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Hollywood Life December 2003



There's Something About Cate

by Michael Fleming

Most major actresses would love to be Cate Blanchett.

Not just because she so convincingly inhabits all kinds of characters from any period--from the steely queen in Elizabeth, to the ruthlessly promiscuous mother in The Shipping News. And not just because she seems to be getting offered juicy roles by a series of world-class directors. Like Veronica Guerin, where she plays a crusading Irish crime reporter gunned down after getting too close to heroin dealers, helmed by Joel Schumacher or The Missing, Ron Howard's saga of a frontier woman who enlists her estranged father to help recover her kidnapped daughter. Or her recurring role as the elf queen Galadriel in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which finally sees its conclusion this December with The Return of the King. Or even the Martin Scorsese-directed The Aviator, where she gets to sink her teeth into Katharine Hepburn during that icon's torrid affair with Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

No, what must be most vexing to her peers is that she does all this with comparative anonymity. Splitting time between movie sets and her homes in England and Australia with playwright husband Andrew Upton and their firstborn son Dashiell, she's been able to keep her distance from Hollywood. She doesn't get shadowed by the paparazzi, as do Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lopez. In fact, she barely gets recognized walking down the street. She doesn't covet scripts or court directors. None of which has in the least disrupted her stratospheric career.

How does she do it? Ask Schumacher, who met Blanchett years ago, before seeing a frame of film. To hear him tell it, she had him at hello. "Five seconds after meeting her, I saw what I'd seen in Julia Roberts and would later see in Colin Farrell," he recalls. "The hard part was waiting for the right movie." He says he knew the minute he accepted the job of directing Guerin that he was "going to Cate."

Guerin was Blanchett's first role after maternity leave--and not the easiest subject matter to return to. The real-life Guerin had her child threatened with sexual torture by the same thugs who eventually killed her. A chilling scene in the film comes when she suffers a savage beating at the hands of a quick-tempered crime boss after brazenly appearing alone on his doorstep to ask questions. "We were in awe the way she would do a very demanding, emotional and stressful role with the perfect Irish accent, and then run off the set and be mom," Schumacher says. "Because it took a long time getting where she is now, she is kind and unpretentious--not someone who stands in front of a mirror making imaginary Academy Award thank-you speeches."

If that's true, she might consider getting in practice. With her current career trajectory, it's likely she'll be forced to muster up a real one relatively soon.

Q: Why did you want to play Veronica Guerin?

A: I'm intrigued by things I know nothing about. I only knew the vaguest things about her: that she was a writer and was killed. Before they sent me the script, they sent a 60 Minutes segment that was done on her. I can't explain it exactly, but I was drawn to this intangible thing you see behind her eyes. I wanted to know more about why she was doing what she was doing. I don't think it is a biopic but rather a look at what was going on in Dublin at the time...an Irish story that has nothing to do with the IRA but rather the drug problem there in the '80s.

Q: She and other journalists were incredibly frustrated with libel laws so restrictive that they couldn't name the criminals. There had been no coordination between the departments of justice, the police, revenue commissioners and port officials to get these guys. It had to be frustrating, knowing that nothing was being done to people who literally were walking into pubs and shooting people.

Q: There's a willful naiveté that one has to have to do such a dangerous job. You have to almost pretend the circumstances don't exist or you can't play it out. That scene is exactly as she described it. And what great dialogue for Gilligan as he beat her. "Cunt, cunt, cunt." I talked to friends who had been beaten up, and they spoke of the rage and the humiliation that you're left with after you've gotten over the adrenaline and the fear and the shock. It's a little like a car crash. You see it happen fast-motion in the beginning, and then you watch it unfold slowly, knowing there is nothing you can do. She described the beating as feeling like it lasted 15 minutes.