Detour 1999

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InStyle 1999
Los Angeles 1999
Detour 1999                                                

Detour 1999


Decidedly not a member o the celebrity cult, Will Self, England's finest comic novelist, hits the town with Cate Blanchett, Australia's finest serious actress. Do they kiss? Well, they're both married and all...

Gwyneth who?

as a matter of principle, I make it my business never to interview actors. In terms of the hierarchy of cultural functionaries, I would consider such an inquisition to be on par with discussing metaphysics with a catwalk model. When an editor calls and tries to commission me I usually snap back: "Will they have a script for the interview?" Sarcasm -- huh? But when the editor of this publication called and asked me to interview Cate Blanchett, the young Australian actor nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Shekhar Kapur's gritty, tumultuous Elizabeth, I thought to myself, Hell! Why not make an exception to prove this rule? And anyway, it would be interesting to observe what the up-and-coming screen goddess of the '90s was like. If the direction of emulation, star-to-fan, had undergone a reversal, would it mean that the nascent screen goddess was no longer icy, aloof, burningly untouchable, but vulnerable, cuddly, intimate? A kind of thespian Princess Diana?

And Blanchett is the actor of the moment who has her fine foot on the first step of the pantheon surmounted by Screen Olympia. It's now her versus Gwyneth Paltrow in much the same way it was once Ali versus Foreman in boxing, or Keith Richards versus Jimi Hendrix in the realm of guitar heroes.

It's a media-friendly little head-to-head because both actresses are nominated for playing historical characters (albeit Paltrow's is fictional), in films which are set in dear old England, a country whose cultural arrogance knows no diminution, whatever its flailing status in the arena of geopolitics. And no two renditions of Tudor-cum-Stuart England could be more different. Paltrow's Shakespeare in Love is an anachronistic little comedy-romance, which glancingly satirizes the more contemporary Hollywood -- a classic piece of self-referential froth -- whereas Elizabeth is a stab at pell-mell, high-ambition, high-style, auteur-driven filmmaking.

While Paltrow gets to show herself in the best of contemporary, titivating, androgynous lights -- impersonating a boy actor in order to rekindle the Bard's pen as well as his pork sword -- Blanchett has to convey the shattering psychic turmoils of a young woman thrust into a royal court ruled by such paranoia, lubriciousness, and overall danger, that it makes the Borgias look like the Monkees.

So, it's hardly a case of comparing like performance with like -- but anyway, that's not what I'm here to do, nor am I interested in writing that article you've read a thousand times before, in which an imaginatively exhausted journalist attempts to psychoanalytically synthesize an actor and her roles, in order to produce yet another piece of self-aggrandizing, bogus fabrication, a gloss on the sacred text of personality.

No, what you want to know -- what I want to know, what we all really want to know, is what's she like? What is this beautiful, poised, evidently intelligent young woman, who for far longer than her allotted fifteen minutes, will have a great globe of the world's emotionality, perched like a soccer ball on the very tip of one of her elegant feet, like?

She's in London for six months to appear in a West End revival of David Hare's play Plenty. The English critics have already opined that she is perfect for the role of the well-born Englishwoman, whose intelligence and fiery temperament are her passport to a heroic role as a spy in wartime, occupied France, but which drive her to insanity in the stifling conformity of upper-middle-class, post-war England. Blanchett told me that her ideal role would be a "female Hamlet" but barring the discovery of such an amazing text, the role in Plenty is a substitute of sorts.

We met up on a dullish Wednesday afternoon in Central London, a city which often seems to have a monopoly on immemorial dolor. Naturally, having watched the film performances and studied the photographs, I was able to recognize her when she slipped diffidently into the bar of the Groucho Club. But despite the fact that this is London's premier private drinking club -- and the rendezvous for any star of any stature whatsoever who's passing through town -- Blanchett was conspicuously ungoggled at. (Incidentally, never believe a word you read about English reticence; we rubberneck a celebrity just as much as any other people -- possibly more.)

It was easy to see why. She's one of those actors whose physical presence is tentative to the point of being experimental. It is as if she has taken it upon herself to fully epitomize the expression "to move lightly up the face of the earth;" or that ordinary life itself has a provisional status, and she's waiting to see if she's passed the audition. She's wearing a full-length, tan leather overcoat, patterned so as to appear quasi-lizard skin. Beneath this there was an interestingly tufty black sweater, which might have been chenille, or possibly something still more exotic. Her trousers were dark to the point of being opaque, although there was no hiding the fact that Blanchett is achingly svelte. Her blond hair was tightly scraped back, exposing her absolutely flawless face.

I have an unusual, if not to say disturbing, capacity for the minute examination of people; and the Blanchett face received the undivided, highly focused attention of my insidious pore-cam. There was not a blemish, not a wrinkle, not a single dermatological glitch. Even so, this is a face with real character -- not a vapid tablua rasa, waiting for Estee Lauder to get to work on it. Blanchett radiates strength of character and -- for an actor, lively intellect. Later on, as we wander around the plush rooms of the National Portrait Gallery, examining the stylized physiognomies of the past, she made a little moue and said that beauty was "all in the mouth."

Many even quite beautiful Australian women achieve the rare facial quirk of having mouths that are distinctly oblong in shape; the corners