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Harper's Bazaar Oct 2001

Cate expectations: she has been heralded as Australia's answer to Meryl Streep. With five films and a baby on the way, Hollywood's new queen, Cate Blanchett, is ready to deliver on her promise.

Howell, Georgina

I'm riding a hormonal tsunami at the moment," says Cate Blanchett. The 32-year-old actress, who is expecting her first baby later this year, has just blown in off the street, apologizing in a heartfelt way for being late. "I think my brain has already checked out." No one spotted her as she pushed her way through the Piccadilly crowds to London's Athenaeum Hotel on foot, but this isn't so surprising. Today, she looks like Joan of Arc in a gray cardigan. She isn't wearing any makeup, and her famous hair is still growing out since she shaved it to the skull for a movie a few months ago. Tomorrow, of course, she may very well look quite different, because switching personalities is what she does best.

In fact, Blanchett has been making waves since she first appeared on the Australian stage as the feminist troublemaker in David Mamet's Oleanna, in 1993, opposite Geoffrey Rush. It was a small but pivotal part in Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road, and her lead role as a Victorian tomboy in Gillian Armstrong's 1997 film Oscar and Lucinda, opposite Ralph Fiennes, that got Hollywood's attention. In 1997 she married screenwriter Andrew Upton whom she had met on the set of the Aussie film Thank God He Met Lizzie, and barely a month later she started work on Elizabeth, the film that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and catapulted her to sudden fame. Since then, she has played a Long Island housewife, all long nails and tight jeans, in Pushing Tin; Victorian English rose Lady Gertrude in Oliver Parker's film version of An Ideal Husband; an equally memorable 1950s American heiress in Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley; and a harried Southern widow with dangerous psychic abilities in The Gift. On the London stage, she even took on the demanding role of Susan Traherne in a revival of David Hare's corrosive political play Plenty, a tour de force that didn't make it to New York partly because she refused to go unless she could take the entire cast with her.

The year 2001, however, is the year in which Blanchett truly steps into the spotlight. With a baby on the way, she has five new movies poised to launch. In Bandits, out this month, a kind of updated Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, she gets a chance to show her comedic talents as a cosseted, bored housewife who gets swept along with a couple of bank robbers played by Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton. Ask any one of her fellow actors about her, and you sense they're trying to express something more than the requisite hyperbole. The usually cryptic Thornton, who cowrote the screenplay for The Gift and costarred with Blanchett in Bandits and Pushing Tin, explalns: "If someone were to ask me, 'Have you ever seen any weakness in Gate's ability and technique as an actress?' I'd say no. Nothing. Never. One of the best actors I have ever worked with." Director Barry Levinson adds, "Gate embraces a role so completely that she becomes a different human being. In Bandits, she has to disguise herself with wigs. Wit h every wig, she produced a different person."

At the moment, Blanchett certainly doesn't look much like Queen Elizabeth I. Sitting in a suite at the Athenaeum, she wears dark trousers and black suede moccasins; a big mohair collar frames her pale, expressive face. If she were in '70s makeup, her bright blue eyes would be as falcon-like as Charlotte Rampling's. As it is, they are perpetually changing. When she turns them up to the ceiling, she's a medieval saint; when she looks down, she's a Buddha. Meanwhile, a thousand inflections flit across her wonderful face, prefiguring the thing she's about to say. Wide, flat cheeks, big broad nose, sensuous curvy lips. Not exactly pretty, almost too much character. Beautiful, sometimes. Fascinating to watch, always.

I miss her wonderful auburn hair, which is now blonde and about the length of a schoolboy's. But having her hair cropped for Tom Tykwer's upcoming film Heaven, which centers on a young British widow (Blanchett) who gets involved with drug lords in Italy, seems to have been merely one more new experience. "It just had to be done," she explains. "In the story, it was an act of purity, a voluntary sacrifice. Everyone was so worried about it that I was counseling them. But cutting it all off was so liberating! You know when you see a field of wheat and you can chart the path of the wind? My head was constantly being caressed by the breeze. I said to myself, 'When it grows, I'm not going to dye it anymore.'" She smiles. "Then a friend said, 'I did-n't realize you were a swamp-water blonde.' I dyed it the next day! Of course now I'm bored stiff with it being short."

As easily as she shaves her head, Gate Blanchett can shrug off all the accoutrements of success, as well as success itself. "The further you go along the road in this profession, the more mollycoddled and defensive you can become. But you have to check it all at the door when you step on the set. It's absolutely at the core of me that this work's just an extension of my life, sitting in tandem with all the other things I want to do."

Chief among these is having the baby. She used to say she was scared that one day she would turn to her husband and tell him, "Honey, I forgot to have kids!" And she has said that having a child is the only thing that would or could stop her from working. As she talks about the baby, she sounds, for the first time today, like an Australian: "We're spur-of-the-moment folk, Andrew and me. We take it as it comes. This wee one in my womb is such an enormous change, I can't fathom it. People keep telling me a thousand and one stories about what happens when you become a mother, but I actually don't know yet how I'm going to feel and how Andrew's going to feel, so ... I'm navigating. We don't even know where we're going to live. We're working that out at the moment. But as an Australian, you never really leave." She has recently taken on the role of ambassador for the Australian Film Institute, and her family still lives there: her mother; her brother, who works with computers; and her sister, a stage designer. Aft er a pause, Blanchett adds, "I think the most difficult thing will be to share Andrew with another creature."

In the meantime, she has left us with so many new films it will take us a long time to realize she has gone. In the coming months, she'll be Galadriel in Peter Jackson's long-awaited epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings ("I hope I look like every child's image of the queen of the elves"), and the English teacher in Heaven, with Giovanni Ribisi. She also has a small role as the wife from hell in The Shipping News, with Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore, and the lead in Gillian Armstrong's adaptation of Charlotte Gray, playing a noble French Resistance heroine opposite Billy Crudup. "As an actor, you can never come in the door the same way twice," she says. "You take on a part and you have no idea how to do it. But that's the bit that excites me, the bit that makes you go"--she switches into a rising quaver--" 'Ooooh, God, I'm going to be found out this time!'" Ask her how she does it and she will do anything but answer.

She will admit that her life, recently, has been like living in a blender: "Last year it was Savannah, New Zealand, London, Italy, Germany, London, Oregon, coastal North America, Australia. This year it has been L.A., Scotland, London, France, London, Nova Scotia, New York, Paris, and London. No wonder I got a little lost on the way here!" Her voice is soft and layered and can go deep, and she has a raunchy laugh. "I was talking yesterday to a director, and we were complaining about how busy we've been. And he said, 'Yes, but work's your life, isn't it?' and I went"--her voice fades into that kittenish squeak again--"'N-no!'

"This is my last bit of work," she says of this interview. "I check out when we say goodbye." Surely she's only talking about knocking off for a few months to have the baby. Or is she? "I don't have the sense that my acting should or necessarily will continue," she says. "It's important for me to reserve the right to walk away, because that means if I stay, it's for healthy reasons, not out of fear, So I'm constantly giving up acting--or giving over to it!" She is in what you come to recognize as her chosen and favorite place: lost in space, an explorer of unknown territory. "I'm not frightened of change," she says lightly. "The less I think about happiness, the happier I am," she has also said. "I've never wanted to know what was going to happen to me.

When you ask about how Blanchett plans to raise her future child, she'll tell you that her own childhood was happy but gave her no illusions about her own importance. The middle child of three, she was born in Melbourne to an American father and Australian mother, a businesswoman. Her father, who had been in the navy before going into advertising, died when she was 10, and her mother brought up her son and two daughters with more love than money, making their clothes and encouraging their talents. (You cannot help wondering if the harried, penniless mother of three in The Gift is a tender portrait of her own hard-up mother.)

At the Methodist Ladies' College in Melbourne ("We used to call it Men's Last Chance"), she flourished among some 2000 other pupils and shone at drama. But at Melbourne University, she was no model student. She struggled with economics, took a year off, switched courses, and dropped Out in 1990 to take a place at NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. Her role in Elizabeth--and the Oscar nomination that followed--was clearly the turning point: "Once you've done a few jobs and you look back, there's this trail of crumbs behind you. You can see the trajectory. But at the time there was no grand plan--no plan at all. And it didn't feel as if I had got to a special place."

Her Golden Globes experience in 1999 was ego-crushing: "I'll never forget it! They told me to be there an hour early. They said, 'It will take you 45 or 50 minutes to get through the press line.' Okay, so my limo draws up just behind John Travolta's, and everyone's screaming for him. I get out, and it all goes quiet. I walk up the red carpet and no one's calling out to me, so I get to the end in two or three minutes. And then someone grabs me by the elbow and I say something like, 'I'm Gate Blanchett, and I'm invited!' And so they yank me down to the beginning and tell the press, 'It's that girl whose name is on the VIP list,' and I have to walk all the way up again." It was a very different story after she won.

Bringing a sense of levity to the darkest moments isn't just a talent Blanchett uses on-screen. It is one of her most engaging characteristics. But how will this free spirit adapt to the greater unknown of long-term marriage and a baby? "Look, of course you never know what the future holds," she says. "I talk to friends a lot about falling in love, and with them it's all about how it falls short and they feel let down. People see commitment as being compromise. In the case of Andrew and me, I didn't try and make something fit. Something happened to me, and I would like to try and change shape to fit that." In this case, it may just take her a little longer than usual. Say, nine months.

RELATED ARTICLE: IN THE SPOTLIGHT

A fan of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour, Cate Blanchett shines in oversize gold earrings and intensely red lips. Yellow-gold earrings with emeralds, rubies, and yellow diamonds, de Grisogono. Select Neiman Marcus stores. Regal red: Givenchy Lipstick in No. 704. See Buyline for details. Fashion editor: Mary Alice Stephenson

Having interviewed a who's who of great actors over the years journalist GEORGINA HOWELL is not so easily impressed. But after meeting cover all Cate Blanchett Cate Expectations page 222. She was utterly smitter. Cate is like Liz Taylor. She has that special something says Howell who is a writer for London's Sunday Times Magazine.




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