Bella Heathcote on Tim Burton's Dark Shadows

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Bella Heathcote in Dark Shadows, 2012
Bella Heathcote in Dark Shadows, 2012

"I remember exactly where I was when I got the part, I was on the street in New York and I got a phone call..."

“I remember exactly where I was when I got the part, I was on the street in New York and I got a phone call. All my managers and agents were on the line, there was about ten people on the call, and I thought, “Oh god, what’s happened?”  And then someone said, “You got the role in Dark Shadows.” And I just screamed. I was so excited. Beetlejuice has always been one of my favorite films.

I play two characters in Dark Shadows. Josette duPres is a love interest of Johnny Depp’s character back in the 18th century. She’s the polar opposite to the other character I play, Victoria Winters. Josette is open and idealistic and romantic. Vicky is a governess and has quite a bit of baggage and is very closed off. She has her guard up as she’s suffered something in her past.

It was great playing two parts. Particularly because of Colleen Atwood, the costumier. She’s extraordinary. I got to play dress up in two completely different eras and two incredible styles that she created. It wasn’t about enjoying wearing one over the other. The best thing about Colleen is that when she creates costume, it’s almost the skin of the character and you just step into it. It makes everything so much more accessible. Josette’s costume was 18th century; she was quite wealthy so her pieces were very ornate and extraordinary looking, very structured. They were actually really fun to wear because you stand up straight for once. Once it changes the way you carry yourself everything else just seems to fall into place. Victoria’s costume was so different, very put together and 70s.

"Tim Burton has such an eye for detail... he had built this entire fishing village with waves and this huge mansion"

One of the first days I arrived in London, Tim took me on a tour of the set and it was the first time I really realised I was in a Tim Burton film. He has such an eye for detail. Visually he’s a genius when it comes to those things. He had built this entire fishing village with waves and this huge mansion. Apart from effects there was very little done on green screen. It makes my job a bit easier when you don’t have to make up your surroundings.

Johnny [Depp] and Tim [Burton] have worked together eight times and they basically had their own language on set, it was quite extraordinary to watch. They just knew what the other was thinking. Tim had a really good sense of humour that I hadn’t expected and he made going to work a lot of fun.

I was pretty intimidated on the first day of filming. I remember I watched Michele [Pfeiffer] in rehearsals and I was just blown away by her and was nervous about meeting her but once I saw how Jackie Earle Hayley was speaking to her and how he complimented her and how approachable she was, I knew I would be able to do it. So I walked up to her on the first day and told her how much I love the film “One Fine Day”, a wonderful romantic comedy, and I told her that I thought she and George Clooney own it.”

Australian-actress Bella Heathcote is one of those rare human beings who radiates a friendly ease even over a long distance telephone call. There’s no forced enthusiasm or PR-spiel from Heathcote but plenty of self-deprecation and fun poking at of her extraordinary situation. (Extraordinary is a word Bella likes to use a lot.) That said situation is playing Johnny Depp’s love interest amongst an all-star cast featuring Chloe Grace Moretz, Michelle Pfiffer and Eva Green in Tim Burton’s highly anticipated, Dark Shadows.

Burton saw the doe-eyed actress’s photograph in 2010 and shortly invited Heathcote to audition for the picture in London. Just two days later the role was hers. Dark Shadows is a camp and visually-amazing re-telling of the kitschy American television show of the same name that sees Heathcote double up on roles and come face to face with Burton’s bread and butter of vampires, ghouls and family politics.

Dark Shadows is released in UK cinemas tomorrow, May 11 2012.

Text by Karla Evans