The Actress Roundtable

This awards season, all eyes are on these six talents, who launch THR’s annual series in a freewheeling discussion of career, craft and personal choices.

Bonham Carter: Thank you, but I didn't get one compliment [from Burton]. He really had this whole thing, like he didn't want to seem as if he was favoring me. So he'd go in the opposite direction. And Tim and Johnny [Depp], they have their lovely relationship, you know, they get on so well. So that was a difficult one. I was pregnant, too, so I wasn't on my caffeine I usually need to act with; I felt pretty sick. It was a nightmare. I was going to sing, too, and he had never directed a musical, and in fact he hates musicals but he liked that one. So there was a lot going on. I just remembered that I couldn't irritate the hell out of him. I couldn't just walk on and assume we have the same relationship we have in the house. Basically, at home, I'm chief. On set, obviously he is. So I just had to be more sensitive. I really didn't think he'd ever want to work with me again. On Alice, I said there were going to be rules. And that's what I did. I listed Ten Commandments of how to work together.

THR: Which were?

Bonham Carter: I have to think before I speak, which would help with every area my life. He has to compliment me. He can't take me for granted. He's got to give me a good compliment, which isn't, "Oh, that was good, that was fine." I need to have a bit of a compliment like he does to everyone. He's really wonderful to work with if you don't have two children with him. (Laughs.) He's very respectful.

THR: Helena said she's more confident now as an actress than she was earlier in her career. Is that true for all of you?

Portman: Oh yeah, definitely. You just start feeling happier in your own skin. And also I think that takes away a lot of the competition because you know you can only do what you do and you can't do what anyone else does. It allows you to enjoy everyone else a lot more, too.

Bening: I feel more confident, but it's funny because all the fear is still there and the insecurity and wondering how the moments are going to go. For a long time, though, when I was doing movies, I felt like I was a stage actress pretending to be a movie actress.

THR: Has anybody given you advice you cling to?

Bening: I did a picture early on with Milos Forman [Valmont]. I learned a lot from him. There's a kind of Western training of directors, which is very positive and supportive, and he came from a different school.

Portman: I worked with Milos a couple years ago [on Goya's Ghosts], and he gave me the best direction. He said [in accent]: "You're acting like this is a bad movie! This is not a bad movie, this is a good movie!" (Laughs.)

Bening: I love that.

Kidman: I worked when I was young in Australia with people like Baz [Luhrmann] and Jane Campion. I remember her writing me a little postcard saying, "Protect your talent." She thought I could get corrupted, which I probably can, probably at the time. I've had a push and pull with my whole career, where I have done things spontaneously and then gone, "Ugh, why did I do that?" My absolute pure core is, I just love working with actors. I'll probably love that until I'm an old, old woman.

THR: What about working in Hollywood has most surprised you?

Adams: I didn't know I'd have to be a model. I focus so much on the work, and then all of a sudden I'm in front of a camera and they're picking my neck apart, and I'm like, "I'm 5'4"!" I'm not going to look tall; there's nothing we can really do about that.

Swank: Meryl [Streep] said she used to just take something out of her closet and go to a premiere. And now we're expected to be a model and wear something that no one else has worn.

Bonham Carter: You don't have to, though. I just think we are expected to, but we don't have to. You'll get criticized for it, but it doesn't matter because at the end of the day, when we die they aren't going to be like, "Oh, you were on the worst-dressed list seven times in a row." When I started, people didn't ask and they weren't interested in what you were wearing. You didn't even have to wear makeup.

Portman: It has changed a lot. I mean, I've been doing this for like 20 years now.

Swank: And you're like 25!

Portman:The thing that has definitely changed the most is private life. It used to be that if you just lived a certain way you could really be out of the public eye. I was lucky enough to go to high school before the explosion of the Internet, so I was already safely out of that realm. I can't even imagine people that are well-known and in high school now, what having to live through that in public is like.

THR: Knowing what stardom entails, if you were back at the beginning, would you still choose this path?

Kidman: I'd choose to be a director. But I think to be a director you have to have the camera in your hand [at a young age] and you've got to be looking at the world in a particular way. I didn't have that upbringing. Someone like Jane [Campion], my friend, her father put a camera in her hand when she was about 5 and taught her how to view the world through a frame and write stories, and that's it. But I'm very, very thrilled to be an actress as well.

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