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Australian Bazaar March 2005

Drama Queen

A new son, a new home and a coveted role in Martin Scorsese's latest film - it's been a busy time for Cate Blanchett...and it looks like staying that way.

Cate Blanchett is in her trailer on the Sydney set of the upcoming Australian film Little Fish. The actress is preoccupied and fidgety and we've got 40 minutes to chat while she's on her lunch break. She's still in costume - blue knee-length skirt, blue button-up blouse, , fine gold chain around her neck and a tiny diamond stud in her nose - and her assistant Lisa is making sure she's happy and fed. Blanchett's not hungry but she is after something sweet, and maybe a coffee. The actress makes some space on the cluttered table and slides into the seat as Lisa returns with coffee and plate of fish and salad. at which Blanchett screws p her nose. She picks up a pen and stars doodling on a piece of paper as she talks about the madness of 2004.

"I do love being busy," says Blanchett, who last year wrapped two Hollywood films, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Aviator, and gave birth to her second son, Roman. Mid-year, Blanchett, 35, and her husband, playwright Andrew Upton, 38, Roman and toddler Dashiell returned to Australia for the Sydney Theatre Company's sell-out season of Hedda Gabler, which was adapted by Upton and in which Blanchett starred (she will reprise the role in New York in 2006 with the original cast). There were also flights back to Los Angeles in between, as well as her work with Japanese skincare company SK-II plus Little Fish.

In the rowan woods-directed Little Fish, Blanchett plays Tracy Heart, a recovering heroin addict who is trying to create a future for herself without being pulled back into her dangerous past, and today they're shooting some of the final scenes in a red brick house in the beachside suburb of Maroubra. The role is emotionally intense and obviously it is hard to leave Tracy on set, which may explain why our interview was postponed three times and Blanchett's apparent indifference today. "The characters are struggling, they are forgotten people, " says the actress, who co-stars alongside Hugo Weaving and Sam Neil. "I can't remember a film where I've seen characters who are 30-something who have failed in their twenties and are so deeply uncool and unfashionable. They are disenfranchised people who just don't get a look-in and it is fascinating to see their small aspirations, and how externally small they are, and how they sort of struggle to move on."

Now really focused on her doodling, Blanchett explains why she loves acting so much. "I feel completely absorbed by the moment, the occasion of one's existence. Those moments are so rich, you just automatically get energetically moved into the next moment." In contrast, her collaboration with Donna Karan, which is now complete, and her spokesperson role with SK-II were "a bit of fun", she says. "[Donna Karan] is an incredible campaign, also it was nice to put a little bit of makeup on. And SK-II...don't get me started," she laughs a little. "I wouldn't' be involved in it if i didn't believe in it."

Blanchett begins moving about the trailer and the conversation changes to the subject of weddings - apparently, she would like to renew her vows with her husband of nine years but is too superstitions. "I would love to get married again. I loved the whole thing but I think maybe getting married twice is bad luck. Everyone seems to get divorced after renewing their vows," says Blanchett, who met Upton on the set of Thank God He Met Lizzy, in which she starred while he was working as a screen editor. They married in 1997, just a week before Blanchett began work on Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth, which eventually led to a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

Lucky and in love, Blanchett has managed to avoid having her relationship lived out in full colour in the tabloid press. "I value it; you just don't talk about it. It is not helpful in any way," says Blanchett of her private life, adding that her distrust for the media is fuelled by her believe that some journalists have hidden agendas. "Sometimes when you meet journalists, they as if you were ever on Neighbors, and I've got nothing against Neighbors, but you know they are trying to denigrate Australian culture and therefore denigrate those people. Stupid things." It's likely Blanchett is referring to the time when she was asked if she had ever appeared on the Australian soap, to which she replied: "Absolutely not. I'm an actress." So maybe she is a little gun-shy after being burnt early on in her career.

Regardless, Blanchett isn't the happy-go-lucky Melbourne girl she is often portrayed as, but hse is formidable, driven actress. Martin Scorsese knew this when he was searching or an actress to play Katharine Hepburn in this month's The Aviator, a biopic about Hollywood film-maker and aviator Howard Hughes. It is a role Hollywood's A-list actresses would have killed for. Just the opportunity to audition for it would have been a coup. "You can't speak for a couple of minutes," says Blanchett of the moment when Scorsese called to offer her the role opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. "Then you say, ' Of course, when do we start?' And then you get off the phone and panic. I was sort of in shock. It was so excited and then i thought, ' What have I done? What have I got myself in for?' And you know, the main thing is that Marty is pleased with it.

"It was terrifying," she continues. "I think the baggage that comes with taking on such a role, the image you need to shed, the preconceptions that you need to not shirk off but deal with before you can actually get to the part of acting are really major. I just knew that I had an enormous amount of work to do, and the great thing about having a lot of work to do is there is no time for nerves because you just have to apply yourself. I mean, it was for Martin Scorsese so you couldn't be in more interesting and challenging hands."

And, yep, Marty is pleased with her Kate. The Gangs of New York and Godfellas director has described Blanchett - who has scored Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for the role - as "brilliant", noting that she has "the bearing of Katharine, off-camera too". Katharine Hepburn was the Meryl Streep of her time. She won four Academy Awards, was nominated another eight times, and was an uncontested icon of the stage and screen. She also refused to play the celebrity game. She defied the era's stereotypes for actresses, dressing unfashionably )(she wore her gardening clothes to the 1974 Academy Awards), wearing no makeup, turning down interviews and autograph request and earning the "difficult to work with" label. Okay, Blanchett ism ore likely to wear John Galliano or John Paul Gautier than dungarees to the Oscars, but you can see why Scorsese has made the comparison.

What does put a smile on Blanchett's face are her boys, whose photographs cover the wall just above the actress's head. She is fortunate at the moment, she says, because Danshiell, three, and Roman, now 11 months, are still portable and travel the world with Mum and Dad. While in Sydney, the Uptons set up home in beachside Coogee and enrolled Dashiell in the local Montessori school. She is impressed already by the impact of its teaching methods. "I had an unexpected day off a couple of months ago and I said to Dash, 'Come on, we'll play' - and it got to about nine o'clock in the morning and he said, 'I'm sorry Mummy, I've got to go and do my work.' He was really sort of sympathetic - but he just had to go to school."

"We are on the eternal search for a place to be," continues Blanchett, who recently bought a harbourside home in Sydney's Hunters Hill and also owns a home in Brighton, outside London. "I think it is very exciting for children to get up and move, but it does take its toll on them. You set out with a plan, but you've got to be completely open to just chucking t away because it may not work. You've got to be acutely aware of the changing needs of the members of your family and to say, 'You know, this isn't working. We have to do this for them.' It's also psychological and emotional development, because some children feel they may be on the move until the age of 10, but other children at the age of four feel anxious about that, so you have to kind of adapt." There are plans to come back in 2005 and make Sydney home while Andrew adapts Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard for the Sydney Theatre Company.

The conversation moves into art, fashion and the exquisite Christian Dior dress she wore for the BAZAAR shoot. "I've always been interested in fashion," says Blanchett when asked about her international "fashion icon" status. "I've always sort of seen it as costume. I'm fascinated by costume, texture and fabric. It has always been an interest, but it hasn't always necessarily been me wearing it..." Over the years, she has become more accustomed to being photographed. "It is weird - there is a huge difference being comfortable with a movie image and then seeing yourself as a static image, or creating a static image. Suddenly, clothes on me, static images of me. I went, 'Oh hang on, I'm meant to wear them and move,' so [I have] to try and get my head around that, feeling comfortable doing that."

Nicole Kidman is archiving her Oscar gowns with a view of donating them to a museum one day. Is there a wardrobe somewhere in the world holding that incredible Jean Paul Gaultier dress Blanchett wore to the 2000 Academy Awards? "Oh, I'm not pompous enough to say I'm archiving them," says Blanchett. "But I have some really beautiful, beautiful things that I am taking care of." As well as fashion, Blanchett has a passion for the visual arts, which started when she was studying fine arts and economics at the University of Melbourne. Now armed with a Hollywood pay cheque, the actress's passion has turned to collecting. "I remember speaking to Sam Neill years ago and he was saying he's got his Arthur Boyds, and if he had a little bit of money he would tuck it away [for art]. So whenever we've had a little bit of money we've bought something. We recently bought this amazing Chinese artist called Guan Wei who I think is really remarkable. Rosealie Goscoigne was like that for me when I first encountered her work. Gerhard Richter - you suddenly see the world in a different way. I've recently seen Bill Viola's work - he's a video artist. If you ever hear of any installations of his, go and se it it is remarkable."

The interview comes to a close with a knock on the door and word from Lisa that makeup is ready for her. Two more days on the Little Fish set and then Blanchett is on a flight bound for the New York premiere of The Aviator. After living out of a suitcase for most of last year, Blanchett says she is a little reluctant to sign on to another project just yet. "For now, I don't want to fill up the dance card," she says. Today, that maybe the case, and regardless of her indifference, what is clear is that Cate Blanchett is focused on her art and it won't be long before that card is filled once again.