Helena Bonham Carter on 'The Crown' and Princess Margaret's Vulnerability

Illustration by Britt Spencer

Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Princess Margaret in the third and fourth season of Netflix's The Crown, says America's fascination with the royal family is a case of wanting what they can't have.

"It's your own fault, you tore away, you renounced our king," the English actress says jokingly.

Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth's only sister, left a complicated legacy when she died in 2002. Often viewed as a tragic outcast compared to her more-popular sister, Carter hopes to shed a more nuanced light on the misunderstood princess.

"No one is going to be the narrative they are in the press," Carter said. "It's very hard to be famous and vulnerable, and I think she was a very vulnerable person.... She was also incredibly brave."

Bravery is something the Oscar-nominated actress knows a thing or two about, considering she's made a career of playing boldly unique characters from Marla Singer in Fight Club (1999) to Princess Margaret's mother Elizabeth in The King's Speech (2010).

What did you learn about Princess Margaret, and what do you hope viewers take from your portrayal?
There's a lot of presumption saying she had a tragic life. But I think she had a lot of fun. The narrative in the press about her is a cartoon. I hope that I might have shown somewhat the difficulties of her situation. Hopefully, I got under her skin.

You've played a number of royals over the course of your career. Have you ever heard from them about your portrayals?
Not really. They know who I am. I remember the Queen actually introducing me to Obama, saying "She's in a film called The King's Speech."

Princess Margaret, like yourself, was a bit of a gay icon. Why do you think that is?
She is a lesson in camp. Loads of her friends were gay, and I think she felt very comfortable with them; they were kindred spirits. But I think she definitely felt she didn't quite fit in with her family.

It's the 20th anniversary of Fight Club. How did that film impact your career?
Privately that's more my style. In fact, I have Marla Singer's jacket, it's the one jacket I wear to this day. It's a Rick Owens original. But that did have a massive impact, that film has lasted. Which is great vindication because when it first came out it was booed at screenings in Venice.