02/28/2011 at 01:00 AM EST
Helena Bonham Carter knows perfectly well that her eccentric style isn't everyone's bag. Even her partner of nearly a decade, director Tim Burton, sometimes tries to rein her in. "Tim says to take seven things off before I go out," she says between sips of double espresso near the home she shares with Burton and their two children in north London. "Coco Chanel said one. Tim says at least seven because too much is going on." Too much? No such thing, says the King's Speech star, who adheres to only one firm fashion rule: "I hate being boring."
Not a chance. At 44, Bonham Carter reigns as one of Hollywood's most intriguing iconoclasts: a star who boldly faces the red carpet gauntlet without the help of a stylist ("I had one once, and it didn't work for me") and who brings her unique sensibility to everything from last year's Alice in Wonderland (directed by Burton) to evil witch Bellatrix in the Harry Potter series. But it is her restrained, potent turn as King George VI's wife, Queen Elizabeth, in The King's Speech that has drawn some of her best reviews ever and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod. After her role as the Red Queen in Alice, "it's been the year of the queens," says the London-bred daughter of a psychotherapist mother and a banker father. All those royal roles have created a bit of confusion for the actress's smallest subject, 3-year-old daughter Nell: "She thinks I am Queen."
At home in London, she and Burton, who have collaborated on six films together, occupy three connected cottages with Nell and son Billy, 7. "It works for us, and it definitely works for [the kids]," says Bonham Carter. Still, she admits Billy finds it "embarrassing" when she picks him up at school riding a tricycle. Just don't expect her to soft-pedal her quirkiness any time soon. "I've had so many young people coming up and saying thank you for breaking down rules," she says. "There are so many kinds of beauty."