Time Magazine January 11, 2007
Class is in Session
In the movie world, January is primary season, when actors,
directors, producers and, most of all, publicists jockey--as
discreetly as possible, of course--for Oscar nominations. One of
the axioms of the Academy Awards is that the more difficult the
subject matter, the better Oscar likes you. In that case, Notes
on a Scandal should do well. The story of a teacher who has an
affair with a student and the colleague who tries to blackmail
her is a darkly funny commentary on class and sexuality. Its
stars, JUDI DENCH and CATE BLANCHETT--both former Oscar winners
and perennial candidates--sat down with TIME's Jumana Farouky to
discuss the film, gambling and how to lose an award.
A BITTER LESBIAN AND A SELFISH PEDOPHILE: WHY DID YOU WANT TO
PLAY THESE PEOPLE?
Dench: What you long for is doing something that's very
different from the last thing you played. Because people's
tendency is to see you in something and send you a script,
saying "Here's a very good part." And you find it's something
Blanchett: Just with a different cardigan ...
CATE, TO MANY PEOPLE YOUR CHARACTER WOULD SEEM QUITE MONSTROUS.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO HER HEAD?
Blanchett: The film doesn't set out to justify or condone the
abuse of minors. That salacious aspect is the wrapping. And I
like that Sheba herself, whenever she sets out to explain why
she's done what she's done, the words turn to sawdust in her
mouth. There's the moment when she and [Dench's character]
Barbara are at the pub and Barbara says, "There's no but about
it--he's 15," and Sheba says, "He's 16 in May ..."
"... HE'S VERY MATURE FOR HIS AGE."
Blanchett: [Laughs] Yes, "He's very mature for his age." And
that's where it starts to become quite absurd and ridiculous.
AS A MOTHER, WERE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE WITH HAVING TO SEDUCE A
Blanchett: I don't know that it's got anything to do with being
a mother, really. I mean, yeah, I personally have no
understanding of it. I don't really understand 15-year-olds
going out with 20-year-olds, let alone ...
HOW DID YOU MAKE ANDREW SIMPSON, WHO PLAYS THE 15-YEAR-OLD,
COMFORTABLE WITH THE SEX SCENES?
Blanchett: He's very ... mature for his age. [Everyone laughs] I
blushed my way through the entire thing. Those scenes are always
slightly uncomfortable. The film goes to some very adult places,
so you've got to be careful, y'know--make sure that his parents
feel comfortable and he feels comfortable.
WHEN YOU PLAY A CHARACTER, DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO SYMPATHIZE
Dench: No, you don't have to sympathize with her. People are
always asking me, "Do you like the character?" But you don't
make that decision about liking or disliking. The only decision
you have to make is what motivates her and why.
WERE THESE CHARACTERS HARDER TO PLAY THAN OTHERS?
Dench: Oh, I don't know that it was harder than Lady Macbeth,
for me. Or Cleopatra. But there are aspects of it ... My
husband--when he was alive--and I did Mr. and Mrs. Nobody. We
were playing [a married couple] the Pooters. I remember we said,
"Oh, this is going to be an absolute breeze." But it was one of
the hardest things we've ever done. We were absolutely
shattered. So, always, I go into something thinking, Oh yes, I
think I know how I'm going to do this, and that's the moment
that somebody just round the corner with a bucket of ice-cold
water dashes it in your face. Because you suddenly find this is
something you don't know how to do.
CATE, YOUR HUSBAND'S A PLAYWRIGHT. DO YOU TWO TALK ABOUT WORK A
Blanchett: I talk about everything with him. I think some women
have their girlfriends and then they have their relationship
with their husband, whereas he's the whole bag of tricks for me.
He's the first person I've been with that I've actually been
able to discuss work with. I think there's an intimacy, almost
this weird superstitious connection, that you have with your
work, where you can't voice certain things in case you demystify
it. So then to actually speak to someone with whom you have a
great intimacy, it's very revealing. Almost too revealing. It's
a very big confidence. His criticism is always constructive, and
I always seek it. He will watch me in a way and is invested in
me in a way that no one else is. But don't tell my agent I said
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH JUDI? DID SHE MAKE YOU CALL HER
Blanchett: Yes. Repeatedly. [Laughs] No, it was brilliant.
Brilliant. I don't know what to say. Judi is an astonishing
actor who has an incredible economy and an extraordinary
technique and this mercurial ability to make it seem utterly
effortless. And she's wickedly funny. And has a very big
WHAT'S THAT ABOUT?
Dench: That's about my big gambling problem! [Laughs]
WHAT WERE YOU GAMBLING ON?
Blanchett: Anything that moved. The slugs in the garden.
DID YOU WIN BIG?
Dench: Sometimes lost, sometimes won.
AND HOW WAS WORKING WITH CATE?
Dench: I wanted to do the part because Cate was playing Sheba.
And she knows, because I've said it out loud in front of a lot
of people. My admiration for her is absolutely unbounded. And we
had a lot of laughs, which is always good. You have to be able
to send yourself up, in order to get to something that is of
DID YOU EVER DISAGREE ON HOW TO PLAY A SCENE?
Blanchett: I was constantly telling Judi what to do and how to
play each scene, and she just wouldn't listen. And consequently,
she's been nominated for a Golden Globe!
DID YOU GIVE EACH OTHER ...
Dench: Notes? All the time. On being taller.
NOW, ABOUT YOUR LOOK IN THE FILM, JUDI ...
Dench: Terrific. Think it'll catch on?
Blanchett: She couldn't stand too near a naked flame, otherwise
her entire wardrobe would go up in smoke [all crack up]. Those
pants were quite extraordinary.
Dench: Let's put it this way, there wasn't much at the end of
filming that I asked if I could buy.
AND THAT HAIR. NOT YOURS, RIGHT?
Dench: Certainly not! I was wearing a bald piece first and then
that brilliant wig, with hardly any hair in it.
YOUR PERFORMANCES HAVE EARNED EACH OF YOU A GOLDEN GLOBE
NOMINATION. DO YOU STILL GET EXCITED ABOUT AWARDS?
Dench: Oh, sure, you get excited. Because it's a gauge.
Otherwise, how do you know how well a film has done, how well
you have done?
DO YOU EVER GET NERVOUS AT AWARDS CEREMONIES?
Blanchett: I did at my first one, when I realized I had this
45-minute press line to walk. The first time I went to the
Golden Globes, I literally walked all the way up because no one
stopped me, and went, "This is easy!" And then someone said,
"No, you've got to come back."
Dench: What is tricky is sitting there and the winners are being
announced and the camera is where that coffee pot is [points to
a coffee pot a foot away]. When you watch them, of course, you
long for somebody to go, "Oh damn!" But nobody ever does,
because we're all much too polite.
DO YOU PRACTICE YOUR "GRACIOUS LOSER" FACE?
[Dench stares blankly into the middle distance]
Blanchett: That's it! That's the face! Actually, Judi's never
had to put on the gracious-loser face.
Dench: Oh, I have! Sometimes it used to be that if you won
something, you never got asked to do anything after that. I
don't know why.
JUDI, HOW COME YOU DON'T DO MORE WORK IN HOLLYWOOD?
Dench: No one ever asks. And I'm often in the theater. I'm never
asked to make a film in Hollywood.
WOMEN OFTEN SAY THEY FIND IT HARD TO GET GOOD ROLES. IS THAT
Dench: No. I've just been really lucky to find very different
things. I want to play a tightrope walker next. Or a rally
driver. But theater is what I know. I don't really know about
BUT YOU'VE DONE ENOUGH MOVIES ...
Dench: Well, yes, and I should get better at it. And I know that
very good actors watch the screen, the playbacks, afterwards.
That would make me so self-conscious that I wouldn't be able to
do the next scene. But I know that that's what I should do.
Blanchett: It's absolutely excruciating to have to watch these
things back. There's a great thing about the theater--that you
get the chance to get out there and re-offend.
Dench: Absolutely. And again and again, and twice on matinee
Blanchett: Whereas in film ... I forget these things are ever
going to be seen by anyone. So I'm always surprised when I have
to come out to publicize a film, because I just shut the door on
it and run in the other direction.
JUDI, YOU ONCE SAID THAT YOU WOULDN'T LIKE TO BE A YOUNG ACTRESS
Dench: When I first came to the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company]
in the early '60s, there was a boy in the paint shop painting
sets who was called Roger Reese. And he ended up playing Hamlet.
That kind of cherishing--we don't have that anymore. And it's
never the fact that good actors are in work and bad actors are
not in work. We are all aware that right here, right behind your
shoulder, is somebody who will do your part and probably a great
deal better than you. It's not just one--there's a big line of
people. And so it gives you constant fear, which of course gives
you constant energy.
YOU REALLY THINK THAT THERE'S A LINE OF PEOPLE BETTER THAN YOU?
Dench: I know there is!
HAVE YOU ACTUALLY SEEN ANY OF THESE PEOPLE?
Dench: Yes, of course! And I think, Why can't I do that?
Dench: A lot of people! Especially playing the parts that I've
played. I go, "Damn, that's something I missed there." I saw the
understudy rehearsal of the play I'm doing the other day, and a
very young girl played my part. Well, that put me to the pin of
my collar, I tell you. I thought, Christ! She'll never be on for
me. She hits the notes. Oh, I gave her a really hard time. How
ARE THERE ANY ROLES EACH OF YOU HAVE PLAYED THAT THE OTHER WOULD
HAVE LIKED TO HAVE DONE?
[Both look at each other, then at a painting of Elizabeth I on
the wall behind them]
Dench: We've both played that big girl.
WHAT DID YOU PICK UP FROM EACH OTHER'S VERSION?
Both together: I wish I'd done it like her. [Laugh]
Dench: Actually, I thought, Yes, that's exactly how I was as a
younger woman. I may look like an old bag now, but that's
exactly what I was like.
NOW FOR TWO IMPORTANT QUESTIONS. JUDI, YOU PLAY M IN THE JAMES
BOND FILMS, AND PART OF YOUR CELL-PHONE NUMBER IS 007 ...
Dench: It certainly is. But it was a total accident!
CATE, THIS YEAR YOU'VE KISSED BRAD PITT, GEORGE CLOONEY AND BILL
NIGHY. WHO'S BEST?
Blanchett: Bill. [Giggles] But they were all good.