Tim Burton based his weird White Queen on cooking star Nigella Lawson

Feb. 23, 2010 | 7:08 a.m.

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” COUNTDOWN: 11 DAYS

Are you ready for a trip down the rabbit hole? Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Disney are adding a strange new chapter to the Lewis Carroll classic with their “Alice in Wonderland,” a film that presents a young woman who finds herself in the world of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. She is welcomed as a returning visitor — but is she, in fact, the same Alice who roamed the trippy realm as a child? Time will tell. Here at the Hero Complex, we’re counting down to the film’s March 5 release with daily coverage. Today Burton describes his version of the White Queen.

White Queen

 

In “Alice in Wonderland,” actress Anne Hathaway glides across the screen as the White Queen with a pearly grin that becomes a bit unsettling — it’s somewhere between Glinda the Good Witch and “The Stepford Wives.”

A one point she cheerily cooks up a magic potion that includes plenty of nasty ingredients (including some putrid-looking amputated fingers), and it turns out that was a hint to the real-life inspiration for the character, according to director Tim Burton.

“There’s this very beautiful cooking show host in England named Nigella Lawson and I quietly had her as my image for this character,” Burton said, referring to the comely author and television personality sometimes referred to as the “queen of food porn.”

Burton, who previously said that the Red Queen has a bit of Leona Helmsley in her, said Lawson’s domestic goddess routine has an eerie edge to it at times. “She’s really beautiful and she does all this cooking, but then there’s this glint in her eye and when you see it you go, ‘Oh, whoa, she’s like really … nuts.’ I mean in a good way. Well, maybe. I don’t know.”

Nigella

The plot of “Alice” is the quest of Wonderland’s strange denizens to return their kingdom’s throne to the White Queen — a quest that requires a champion who may or may not be the returning-visitor Alice. The White Queen is in exile while her shrill sister, the Red Queen, rules the land.

The tense relationship between the royal sisters was an intriguing one to Burton.

“With a lot of people I’ve known, when it comes to sisters, there’s this perception that there’s the nice one and the bad one,” Burton said. “But then, that nice one, there’s also undercurrents there and things going back and forth between the two. She can stay up sharpening knives all night, but she’s still the nice one.”

Burton said the script by Linda Woolverton and the subversive nature of Lewis Carroll’s classic cast of characters both bend the perception of good and evil more than most children’s tales.   

“The interesting thing I think was to have them connected, and neither is quite what you expect,” Burton said. “What Linda did with that was great. It helps with the thing that really sets Alice apart from so many other types of kids literature, which is the fact that everybody is a little bit off. Even if somebody is good, there’s something wrong with them. Everyone is a bit twisted somehow. The White Queen is no exception.”

– Geoff Boucher

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PHOTOS: The White Queen cooks up some trouble in “Alice in Wonderland” (Walt Disney Studios). Nigella Lawson at work in the kitchen (“Nigella Bites”).

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