Cate Blanchett blooms in Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett blooms in Blue Jasmine, writes Jake Coyle
CATE Blanchett’s Sydney Theatre Company role as Blanche DuBois stayed with her as she played a modern version of Tennessee Williams’ tragic heroine in Blue Jasmine.
The Woody Allen film features Blanchett as Jasmine, a socialite in breakdown, distraught and destroyed by the betrayal of her Bernie Madoff-like financier husband (Alec Baldwin).
Like many of the 44-year-old actress’ best performances, including her Oscar-nominated turn as Elizabeth I in 1998’s Elizabeth, Jasmine is a mix of ruthlessness and quaking vulnerability.
The performance has been called a lock for an Oscar nomination, which would be the sixth for Blanchett, who won her sole Oscar for her role as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.
Blanchett’s Jasmine is, as she says, ‘‘a fragile, combustible cocktail of rage and guilt and fear’’.
Penniless in San Francisco, where she’s forced to stay at the working class home of her sister (Sally Hawkins), Jasmine is a vodka-swilling, Xanaxpopping mess of self-loathing, denial and panic – a woman in free fall who can’t bear to face herself in the mirror.
The complexity of the Jasmine role is partly in the film’s A Streetcar Named Desire structure, toggling back and forth between before the downfall (in New York and the Hamptons) and after (San Francisco).
Blanchett carefully charted Jasmine’s unravelling across the flashbacks: ‘‘You don’t want to flat line,’’ she says.
Jasmine is thus many people, radiantly elegant for some and condescendingly bitter to others.
‘‘People talk about actors pretending, but you watch people and a certain person walks into a room, that person who’s speaking to you one minute completely changes,’’ Blanchett says.
While Woody Allen is known for giving his actors wide berth, that such a powerhouse performance comes in a late film of his – a period mostly defined by lightness and international settings – comes as a staggering surprise. Though Blanchett immediately committed after a brief phone call from Allen, she, too, wondered which direction the film might go.
‘‘The challenge was one of tone, particularly when I began to hear what the casting was like,’’ she says, noting that comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK gave unexpected, natural performances.
‘‘I did think: Is this more in the line of Bananas or Interiors? Which way is it going to swing? He did say to me three weeks in, ‘You know, this is a serious movie?’’’
Allen had proclaimed his interest to work with Blanchett at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.
She was the obvious choice, he says, for the part he had written based on a ruined New York family his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, told him about.
(Allen says Madoff ‘‘never figured remotely’’ into his thinking.)
‘‘I needed a great actress and when you think of great actresses in the world, Cate comes into mind immediately,’’ Allen says in an email from France, where he’s shooting his next film.
‘‘Cate is one of those people that are great, she was great before she met me and she will be great after. I really have very little to say to her.’’
Blanchett knew not to expect a lot of feedback from Allen, ‘‘so I wanted to come in with enough to offer’’, she says.
Blanchett has shot two Terrence Malick films and stars in George Clooney’s historical thriller The Monuments of Men, due out in December.
She’s also signed up for a movie with David Mamet and another with Todd Haynes.
‘‘In a way, I’ve come back with renewed passion for it all,’’ she says.
Blue Jasmine opens today.
Cate Blanchett as New York socialite Jasmine in Blue Jasmine.