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Oscars '98

The Fame. The Fun. The Fear.

Helena Bonham Carter and Julianne Moore share laughs and doubts about their Oscar nominations.

March 22, 1998|Sean Mitchell | Sean Mitchell is a frequent contributor to Calendar

First-time Oscar-nominated actresses Helena Bonham Carter and Julianne Moore had only just met when they sat down after the Academy Award nominees luncheon and talked to each other and The Times about their movies, their nominations, the perils of publicity, who they think was overlooked by the academy, bad reviews, Hollywood and themselves.

Each of them--one is British, one American--has arrived at this prominent juncture by doing their best work in distinguished independent films rather than in big-budget studio features, and their nominated roles reflect the kind of choices both have made up to now.

Bonham Carter is up for best actress for her role in Miramax's "The Wings of the Dove" (directed by Iain Softley) as Kate, the fallen aristocrat scheming to win both a man and another woman's fortune against the backdrop of Edwardian England and Venice. It's another "corset drama," as she calls them, adding to the list of literary adaptations for which she has become best known, including "A Room With a View," "Howards End" and "Where Angels Fear to Tread."

She also starred as Mary Shelley in the 1994 Kenneth Branagh film "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" and subsequently became involved with Branagh romantically.

Moore, by contrast, has undertaken a wider range of riskier character parts. She's nominated for best supporting actress for her performance as the coke-addicted yet maternal porno actress Amber Waves in New Line's "Boogie Nights," director Paul Thomas Anderson's breakout independent feature that revealed the lesser known family aspect of the '70s pornography industry.

Previously seen in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Steven Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and Louis Malle's "Vanya on 42nd Street," Moore also appeared in the low-budget 1997 film "The Myth of Fingerprints," directed by Bart Freundlich, with whom she had her first child (a boy, Caleb, in November). She is currently starring in the Coen brothers' "The Big Lebowski."

Bonham Carter, 31, is the great-granddaughter of World War I Liberal Party Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. She did not attend university but went straight from London's exclusive Westminster school into acting professionally.

Moore, 36, grew up on the East Coast, graduated from Boston University and began her career acting in regional theater before landing a role as a good and evil twin on the daytime drama "As the World Turns."

After arriving separately for the interview in a room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the two posed easily together for pictures, then took seats side by side on a couch.

Question: Did they lecture you at the luncheon about keeping the acceptance speeches short?

Bonham Carter: Yes. We had the lecture. It's imperative to be entertaining and brief. It's not good enough to win, you also have to be funny.

Moore: I know, I thought, "Oh, my God, to be brief and be funny on top of it?"

Bonham Carter: It's hideous. It's an actor's dream and nightmare, I think. If you get an award, yes, but then you have to stand there with the biggest audience you'll ever get and you're least equipped at that moment to be coherent.

Q: And I would think the excitement of the moment would negate whatever preparation you'd done--although an actor might be accustomed to having to deliver on the spot.

Moore: You never get used to it.

Bonham Carter: I suppose some people do like standing up in front of an audience, but they're a different sort of actor.

Moore: I think very few actors do like to stand up and just talk. That's very rare.

Q: But isn't being able to command attention what you do as an actor?

Moore: It's really a different skill, I think every once in a while there are actors who are great at it.

Bonham Carter: I prefer to get away from myself [in roles]. Like Julianne does in her character parts. Of course, I never get them. But the whole blather that comes with the Oscar thing, the sort of personality thing that you go on the chat shows, that's completely different from portraying a character.

Moore: And the more known you are, the more difficult it becomes to maintain some mystery of the character. But then you can't get a job unless you're well-known!

Bonham Carter: No, it's all a big paradox. You get to be so well-known you don't need any publicity. But then they know everything about you.

Moore: Uh-huh.

Bonham Carter: But you're quite versatile-looking. So you could change characters and not be recognized. On my actor's envy list is anyone with lighter skin, with fair eyes and not dark hair because they're more versatile than me or have the potential of being versatile.

Moore: Really, you think so?

Bonham Carter: Well I think on the whole. I think I've got a particularly bold look and I've got the old eyebrows.

Q: I remember you saying when we last talked that you thought it unfair that reviewers often described you as perfectly suited to play English aristocrats when in fact your family heritage was more diverse. Your mother is Spanish-French?

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