickly became engaged and the director cast Lisa in Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks! and Ed Wood. But, unknownto Lisa, the director and Helena were growing close and when she discovered they were having an affair, she was distraught and furious. Her friends were quick to criticise Helena, accusing her of using her friendship with Lisa to steal her boyfriend. "Helena used to have her over for lunch all the time and Lisa thought that they were friends," complained one acquaintance. Even now, Lisa's friends seethe at the mention of Helena Bonham Carter. "Tim was Lisa's world," one indignant pal said recently. "She is trying to get on with her life but it is hard. They were together for 10 years... and doesn't Helena Bonham Carter break everyone up?"HELENAhas always insisted that she and Burton began their affair after he broke up with Lisa and that they were never involved romantically during the shooting of Planet Of The Apes. "I know the truth but I'm not going to share it because it's my own personal domain," she tells me. "I don't want to create even more stories. By answering the accusations, you are going to be drawn into them and I don't agree with that." She is, however, still with Burton. He divides his time between her London house and his Los Angeles home. The couple's bond is so strong that they're planning to team up professionally again, in the adventure film Big Fish, which Burton will direct and in which she will co-star with Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Jessica Lange. "It will be great," Helena predicts. "In this profession people sometimes go off for three or four months at a time, so I think doing a film together is a good thing for a relationship."But obviously it has to be the right project and it has to work creatively, too." Although she has had a taste of big- budget Hollywood blockbusters, Helena is content to do most of her filming in England. "The only difference is that if you work in America you tend to get paid more and the film is more likely to be seen," she says. The great-granddaughter of Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Helena made her name playing solemn, aristocratic parts. She had her first leading role at the age of 17, in Lady Jane, and was soon typecast as a classic English rose. Period dramas followed with Howard's End and A Room With A View. But after restyling her hair andgoing nude in The Wings Of The Dove, she managed to reinvent her image. As Marla, a sexily neurotic punk, she had steamy love scenes with Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Her passion astonished critics who wondered how such a well raised, delicate-looking rose could so convincingly play a tough girl with a penchant for rough sex. She then spent the whole of Planet Of The Apes in a latex suit, playing a female ape of whom co-star Mark Wahlberg later confessed: "I was very attracted to her... and I wasn't the only one." It was all a long way from the cosy costume dramas with which she made her name and found as constricting as the garments she had to wear. "Period movies are my destiny," she once said. "I should probably get a fewribs taken out because I'll be in corsets the rest of my life." Yet it would be difficult to find anyone more modern or more attuned to the times than the strikingly attractive young woman sitting opposite me.Unlike many actresses, Helena does not try to disguise her age or hold back the years. With a throaty chuckle, she admits: "I feel happier this side of 30. "The 20s were a time of confusion for me. Now I feel more confident and better equipped to enjoy the acting profession. The age factor is good news for me." But at 36 she is caught in two minds about the idea of having children. "I'm just at the point where I'm thinking about it. "I'm afraid I'm a bit of a retard and a Peter Pan. I've been very reluctantto grow up so far. But I think that I might be a good mum... I might be, I don't know. But I do think I'd like to have a baby, actually. "But I don't think that it's a DIY job. You need a lot of help..." As well as her tempestuous love life, Helena is also well known for her somewhat quirky sense of style. Where other stars are sleek and chic, Helena appears to go for a more grungy look. "I do dress up sometimes but I don't go for a tailored look," she laughs. "Other actresses are very well groomed. I've never been that. If I try it, I always get it wrong at the last minute because I just don't feel comfortable in that skin. I don't know why that is." In her latest project, the made-for-television film Live From Baghdad - to be screened in Britain early next year - she plays a feisty and sexy television producer working for CNN in Iraq at the time of the Gulf War.BASEDon real characters and events, the film, which co-stars Michael Keaton, could scarcely come at a more topical time. Helena only met the real-life version of the character she plays, Ingrid Formanek, after filming had finished but she found her to be as passionate, volatile and brave as the script portrayed her. It also gave her an insight into war correspondents and their crews. "I think what attracts people to become war journalists can almost be likened to an addiction," she says."You have a front seat to see history being made." Originally intended as a feature film, Live From Baghdad was put on hold for a time, then resurrected and produced by the HBO cable network after the kidnapping and execution of journalist Daniel Pearl. Casablanca stood in for Baghdad and the residents were initially tolerant of the posters of Saddam Hussein the crew had put up around the city. However, they became increasingly less easy-going when the bombing of Baghdad was re-enacted. Many terrified Morrocans though the "attack" was the real thing. "We had a lot of large explosions and big flares and we only found out later that someone in the Casablanca city authority, whose job it was towarn the residents, didn't tell them," she says. "Nobody warned them that this would be happening so a furious mob stormed the truck with the special effects guys in and stoned them. "Ingrid - the character I play - heard that there had been an attempted coup in Casablanca but it was just us, pretending we were in the middle of the Gulf War." Helena also has two films coming out early next year - "might as well plug everything," she laughs - an Australian film called Till Human Voices Wake Us and The Heart Of Me, with Paul Bettany. With so much on the go, it's no wonder Helena took a part in her boyfriend's next film - otherwise she might not get to see enough of him...
ROLE UP: In Fight Club (top left) Wings Of A Dove (above) and Planet Of The Apes; HOLDING PATTERN: Helena with current boyfriend Burton in London this week and, below, with old flame Branagh