It seems Cate Blanchett can do it all. She has played the Queen of England (Elizabeth I in Elizabeth) as well as the Queen of Hollywood (Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator), for which she earned a supporting actress Oscar. But it wasn’t until this year that a cinematic match made in heaven occurred when Woody Allen rang her up and asked her to be in one of his films. Their pairing in Blue Jasmine does not disappoint. As a tragic victim of her own excessive lifestyle, Blanchett is heartbreakingly real and complex, a modern-day Blanche DuBois, but so much more. The role has won her critical raves and she has remained at the top of every Oscar pundit’s best actress list since the movie was released in July. In fact today she won the New York Film Critics Circles Best Actress award for the role. With Allen’s record of directing actors to Oscars and Blanchett’s fiercely sad and funny performance, it’s a good bet she will stay on top on those lists all the way through March.
AwardsLine: What was it about the role in Blue Jasmine that clicked for you?
Cate Blanchett: Where to start? When you get the call, you’ve already said yes before you’ve even read the script because of (Woody Allen’s) body of work and his sensibility, the opportunities he provides for actors and ensembles. I was won over by the absurdity and the tragedy that exists in pretty much every scene. It’s a portrait of a breakdown in many ways, but it’s also a story (about) people having relationships based on exteriors rather than what’s going on internally.
AwardsLine: You never know where this character is going to go at any given moment—she always seems to be on one end or the other.
Blanchett: She’s on this cocktail of alcohol and Xanax. It was important for me to work out when she was having a panic attack or when she wasn’t, her physical state as well as her psychological state. She’s arrived in San Francisco already desperate and broken. She’s such a combustible mix of guilt and rage and fear and longing. There’s a lot to play with. I thought it was kind of a paradise lost when she got to San Francisco, but did a paradise ever exist? Or was it just one of her own constructions founded on so many lies and betrayals, her husband’s infidelities and financial indiscretions? I mean, what are her friendships based on? Because she certainly doesn’t leave New York with any friends—her social circle has been decimated by the shame of her husband’s actions. Her whole marriage looks to have been a sham, and she doesn’t know who she is.
AwardsLine: The tone of the film is interesting. It’s definitely a drama, but it has funny moments when you want to laugh.
Blanchett: I laughed out loud when I read it. When you think about Crimes And Misdemeanors, there are some hilarious moments. At the time one’s horrendous divorce is catastrophic and wholly tragic, (but) when you retell it years later, you can finally find the ability to laugh.
AwardsLine: What was your working relationship like with Woody Allen? I’ve heard he doesn’t give a lot of direction.
Blanchett: He doesn’t. He’s not the boss; a lot of the direction is done in the writing. If I had questions and brought them to him, he tried to pick them apart. I found him to be very forthcoming.
AwardsLine: So it was a good process for you.
Blanchett: Sally (Hawkins, who plays her sister) and I were crying into our beers the first few days because we thought we had no idea how to do this. But like everyone else, we wanted him to be happy because we have such a deep respect for him. Then you realize he’s never going to be happy, and you just keep moving forward.
AwardsLine: How do you select your roles? What makes you want to get back in front of the camera?
Blanchett: I’ve been running an inner-city theater company with my husband, producing his work and other people’s work with myself as an actress, for five and a half years. It has been fabulous. Before doing that, I had worked on back-to-back films; I was a little bit burned out in terms of that rhythm with (having) young children (at home). In terms of how I select roles, you can’t possibly say no to Woody Allen. It’s quite practical: How long is the shoot? Is it during school holidays?
AwardsLine: Do you enjoy making movies as opposed to performing onstage?
Blanchett: Yes, I do! It’s entirely different, and they complement each other. A lot of the actors in this (Blue Jasmine) ensemble were in theater, so it was great to work with people who could analyze a scene and have a really strong sense of audience.
AwardsLine: What projects are you looking forward to working on next?
Blanchett: It’s been great working onstage and facilitating work with other people. But I love the chance to be working with as many people (as possible), like Woody. I’m going to be playing the wicked stepmother—don’t judge my character—in (Kenneth Branagh’s) Cinderella.
AwardsLine: There’s already great Oscar buzz for Blue Jasmine.
Blanchett: Is there? It’s better than disregard and disinterest.