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Austin Actors
Marco Perella

Stalking Helena
by Marco Perella

December 2000

Helena Bonham-Carter became a star because of one great kissing scene. It was that scene in A ROOM WITH A VIEW where she’s wandering around in an Italian field and Julian Sands grabs her and plants one on her.

Good career move. She became an instant art-house queen.

Helena is in Dallas playing the title role in FATAL DECEPTION: MRS.LEE HARVEY OSWALD, which is a typically dumb TV movie name. It’s about what happened to Russian immigrant Marina Oswald after her husband was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

This TV movie rides the wave of furor following the release of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

If you remember, in that one I played a Texas FBI agent with a bad haircut.

This time I’m playing a Texas bar Lothario with a bad haircut.

Movie hair people love period pieces like this. They get to assert their power and scalp every co-star in sight. If you complain, it just makes it worse.

My fellow bar Lothario Michael is complaining. We’re both sitting in chairs in the hair and make-up trailer waiting for our haircuts. I go first and take my scalping philosophically. A crew cut with white sidewalls.

Michael takes one look at me and starts howling. He has cultivated one of those long-at-the-neck styles where he can tie his hair back in an arty ponytail. He insists that he can just slick his hair back and hide the excess length under his collar.

Fat chance. The trim Nazis have him in their sights. They produce photos of men’s hairstyles circa 1964. When it becomes obvious that his role is in jeopardy, he negotiates a compromise. They’ll let him keep a little on the neck but the sides must go. His last words before the sheers dig in are, "Just don’t make me look like him!" Meaning me of course.

In this scene, Marina Oswald, who has had everything she owns confiscated by the FBI, is drowning her sorrows at the local pub. She’s sitting on a barstool swilling vodka while we bar Lotharios move in for the kill. There’s lots of ad-libbing.

Helena Bonham-Carter is a doozy of an actress. She’s got the accent down and you’d swear she was a real drunken Russian. She makes it seem effortless.

These English actors always make fun of us Americans and our obsession with the Method. But they seem to be able to act us under the table anyway. Maybe it’s all that Shakespearean training. Builds precision or something. Americans look stupid doing Shakespeare. Give us a role where we sweat and cuss and spray beer all over our tee shirts and we’re happy.

Anyway, Helena is propped up there with her vodka, ad-libbing in a Russian accent as natural as can be while we Texans are struggling to keep our Texas accents together. She’s making us look bad.

The director shoots several takes of the Lotharios jockeying for position around Helena and decides the scene needs some more action. Since they’re playing jukebox rock n’ roll in the background, I suggest some dancing. The director says give it a go.

This leaves Michael out, since he has salvaged enough of his neck hair to render him suitable for face on camera shots only. He has to remain at the bar, while I, with my three hundred and sixty degree early sixties period-compliant burrhead, drag Helena Bonham-Carter onto the dance floor for some boogie-woogie.

Since Michael made fun of my scalp-job, it is quite satisfying to cut into his face time with the star. Petty, I know. But we co-stars must celebrate our dirty little victories.

Her initial position on the barstool has disguised the fact that Helena Bonham-Carter is about five feet tall. She’s shorter than her name. I always wondered why she wears that haystack hairdo. Now I know.

One thing Shakespeare doesn’t prepare you for is hell-bent-for-leather Texas swing dancing. I am now happily in charge of the scene. I up the ante on my ad-libs.

"Hang on tight, Honey. Who’s yore Daddy now?"

Helena is so little that every time I turn her around fast she kind of helicopters off the ground. She makes surprised little whooping noises.

Then I move into the dips. They’ve got her wearing a tight little red "why don’t we get drunk and screw"-dress. The dips are getting quite interesting. Now Helena is making piercing little shrieking noises.

Emboldened by her loss of composure, I push the envelope. Since Helena weighs about as much as a basketball, I lift her up towards the ceiling and spin her around. This elicits giggles and squeals.

Very gratifying.

The director is all excited now and wants to do more takes. I keep trying to top myself.

They’ve got a happy hour buffet incorporated into the bar set and I shimmy over to the table and pick up a stalk of celery. Why celery? Who knows? Artistic inspiration should be lived, not questioned. I put the fat end of the celery between my teeth and apply a double-armed spin to my dance partner, ending in a straight jacket clinch from behind her. Then I waggle that celery stalk around so the leafy end tickles her neck. I am rewarded with the whole spectrum of whoops, shrieks, giggles and squeals.

Paydirt! The woman has lost it! A complete breakdown of the finely tuned precision English instrument!

I just can’t get over my bad self. What ho, Miss Bonham-Carter! I got your Shakespeare right here!

But as I persist in my celery waggling dirty bop, I notice something.

All those whoops and giggles and shrieks are being delivered in a perfect Russian accent.

After the scene Helena comes up to me:

"I say, Dearie, that bit with the celery was perfectly ripping!"

English actors. I tell ya.

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