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Gotham December 2001/January 2002


Making Out Like a Bandit

Australian stunner Cate Blanchett has tackled such far-flung roles as a virgin queen, southern small-town psychic, and housewife on the run, winning over the hearts of critics and audiences alike. This holiday sees the release of the much-anticipated first installment of The Lord of the Rings, in which Blanchett co-stars as Lady Galadriel, Queen of the Elves, opposite such heavy hitters as Sir Ian McKellen and Liv Tyler. Shep Moragn catches up with the actress who talks frankly about her upcoming roles, her fast-approach motherhood, her shorn hair, and yes, the quandary of diaper services.

If there's an antidote to typecasting, Cate Blanchett has it -- in spades. What sets her apart? Chalk it up to her uncanny ability to disappear into a stunningly diverse range of roles from a Tudor-era British queen to an American housewife running away from a bad marriage with a pair of bank robbers.

Now, the very pregnant actress has taken a breather at home in London, awaiting the birth of her first child with her husband, screenwriter Andrew Upton. But while she's on the sidelines, Blanchett will be seen everywhere on the big screen. She's' Queen of the Elves in Lord of the Rings, the two-timing ex-wife Petal Bear in The Shipping news, and heroic World War II volunteer in Charlotte Gray, and a teacher jailed in Italy after her plot to bomb a drug dealer goes horribly wrong in Heaven.

The 32-year-old Australian has been dazzling critics and audiences with her chameleon-lie skills ever since she heated up the screen with Ralph Fiennes in Oscar and Lucinda. Then cam Elizabeth, which brought her critical acclaim, an Academy Award nomination for best actress, and an avalanche of offers.

In Charlotte Gray (based on the best-selling novel by Sebastian Faulks) Blanchett reunited with fellow Aussie, acclaimed director Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda). Blanchett plays the title character, a Scottish woman working in Britain during World War II. When her boyfriend, an RAF pilot, is classified as missing in action she volunteers for a secret mission behind enemy lines in France. Under cover, she helps the French resistance and falls in love with a local leader played by Billy Crudup.

On an early fall night in London, Blanchett opens up to Gotham. She3 has just shared a dinner with her husband, which they cooked together (she confides that he's the more adventurous cook). She settles back in their two-floor apartment, and the conversation flows...

Gotham: Let's talk about dancing. You and your husband learned together, didn't you?

CB: When we were dating we decided that we wanted to dance, so we went to the Fred Astaire Studio. The instructor told us that the tango was our dance. We've got a couple of friends who are wonderful tango dancers, so we dip into it occasionally with them.

G: Is dancing on hold until after the birth?

CB: Oh, no, we are going to go around next week, actually. It is probably easier fro Andrew now that I'm pregnant. He's got more to grip.

G: So how are you holding up?

CB: I've been spending a lot of sleepless nights in preparation for more sleepless nights. Being pregnant, expecting a baby, is an enormous thing really. I don't think one can even fathom the change. But just like everything else I take it a step at a time. I keep telling myself that I shouldn't panic.

G: After working non-stop on film locations around the world, you're suddenly sitting quietly in a London flat. Aren't you getting antsy?

CB: I thought I would. I told a friend yesterday that I thought it would take me months to wind down, and it actually took me about two-and-a half minutes. It was very easy. I was about ready to stop anyways.

G: Do you have a little "when I'm pregnant" list of things you'd like to accomplish?

CB: Yes, and the list remains as long as my leg. The only thing I've really done is call the people that I didn't speak to last year. That was at the top of my list. But finishing my university degree, speed-reading courses? No, I don't think so. Now, I'm concentrating on which nappy [diaper] service to get. That's the sort of thing that you actually end up doing.

G: Do you have a closet full of trendy maternity clothes?

CB: I have some but I don't know about trendy. Actually, I have sort of the popped the elastic on the top of all my pants. Those are my mainstays.

G: do you have a list of names yet?

CB: That is such a responsibility naming someone. We're still working on that. I'll have tog et back to you.

G: Let's see, you named your Jack Russell Terrier "Egg." You aren't planning something that off-beat for the baby are you?

CB: Well, what should I call a dog, Boo Boo? Egg is just a dog. He was the runt of the litter, and he's white so he looks like a little egg. Ironically , the vet we take him to has cats that are called Egg and Milk. I think maybe it's an English thing.

G: Now Egg is going to have to contend with a new face in the house.

CB: My husband said the dog is going to be number four. He's a big number four. In fact he's not called Egg anymore, he's called number four.

G: Will your husband be there, do you think, for the delivery, or have you not discussed it yet?

CB: Oh yes, absolutely, he will be there. I don't envy him. I mean, if I had to watch Andrew in the amount of pain I'll probably be experiencing, I don't know what I'd do.

G: What's the secret to the obviously very happy relationship you share with Andrew?

CB: We don't' take ourselves too seriously. I just love him. It is quite simple actually. I think when things are good, they are very simple. He is just incredibly gifted and a generous human being, and I'm blessed. I'm going to start to cry if I talk about this much more.

G: Does it take somebody who is very secure in themselves to have a wife who is so successful and gest so much worldwide attention?

CB: Oh absolutely. Andrew is the strongest person I know. He's got his own life and he does his own thing. It's fantastic to be with someone whose mind is so incredible and who is able to speak with you about your work in a sort of complex way without the fluff - although, he understand s the fluff side of the business, too. Andrew was the fist person I could actually talk to about my acting because it's very private for me. But soon we'll probably be talking about nappy wraps.

G: Even though you're off movie sets for awhile, we're going to be seeing something of a Cate Blanchett film festival in the next few months including the much anticipated Lord of the Rings where you get to play a queen again.

CB: Yes, but a slightly more abstract one since Galadriel happens to be Queen of the Elves. It's a lot easeir to research an elf queen than the Queen of England.

G: It's no secret that they gave ou pointy ears. Did you feel like you were in Star Trek?

CB: No, they're beautiful ears. I feel in love with them and the special effects workshop had them bronzed and I've actually put them on my mantle piece. They're lovely mementos.

G: They might seem a little odd but not as strange as your collection of glove molds. How did that begin?

CB: My sister bought a really quirky ceramic frog once, and she had it in her room. One of her friends saw it and got her another frog. All of a sudden people said, "oh my God, she collects frogs," and they started giving them to her. It's a little big like that with me and the hands. I found this fantastic ceramic glove mold which I brought home. then people just started to give them to me. My husband brought one back from Australia that he got from his father who is a doctor. I think it must be plastic, and you can pull the hand apart and see all the workings, so that's my pride and joy. I do find hands fascinating.

G: Let's talk about that all important subject, hair. ou gave it all up for your role in Heaven, which will be released early next year.

CB: Yes, I had my head completely shaved on camera. I found that as the days approached to the moment, the tension became ridiculous. It was actually my idea to do it as part of a scene and that meant no re-takes. I was so relieved when it was over. You know when you see a field of wheat and it's being caressed by the wind? That's what my head felt like. It was just fantastic. I wouldn't do it again tomorrow, but the fist of of couple of months is great. Then, you start looking like a tennis ball, and that is not expected.

G:Was it liberating?

CB: Its liek when you're a teenager and just want to go, "Fuck it, I'm going to shave my head." Actually I shaved the back of my head when I was like 15 and it was great.
G: Was that your punk phase?

CB: Oh, I don't know. I wish it were more punk. It was probably a little bit more Cydni Lauper. But I found it liberating in the sense that I thought I was back to neutral and I could go anywhere from there.

G: You took on a very challenging lead role in Charlotte Gray playing an ordinary woman who find extraordinary potential in herself. Charlotte Gray is a woman who goes on a voyage of self discovery, wouldn't you say?

CB: Yes Charlotte loses herself to find herself. She's an idealist, absolutely, and she is searching for some value to her life. She finds it by volunteering to go behind enemy lines.

G: Do you ever test yourself, wonder if confronted within the same set of circumstances you would have been up to what Charlotte did?

CB: Oh, Absolutely. She's very self-possessed, and refuses to let her spirit be defeated by the war. I don't know about you, but I've had many many days since September 11 where I am in absently Despair. You think" What can you do?" charlotte says in the film, "I want to do something. I've got to get out there. I want to be brave." She wants to combat her feelings of powerlessness. Now, a few decades later, I find myself dealing with the same dilemma.

G: There's a lot of very demanding physical action in Charlotte Gray. Were you up to it?

CB: I think so, even though I'd just found out i was pregnant, which is something i kept to myself during filming. They put us through a really nasty obstacle course to get ready. And it was freezing, bloody cold. I spent a lot of time on a bicycle. Every day it seemed I'd go to the set and I was back on the damn bicycle. I did manage to avoid the parachuting scene. I think I'd do almost anything for work, but i don't know if I would jump out of a plane. Fortunately, It wasn't asked of me. I'm in practically every frame in the film really, so they were paranoid that something might happen to me.

G: Your leading man, who plays a French resistance leader, is Billy Crudup. He has that sex symbol image. Did he live up to his billing?

CB: He'll be furious if he hears you call hima sex symbol. Gillian Armstrong told him one night that a take he had done was sexy, and he almost threw up. I think Billy is just interested in doing the work. I don't think he's intereste in the labels people attach to him. He resists that.
G: How do you feel when people call you sexy, befcause you are?

CB: You are the first one today. It hasn't happened very muchin the last even-and-a-half montsh. I mean, it's embarrassing when peopel describe you. I am m uch more outwrd looking, trying not to focus too mch on myself. But I don't mind being called sexy, expecially right now.

G: You were both sexy and evil in The shipping News playing Petal Bear, the two-timing ex-wife of Kevin Spacey. How would you describe that role, which is small but memorable?

CB: Delicious is the word. I thought, "How can there be so much evil in a character who's around in the story for such a short time?" It was something I hadn't played before, and I thought it would be really great fun. And it was. I just wanted to test the waters in a different area. I thin once you reach a certain level you can lose your drive to experiment. It's not that I'm at any particularly high level, but maybe I'm perceived in a way that could sort of push me to end up not doing something that I love, but what you are sort of expected to do. I just thought, "No, I really want to try this out, even if I fall flat on my face."

G: A lot of actors say, "Let me play a a villain. It's twice as much fun."

CB: I say let me play anything different, whether it be a villain or an elephant. But I mean, it was great coming off of Charlotte Gray to play Petal Bear because Charlotte was obviously far more complex.

G: Given the mood of the world right now do you think we may be looking for more films like Charlotte Gray?

CB: Definitely. I think that a lot of those smash 'em up films that have been pulled have left room for perhaps more thoughtful pictures to come in and actually get a bit more attention. I thin a lot of those films are very life affirming, and I think that Charlotte Gray is one of them. I think telling stories is part of the healing process. Look at the way since that terrible day people have needed to say where they were and what they were doing and who they know. And I think that's what telling stories on-screen and on-stage does as well. I hop art has a place in people's consciousness at the moment, because I think it's a place where new ideas are born.

G: Does being pregnant take on some extra meaning in such an uncertain time?

CB: I think it has been very comforting to know I'm going to have a child. It's the ultimate expression of hope, because you have to be hopeful. This child won't know what life was like before. This is the world now. it forces you to be positive and optimistic and often incredibly realistic.

G: After the tragedy was there ever a moment when you wondered if it was the right time to have a baby?

CB: I think above everything there is not a right time to have children. You can sort of prepare yourself as best as you can but there's a new being that's going to affect the rhythm of your life. You just have to b e open to it. I'm also not worried about how it's going to affect my career. I'm not a fearful person. There's more to life than acting, love it as I do.

G: You've played such a stunning range of characters with an ability to disappear into each one of them. Do they stay with you?

CB: I've been lucky to be involved with very diverse projects where different thinks have been asked of me, so I think that in a lot of ways I don't get item to become sentimental about a role. I'm sort of moving on to the next thing. And in a lot of was it makes it really easy to let go. I find the more I do, the easier it is to let go of the experience. You know, people talk about Elizabeth, and I just think, "My God, It's so long ago." So much has happened to me in that time. And now I'm beginning a whole new chapter."