Oscar winner and Giorgio Armani global beauty ambassador CATE BLANCHETT is back in black at the Seidler Penthouse on Sydney harbour. She talks to EUGENIE KELLY about family, fragrance and why her righteous fury won’t be contained
It’s a dull, sodden Tuesday morning and rain is lashing the floor-to-ceiling windows of Milsons Point’s iconic Seidler penthouse.what should be a postcard panorama of Sydney harbour is just a blanket of grey. In the upstairs bedroom, Cate Blanchett has just pulled a furry blanket off the bed and is now using it as a rug, writhing around on the floor for photographer Steven Chee. She strikes pose after pose, then lies on her side and kicks the leg of her fuzzily trimmed black silk pants into the air for extra dramatic flair.the background soundtrack to this performance is “The Night” by Frankievalli & the Four Seasons — a current favourite — but the track’s not working its usual magic.“maybe we need a little Ethiopian jazz to get things going,” Blanchett cries out to the crew, who practically stampede one another for the chance to stalk the actor’s Spotify playlist. Dolly Parton’s warbling 1969 version of “I Will Always Love You” starts up instead. “Close enough,” Blanchett declares, and gets back to work.
Taking a break for a refresh, Blanchett slips back into the pyjama-ish pants and top (navy; white piping) she arrived in, collapses into her chair at the hair and makeup station and orders a peppermint tea and a strong latte “to back it up”. Blanchett flew in from LA yesterday, where she’d been doing voice edits for an upcoming project, and although she’s here for a fleeting 24 hours to fulfil commitments as Giorgio Armani’s global beauty ambassador (which includes being the face of fragrance Sì), she swears she’s not tired.“are you kidding? If anything, this is rejuvenating! Not having four kids hassle you in the morning? I got to shower in peace!”
On cue, her phone rings, and the two-time Oscar winner segues seamlessly into mum mode.we confess: we eavesdrop. But the conversation playing out is boringly normal. One child is killing it in basketball, Blanchett proudly declares to the person on the other end of the line. And yes, the youngest, Edith, is settling nicely into kindergarten. Hence projects for now need to fit around family demands.
Blanchett’s virtuosic turns over the years in such critically acclaimed films as The Aviator, Babel, Veronica Guerin and Blue Jasmine; coupled with box-office hits including Thor: Ragnarok,
The Lord of the Rings, Cinderella and the recent Ocean’s 8, have meant working away for long periods on location. So it’s no accident that her IMDB profile now lists more family-friendly new projects. Such as lending her voice to the animated films Mowgli (out October 18) and How totrainyour Dragon:the Hidden World (March 2019). “I had an experience a few years ago with two films I was very proud to be part of — Carol and Truth,” she recalls.“but I felt I got caught up in other people’s awards-season ambitions, and I just wanted to do things for pleasure — not to get anywhere.with four children, what you do is dependent on what you can fit in. My partner [husband Andrew Upton] is supportive and we juggle things between us, but it’s still a military operation. As a parent, you constantly feel pulled, and that pull is exhausting. My children have big exams this year, so I wanted to step back and do things that work for me.”
Blanchett grew up reading John Bellairs books, so a chilling adaptation of the fantasy horror The House with a Clock in Its
Walls (out September 20) was a resounding ‘yes’. She plays Florence Zimmermann, a witch who lives next door to Jack Black’s warlock character, who takes in his 10-year-old orphaned nephew.“my father died when I was 10, and when I was around 15 I really got into the horror genre,” Blanchett says. “I loved [director] Eli Roth’s sensibility on a children’s film, and the script was amazing.the books are unique, strange, painful, absurd. I’ve enjoyed reading them to Iggy, my nine-year-old.”
Although Blanchett grew up in Melbourne, the middle of three children, and happily kept a base in Sydney’s Hunters Hill from 2005 until 2016 as her family’s residence, home is now Highwell House in Crowborough, East Sussex, in the UK.THE Victorian manor sits on five hectares and satiates her appetite for historical buildings (Blanchett and Upton also recently secured a landmark 1923 Macquarie Street apartment with views of the Opera House as their Aussie bolthole). “I always thought I’d study architecture — I’m fascinated by buildings and what they mean,” she says. “We miss this country so much. It’s magnetic. I don’t think you really ever leave.”
Although she often travels with children in tow, Blanchett is flying solo this trip, as tomorrow she heads to southeastern Bangladesh on behalf of the UNHCR. Her aim is to highlight the plight of the more than 150,000 Rohingya refugees who have suffered violence and human rights abuses and who are now at risk of flooding and landslides during monsoon season. “The Rohingya are a stateless race, so they’re buffeted between pillar and post.the problem is so overwhelming, so my role is to come back and share their stories,” she says.“i know people have their own stresses and disconnect from these issues — especially in Australia, due to the tyranny of distance. That said, we have our own issues to resolve involving the reprehensible way we’ve been treating refugees.” Does taking on these goodwill ambassador roles require a kind of fearlessness? “If you have a certain platform and stand on it for five minutes, you can talk about what you’re wearing — or you can talk about something of consequence,”
“I think about [ageing] on an existential level, but on a career level, I refuse. It’s important to keep karate-chopping those doors down and creating new opportunities not just for yourself, but also for those who are coming up behind you.”
Blanchett answers. “Inevitably, the people who don’t want that stuff talked about will lampoon you.when it suits the media, you’re an actress of international standing with relative intelligence. But veer outside your perceived remit and you’re a ‘celebrity’. I don’t ever see that happen to men in the banking sector who take on philanthropic causes. For them, it’s seen as an understandable extension full of altruism.”
Let’s pretend that someone has handed her the phone to talk to Malcolm Turnbull for a minute. Blanchett bristles.“god, I’d need more than a minute. I’d talk about off-shore processing and the absolute importance of upholding the human rights convention. This is a country that has been positively built on immigration. This isn’t the Australia I know!” The words catch in her throat. “I grew up in multicultural Australia. These people are fleeing horrendous persecution. No one gets in a boat unless they have to.” She admits that when she shares her passionate views on asylum seekers and climate change with her children there’s “a lot of eye-rolling”, but tells them these aren’t political issues — rather, human issues. “We took our nine-year-old to Jordan, but we make a point of not lecturing them. It’s actually interesting to hear them talk when they think you’re out of earshot …”
Given recent events in Hollywood in response to the #Timesup and #Metoo movements, some of us were hoping Blanchett might have used her weighty role as this year’s president of the Palme d’or jury at Cannes Film Festival (only the 12th time a woman has occupied this position) to award the coveted prize to one of the three female directors nominated. It didn’t come to pass (“You have to work with what you’ve got”), but she’s adamant that change is happening in an industry built on male entitlement. “This isn’t a zeitgeist moment,” she says.“this is our chance to revolutionise the industry once and for all.to stamp out the systemic abuse of power.” Pay disparity is another topic that presses her buttons. “People talk about [Hollywood] as dysfunctional, but we are really emblematic.what industry offers equal pay for equal work?”
This current fast-moving era of social change gives Blanchett a fresh angle when it comes to spruiking Giorgio Armani Sì, the fragrance she’s been the face of since 2013, when the first version — a patchouli-cassis-rose concoction — launched. Today, she’s doing the media rounds for its latest rendition, Sì Passione, a lighter, subtler version of the original blending pink pepper, rose and jasmine. “Mr Armani has always celebrated the seemingly conflicted dualities and complexities of being female,” Blanchett says.“the strength, the weakness, the depth … his fragrances are an extension of that understanding.”
The fact that this prestigious beauty contract has now been expanded to encompass makeup and skincare is reassuring when you realise Blanchett’s on the cusp of 50 (albeit boasting a complexion any 20-year-old would kill for). How is she processing that most monumental of milestone birthdays? “I think about it on an existential level, sure, but on a career level, I refuse,” she says. “It’s important to keep karate-chopping those doors down and creating new opportunities not just for yourself, but also for those who are coming up behind you. I’m not panicking on a work level. It’s more that there are so many lives I want to live.”