BONAVISTA BAY, CANADA - One of the few things more pleasurable than watching Cate Blanchett on screen is the chance to spend a few hours with the cheery, unpretentious actress in person. No team of personal assistants fussing about, no hint of star ego coming into play, no whining about "the work. " Instead, Cate is one of those marvelous individuals who have remained true to their own nature despite having become a major movie star.
"I can't imagine becoming big-headed about my success," says Blanchett. "I think I'm so thrilled simply to be in the position where I am now that I wouldn't know how to be arrogant or obnoxious to people. I worry about the pressure sometimes but so far I don't feel stressed by my career. I don't panic every time I'm offered a big role and wonder whether I should take the money or do a smaller film that is more to my liking. Lately I've been able to do all sorts of films - big and small - and I couldn't be happier. "
Blanchett, 32, is referring to upcoming roles in Miramax's next big film, Shipping News, The (2001), the long-awaited film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx, which co-stars Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore, and HEAVEN (2001), another Miramax production directed by run lola Run (1998)'s Tom Tykwer. And to top it off, there's also the first episode in LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, in which she plays the Elf queen Galadriel.
Many people in the film industry thought Blanchett deserve d the Oscar (which went to Gwyneth Paltrow for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)) for her work in ELIZABETH (1998), and most would be willing to bet that Shipping News, The (2001) will give Cate her next shot at the prize.
But Blanchett herself is not one to plan her life or career around fame or fortune, and is far more concerned with living a good life with screenwriter husband, Andrew Upton, and looking forward to motherhood with their first child due around Christmas.
I spoke to the radiant Cate Blanchett in the Maritime Candian province of Newfoundland recently, where she was completing work on Shipping News, The (2001) Blanchett continues to flit back and forth between England and her native Sydney, Australia, and she spent six months in New Zealand last year shooting Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001). Blanchett's hair is still short and scruffy, a leftover from a previous film, and she smiles often during our conversation, preferring to play down her talent and beauty.
Cate, you seem to be leading a very interesting career, working on the kinds of artistically-inspired projects that every actress dreams about?
It has been a very extraordinary last few years. When you're an unknown actress struggling to pay the rent, you fantasize a lot about having a career where you can work on great films. So I'm living that fantasy now and it's incredibly gratifying. Sometimes I shake my head and laugh at how well things have worked out, but I also feel that I have a lot of good work ahead of me and that every film is a new adventure. I'm very happy to be where I am.
Your upcoming film, Shipping News, the (2001) is a highly anticipated project. What made you want to do it?
It's a brilliant novel and I wanted to work with director Lasse Hallström (CHOCOLAT (2000), CIDER HOUSE RULES, The (1999)) who is quite brilliant in his own right. There's also a line in SHIPPING nEWS, The (2001) that goes, "Nibble, nibble, little mouse. " I thought to myself, I have to take this role just so I can say that line!
It makes coming to the set every day that much more interesting. Actors feed off each other in general, and the higher the level of collaboration, the better your performance will tend to be. I've always been a huge fan of Kevin Spacey's work, and of Julianne's, and it makes for an incredibly creative atmosphere, especially with a story that has a lot of beauty as well as darkness.
What made you become an actress. Was it something you dreamed about as a child?
No. I kind of got the bug in university (University of Melbourne). I was studying fine arts and economics and I discovered that I was lousy in economics and not much interested in juggling numbers and studying the movement of hog and cattle prices. Another girl in one of my drama classes actually pushed me into acting because she said that I had a lot of talent even though she personally couldn't stand me!
So I applied to the Australian drama school (NIDA) and luckily for me I was accepted. Originally I had wanted to become a painter, but I was lousy at it and so acting was the one thing which I knew I could become good at.
How do you feel about acting now that you seem to be reaching the pinnacle of success?
I love this craft, and I hate it. .It can put an enormous strain on you psychologically and there are moments when I wonder whether I really want to put myself through that process. .. Sometimes it's terribly intense, even unpleasant, and then it's exhilirating again. I'm sure though that I'll be an actress until my dying day, but I also reserve the right to walk away from it at some point if the desire just isn't there anymore.
Is it true that your first acting job came in Egypt?
I can't remember who I told that to! I have such a poor sense of storytelling that I tend to tell the same anecdotes in every interview and I must have run out of things to say so I spoke about Egypt.
What happened was that when I was a student, I took a year off to travel. At one point I found myself dead broke in Egypt, staying in a seedy hotel. When the owners weren't printing forged passports or counterfeit money, they were shooting movies, and they asked me to be an extra. But it was so boring that I left. Anyway, at that time in my life I had no desire to be an actress.
Does being an Australian give you the sense of having grown up isolated from the rest of the world?
It does, in a sense. You do grow up with the feeling that you're stashed away in some far corner of the world. Every time I take a taxi in New York, the driver asks me where I'm from. When I say, "Sydney," he says, "I've always wanted to go there, but it's so far away. " Yes, it's a long way away, but I love living there. Australia is a fabulous country, unique, a paradise, but it is rather isolated. That's why it's so important for us to travel and work abroad and experience the rest of the world.
Australia's population is only 20 million. So on a per-capita basis,we have an enormous number of famous actors. (Laughs)
In 1999, an Australian newspaper named you, 'Australian of the Year'. What did that mean to you?
I was so happy that it brought tears to my eyes. It was like my family had given me this title and were saying to me, "We're proud of you. ". .. So I do have this sense of having gone out and carved out a place in the world for myself. You feel that you've exceeded any reasonable expectations that people might have had for you and proven yourself at the highest levels. For me to be able to work in Europe, in Hollywood, and work with some of the best actors and directors out there, well, it's a great feeling.
When you start earning big paychecks as you must surely be getting now, does it seem unreal to you?
Yes, but in a pleasant way. I used to worry a lot about money and about earning a living and you never forget the times you struggled to pay your rent.
When I started getting making a lot of money, it was a huge relief to realise that you don't have to worry about money anymore. You can just enjoy your life and focus on your work. It's pretty liberating. I don't have expensive tastes so I'm never going to put in a position of worrying about whether I can afford a second palazzo in Italy. I think I'll always live fairly simply.
Many American magazines have cited you for having very good fashion sense.
I try my best! I like wearing beautiful clothes and my tastes are fairly classic and not too wild so you won't find me in anything too controversial! (Laughs). I don't go to that many premieres or parties, so that makes it easier for me to pick a few good outfits every year. There's a fair bit of pressure on actresses when it comes to clothes, so I try not to give anyone any ammunition. But I'm sure I'll slip up in a major way one day. Give me time! (Laughs)
Karl Lagerfeld has photographed you many times. What was that experience like?
He's a bit intimidating when you don't know him well. Before meeting him, I had heard him described as a teddy bear. I'd say he's more like a polar bear. But he's a fascinating man. I could listen to him for hours, even though he speaks very fast.
Do you have the feeling that you're beautiful?
Well, maybe not in my current Pat Benatar hairdo. It's very '80s and I'm sure I've committed some style mistake which will land me on the "Worst Looks of the Year" list. That's good, then everyone's expectations are lowered. Otherwise, you always need to come up with some brilliant outfit.
How have you juggled marriage and the demands of your career?
Pretty well, I think. Andrew (Upton) is a wonderful man and we have a beautiful life together. My love for Andrew makes me feel that anything is possible. It gives me wings. ..
Does having a child deepen your relationship?
It's something we've wanted for a long time. Having a baby is an incredible event and we're looking forward to it. For me, you're better off having a child sooner rather than later and you can also use the experience to take some time off from the film business and just enjoying having a family and not worrying about work.
Do you have any preferences as far as your career choices are concerned?
I like to mix things up. I like playing in different kinds of stories where I play different kinds of characters. It's more stimulating. You never get bored thinking, "Oh, not this kind of role again!" That's why I loved playing Elizabeth and then characters in films like Ripley and Gift, the (2000) which were completely different.
What was it like shooting Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) in New Zealand?
It was fantastic, a grand epic adventure. One of those things thqat only happens once in the lifetime to an actress. In fact, the shooting location became a sort of pilgrammage site. Tolkein fans would come to gather stones and objects and ask me to autograph them. .. It's also interesting to watch how they put together such a huge production with a lot of special effects and makeup and incredible costumes and everything.
In one of your upcoming films, Heaven (2001), you have some serious romantic scenes, don't you?
Yes. I think it's going to be a film that people will remember for its intimacy and its beauty. We shot it in Tuscany and I play a woman who's hiding from the police and falls in love with an Italian policeman who winds up helping her hide. I loved making that film. You wish you could always work in such lush surroundings.
Do you feel that you could ever play a sexually predatory woman?
(Laughs) Oh, I'd love to play someone like that. I'm pretty reserved and shy and it's always exciting for me to let loose all my deeply buried aggressions out. I haven't had too many opportunities to do that so far in my career, so anything very sexy, very moody, very mysterious would be welcome.