A starring role as Jasmine in Blue Jasmine, the latest offering from celebrated director and writer Woody Allen, is just the latest in a long string of memorable roles for Australian actor Cate Blanchett. Click here to read Rebecca Wallersteiner’s review of the film.[divider]
When Cate Blanchett first met her husband, the writer Andrew Upton, she apparently thought him arrogant and he thought her aloof. They then bonded over a late night game of poker and married the following year.
It’s a fine example of pre-conceived impressions proved wrong.
Just like Upton did, it would be easy to pigeon-hole Blanchett as an ice maiden. Perhaps it’s her ethereal beauty – all porcelain skin, pale blue eyes and blonde hair – or the cool elegance she exudes, whether wearing the latest couture on the red carpet or dominating the big screen. So her reaction when asked who her black polka-dot dress is by comes as a surprise.
“Oh, it’s Givenchy,” she says. “It unzips down the front, so it’s very good for a quickie. Not that that will be happening to me today.”
Talking to the multi-award winning actress, it’s soon evident that this Australian star isn’t one for pretensions. She talks eloquently about her work, with the confidence and breadth of knowledge of someone who’s devoted a large portion of her life to the theatre.
It’s where she began her career, and she’s focused the last few years of her life as co-artistic director and co-CEO of the Sydney Theatre Company with her husband, a role they step down from at the end of this year.
She’s continued to make movies, like Robin Hood, Hanna and The Hobbit series. Her latest project is Blue Jasmine, written and directed by Woody Allen, a man and Jewish icon who’s created many indelible female characters. Blanchett plays Jasmine (or Jeanette, as she was born).
“She was a girl who changed her name at school, so she already had a romanticised version of herself,” says the actress, legs crossed, chin delicately balanced on her hand.
The film introduces the New York socialite shortly after she’s suffered a breakdown triggered by the cataclysmic collapse of her marriage to wealthy financier Hal (Alec Baldwin).
Until that point, Jasmine’s entire identity was wrapped around being an elegant, immaculate and culturally sophisticated woman living the Manhattan high life. Now that’s over, her mental and emotional state is rapidly veering off course.
“I was terrified and excited about accepting the role,” admits Blanchett, 44. “It was such an incredible opportunity, so complicated, and there was so much to do, so many avenues to explore, her physical, as well as mental state.
“I mean what happens when you take [anti-depressant] Xanax and alcohol?” she says, laughing. “I had a little bit of vodka but I didn’t do the Xanax! But it’s amazing what you can find on YouTube.”
Jasmine’s freefall isn’t dissimilar to that of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’s classic A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a comparison that hasn’t escaped Blanchett, who portrayed Blanche on stage.
“The first time I read the script, I was sitting at the kitchen bench and saying to my husband, ‘Oh, I wonder if Woody saw me’. He hadn’t and he never mentioned it, but then Woody’s sensibility as a writer is entirely different to Tennessee Williams’s.
“He’s much more urban, neurotic. He doesn’t have that same lyricism that Tennessee does, that ephemeral nostalgia. Certainly, I think it’s delicious that any parallels might exist, but they’re incidental rather than deliberate.”
Allen is notoriously swift in his directorial style, usually completing a scene in one or two takes.
“Often Sally and I would say, ‘Let’s go again’,” says Blanchett, referring to British actress Sally Hawkins, who plays Jasmine’s adopted ‘underdog’ sister Ginger. “Woody would go, ‘I think I’ve got it, but if you want to go again, go for it’.”
Although Blue Jasmine is less whimsical that Allen’s recent offerings, there are lighter moments, and Blanchett feels that’s imperative.
“I find even when you’re playing something like Hedda Gabler or Blanche, those immensely tragic trajectories they go on, you have to find the ridiculous, the absurd, because otherwise you don’t earn the tragic,” she says.
“I think that’s something Woody innately understands. He understands how we always yearn for the wrong person, or we’re so deluded to who we actually are. And I think therein lies the comedy.
“We all suffer from delusions of grandeur,” she adds. “We’re all the heroines or heroes in our own narrative and I, like anyone, have had those narcissistic moments, but Jasmine’s much more interesting and complex than me.”
It’s why she doesn’t see the point of being cast in a role and reducing it to her experiences. “The whole pleasure of being an actor is you go, ‘Why do they do that?’ It’s like reading a great novel. You turn the page to try and work out why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
She admits there are certain roles that can affect your “balance”, however.
“There’s a lot of talk in Woody’s films, so there’s a lot to get your head around,” she explains. “I didn’t sleep a lot. But while I think certain roles do affect you, you don’t necessarily want other people to suffer for that.”
Particularly her three sons, Dashiell, 12, Roman, nine, and five-year-old Ignatius.
“They’re a great leveller,” says the actress. “You go home at the end of the day and they just want you to put them to bed, do their homework, give them a bath.”
While Blanchett has never considered herself “particularly method”, she used to have more anxiety about roles when she was younger. “And then when you’ve given birth to a child you think, ‘Oh God, nothing matters’. You learn to scale things.”
She adds that juggling her career is “no different to any working parent”.
“I’m very proud of my relationship and incredibly proud of our children, but I’m like any parent, filled with guilt and remorse.
“You’re always thinking about the things you’ve done wrong, rather than the things you’ve done right, but maybe that’s what keep us going, the hope that we’ll do better,” she adds, laughing.
She takes pride in the fact that she does the daily school run in Sydney. “I love them too much to be away from them,” she says.
“But I’m in a very fortunate position. I can choose to work or not to work, so I’ve got nothing to complain about.”
The children have now joined her in Britain while she shoots Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. He’s another actor-director – like Allen and George Clooney, who helmed her upcoming movie The Monuments Men.
“They all come from entirely different places but the thing is they’re all unpretentious and workman-like,” says Blanchett, who’ll soon be looking to prove her own worth behind the lens with her directorial debut, a dark thriller called The Dinner.
As successful as Blanchett is, she admits to thinking about changing her profession “every day”.
“I’m like an addict,” she says, laughing. “I feel I have to go into rehab and stop this silly business and get a real job.”
:: Blue Jasmine was released in cinemas on Friday, September 27. Click here to read Rebecca Wallersteiner’s review of the film.