February 21, 2007
Cate Blanchett Takes Center Stage
"And the winner is…."
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The 79th annual Academy Awards this Sunday promises to be a busy evening for Cate Blanchett. Aside from portraying Brad Pitt's wounded wife in the heavily favored best picture contender Babel, the 37-year-old Aussie could collect another Best Supporting Actress statue for Notes on a Scandal. Two years ago, the blond-haired, blue eyed beauty swept the latter category, channeling Katharine Hepburn's essence in Martin Scorcese's The Aviator.
A psychological thriller with loneliness, loyalty, envy, and lust as its cornerstones, in Scandal Blanchett plays sensual Sheba Hart, an upper-class art teacher at St. George's School in northern London. What begins as an affair between Sheba and a 15-year-old male student quickly acquires another predator – a bitter lesbian spinster (Judi Dench) with sexual designs on Sheba.
The director Richard Eyre noted, "The character required a special actress, one who could trigger the lust of an adolescent and also the desires of a 60ish year old schoolmarm. Cate was the only one capable of pulling it off."
Even Blanchett was delighted with the end results. "I was so judgmental and couldn't understand or relate Sheba. Before embarking on this project, I'd see the newspaper headlines and ignore them. My feeling was that irrevocable damage had been done on all sides, and I didn't want to be a spectator. It becomes a media circus because it's so salacious.
"But from a dramatic point of view, you can have a field day. So in relation to the film, I did go on the Internet and see the various damaging exchanges that have gone on. Interestingly, there's a lot of cases in America because of the talk show culture. There's a level of exhibition that results in further damage," Galadriel, from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy said.
2006 turned out to be a busy year. Aside from Babel and Notes on a Scandal, The Good German cast her as a mad femme fatal opposite George Clooney. Despite her extraordinary range, there's always a moment or two of panic before the cameras roll.
She gently laughed, "Before every job, I inevitably have the same conversation with my husband Andrew (Upton). 'Oh my God, what am I going to do? I don't have a process.' He says, 'Yes, you do. Just shut up and let it evolve.' I think in the end each project reveals the way of working.
"I'm always threatening to give up acting. It takes a lot for me to get up there, but the more you do, the more confidence you have to just let it reveal itself to you. That's certainly the case with watching how Judi (Dench) works. She comes in and is completely curious and trusts that the work is happening subconsciously. You just can't drink too much, so that your mind remains intact."
Playing intensely tragic heroines has a positive effect. Blanchett explained, "I tend to laugh more, actually. That was what was so great about having Brad (Pitt) on Babel. He'd wrap his pants right up his bum crack, and then I'd go on and weep on the floor."
Reunited with Pitt, Blanchett is in the middle of filming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in St. Thomas, Virgin Island. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's story, the romantic fantasy tumbles backwards as the protagonists get younger with each passing scene.
The mother of two youngsters is also quick to lavish praise on her other sex symbol costar. "George is the sexiest man of the year as he'll tell you regularly! He's quite a gentleman and the best dinner party guest in the world. Just try and shut George up, but he's hilarious. He's also got such a great perspective."
Aside fromThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2007 promises to be even busier. Laced in the bodice of Queen Elizabeth, Blanchett will reprise her Oscar award winning portrayal of the Virgin Queen in The Golden Age. This time the storyline revolves around Elizabeth I's relationship with adventurer St. Walter Raleigh filled by Clive Owens.
The most unusual challenge, however, is a turn as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. "I play Dylan as a kind of rock star figure, and Heath (Ledger) plays him as an actor figure, while Christian Bale plays him as a TV evangelist. So it's all these different incarnations of Dylan, none of whom are called Bob Dylan."
Blanchett recently accepted the position of co-artistic director, along with her husband, at the Sydney Theatre Company starting in January 2008. "With two small children, it will offer some semblance of normalcy, because we've been moving around every five months," she said. "I'll also be directing an extraordinary play, Black Bird, about a 40-year-old man who reencounters a girl he had sex with when she was only 12 years old. It touches on the subject of responsibility."
Quickly dispelling any hint of retiring, Blanchett added, "There's a three-month clause in the contract that gives me the flexibility to pursue outside activities. As long as I'm offered film roles, I'll absolutely take them."
The first order of business, however, is finishing her Oscar acceptance speech.