Helena Bonham Carter in London, 2015. (JACK TAYLOR/AFP/Getty Images)
When Netflix announced Helena Bonham Carter would be taking on the role of Princess Margaret in season three of The Crown, the casting seemed totally apt. Though generations apart, both Bonham Carter and Queen Elizabeth II’s little sister are known for their aristocratic dialects, rebellious spirits and fearlessly direct personalities.
It makes sense then, that Bonham Carter would want to consult with Princess Margaret before taking over the role in this hugely popular historical drama. The only problem is Princess Margaret died in 2002, after suffering several years of ill health and multiple strokes.
Under the circumstances, other actors would no doubt settle for hours of research and long conversations with the deceased’s loved ones. Bonham Carter was careful to consult with relatives, friends and ladies-in-waiting, as well as reading all the biographies she could get her hands on, but—naturally for one so goth—she refused to limit her investigations to this mortal plane.
In addition to consulting a graphologist (to analyze Margaret’s handwriting) and an astrologer, Bonham Carter reached out to a psychic medium. During an appearance at England’s Cheltenham literature festival over the weekend, she explained that the spirit purporting to be Princess Margaret had a very similar attitude to the royal:
“She said, apparently, she was glad it was me… So I asked her: ‘Are you okay with me playing you?’ and she said: ‘You’re better than the other actress’… That made me think maybe she is here, because that is a classic Margaret thing to say. She was really good at complimenting you and putting you down at the same time… Then she said: ‘But you’re going to have to brush up and be more groomed and neater.’ Then she said: ‘Get the smoking right. I smoked in a very particular way. Remember that—this is a big note—the cigarette holder was as much a weapon for expression as it was for smoking.’”
Remarkably, the actress met Margaret several times when she was still alive, thanks to the fact that her uncle, Mark Bonham Carter, dated the princess when he was a Grenadier Guard at the royal Windsor estate. On one occasion, she recalls Princess Margaret saying to her, “Oh Helena… You are getting better at acting, aren’t you?”
Given that Bonham Carter will be playing Margaret for another two seasons, spanning the years of the princess’s life in which she partied around the globe, accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills and is alleged to have had multiple affairs (with the likes of Warren Beatty!), one can only hope that Margaret continues to approve from beyond the grave.
Season 3 of ‘The Crown’ hits Netflix on Nov. 17.