Susan Granger profiles Cate Blanchett

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CATE THE GREAT

“I don’t necessarily think every job I do is going to reshape the universe, I just do what I like to do.” So says willowy actress Cate Blanchett. And in a nutshell, you have the true essence of what makes this lady tick. She has no pretense. No airs. No ego. She is completly grounded, feet first. An actor who loves her craft and couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

Why else would she sandwich in Richard Eyre’s low-budget, independent film “Notes on a Scandal” between “Babel and “The Good German?”

“Notes on a Scandal” is set at a North London private school where an older, unmarried teacher, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), befriends the new, bohemian art instructor, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), sensing a kindred spirit. But Barbara is not the only one drawn to Sheba, who becomes embroiled in an illicit relationship with one of her underage students.

The conceit of the novel was that it was based on the older woman’s “journal,” so one was never certain about the reliability of the reporter, and this unreliability becomes the pivotal dilemma. More than just a ‘scandal,’ it’s a story of loneliness and loyalty, envy and love – and, for some, it may be quite disturbing.

“I find it distressing, this belief that there’s a mass audience you can appeal to. This so-called science of marketing – the belief that there’s a film you could make that everyone in the world would go and see, it’s the most misplaced concept,” Cate observes, adding, “Usually, at the end of each film, I’m always asking, ‘What does it mean?’”

With “Notes on a Scandal,” what intrigued her was Patrick Marber’s script based on Zoe Heller’s novel.

“I’d read the book and thought, ‘Oh, this is interesting.’ There’s a real lost vulnerability about Sheba that I thought might be interesting to play,” Cate says. “The point of the story is not her relationship with a 15 year-old boy. Instead, it’s about this bizarre, enmeshed, fateful relationship between the two women. (But) morally I count it one of the most difficult things I’d done, in terms of how old was the actor going to be and what would his parents think about it? As it happens, the actor was of age, playing younger than he was, obviously, but still there are discussions that one has to have. I discovered that I was quite puritanical about it, which shocked me.”

“Also, in terms of my attraction to the opposite sex, I just don’t understand women who go out with men who are (even) five years younger than them; it’s not something I relate to. I would understand sleeping with a 60 year-old more. So I really had to think about why (Sheba does it), and I think she doesn’t even know why. I mean, why do we destroy our lives when we do? Why do we sabotage ourselves?”

Another enticement was the opportunity to work with Judi Dench, whom Cate describes as “utterly remarkable, an absolute Trojan.”

“If I had my way, if I was lucky enough, if I could be on the brink my entire life – that great sense of expectation and excitement without the disappointment – that would be the perfect state,” Cate muses in a discussion of her career choices.

So all she had to do was read Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s script for “Babel” and she “fell completely into the rabbit hole of Alejandro’s vision of the film.”

Cate plays an American who is accidentally shot in the neck as she’s riding on a tour bus in the Moroccan desert. While she lies helpless and bleeding, her distraught husband (Brad Pitt) frantically calls the U.S. Embassy to try to summon medical aid in this Muslim country where the local language and culture make communication a constant puzzlement.

“When Alejandro approached me, my first reaction was ‘this is an incredible story, but what is the challenge for me here?’ Very quickly I realized that to set up the complexities of the deep rifts and the chasm of misunderstanding between this emotionally estranged husband-and-wife, all with very little dialogue or screen-time, would be a mammoth challenge.”

“As (Martin) Scorsese says, ‘making a film is knowing where to put the camera,’ and Alejando knows this deeply, instinctively and absolutely,” Cate notes, citing the director who cast her as Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” for which she won an Academy Award last year as Best Supporting Actress.

Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German” involves a W.W. II journalist, Jake Geisman (George Clooney), who had reported from Berlin during the conflict and returns during the summer of 1945, ostensibly, to cover the Postsdam Conference in which America’s Harry S. Truman, Russia’s Joseph Stalin and England’s Clement Attlee negotiate peace treaties, plan reconstruction and attempt to restore order to the conquered lands. It would make a great story for Geisman – if that’s why he was really there….

During the war, Geisman fell in love with a married German woman, Lena (that’s Cate), making a cuckhold of Emil, her mathematician husband. With the conflict over, Geisman tries to rekindle their love affair but complications occur, involving a mystery indicating that Allied forces are rounding up the finest mathematical minds of the Axis, including a German named Emil.

“I will tell you right now – she will win the Oscar,” Geroge Clooney told Vanity Fair. “She’s the best actress working today. Not actress, she’s an actor. Intimidating, in a way, to work with an actor that good.”

Born on May 14, 1969, in Melbourne, Australia, Catherine Elise Blanchett is the daughter of Robert, an American naval officer-turned-advertising executive, and June, a Melbourne schoolteacher. When she was 10, Cate’s father died of a massive heart attack at age 40. After attending Methodist Ladies College, she went on to Melbourne University to study Fine Arts and Economics but dropped out to travel before deciding on a career.

“I did everything I could to avoid becoming an actress,” Cate reminisces. “I was more interested in the visual arts, maybe becoming a curator.”

On a trip through Egypt, Cate was asked to appear as an ‘extra’ in boxing movie. Because she needed the money, she took the job and was impressed at how actors had the power to genuinely move people, which is what she wanted to do. So she enrolled in Sydney’s prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts, graduating in 1992.

Cate’s movie debut was in Bruce Beresford’s “Paradise Road,” followed by “Oscar and Lucinda,” delivering a performance which so intrigued Shekhar Kapur that he cast her as Queen Elizabeth I in “Elizabeth,” winning a Golden Globe and Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Cate and writer/director husband Andrew Upton were married in 1998 and have two sons: Dashiell and Roman.

In 2007, Cate will be seen in “The Golden Age” and I’m Not There” – with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in pre-production for 2008, followed by “Cancer Vixen: A True Story.”

Set 15 years after the first “Elizabeth,” Shekhar Kapur’s “The Golden Age” once again stars Cate as the Virgin Queen, but – by now – the monarch has grown in confidence and power.

Excited about re-visiting the white-faced, imperious Queen, Cate chortles, “I’m one of those strange beasts who really like a corset – and I do prefer to do things that are bigger than me, to be a part of something bigger than me, rather than reducing everything down all the time.”

In contrast, Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” is an unconventional film biography of folksinger Bob Dylan with seven characters embodying a different aspect of Dylan’s life story and music. Along with Cate, there’s Christian Bale, Adrien Brody, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Julianne Moore and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

“It’s a fascinating concept, and I have always loved his music,” Cate marvels. “I’m kind of gender-loose. And in the era that I’m playing him, there were a lot of effeminate aesthetics going on. I really don’t have a grand plan as an actor about what I should be doing or what I think is best. I like to get stretched. You forget yourself, and that’s good.”

Then there’s David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald which chronicles an old man who physically ages backward. At age 50, he falls in love with a 30 year-old woman. They must come to terms with the relationship as they, literally, grow in opposite directions.

Finally, “Cancer Vixen” based on a memoir by Marisa Acocella Marchetto, a cartoonist.fashionista for Glamour and The New Yorker. It describes how she fell in love with a celebrity restaurateur and was planning their wedding when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and realized that she had let her health insurance lapse.

All these plans add up to the undeniable fact that directors are now clamoring to work with her…and, if George Clooney is right, a second Oscar might be close at hand.

“The Oscar is very beautiful. It’s like the golden calf – it’s utterly mesmerizing as an object. But I don’t feel any more important because I have won one; it doesn’t mean that I’m better than anyone,” Cate concludes. “In the end, you go home. It’s the most glorious feeling, but you move on and it’s wonderful to have done it. I must admit on the night there was an intense feeling of relief, and I thought, ‘Maybe now people will stop releasing every film I’m in in December.’ But you can’t control that stuff. Despite my occasional ambivalence about acting, I’m in it for the long haul.”

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