Great is as Cate does

There’s real depth to Cate Blanchett, but she’s not about to re­veal it pub­licly, writes Robert Lusetich

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

AVID Fincher calls it the curse of be­ing Cate Blanchett. ‘‘ Here’s the curse of Cate,’’ the di­rec­tor ex­plains as we sit in crisp De­cem­ber morn­ing sun­shine on the Warner Bros stu­dio lot in Los An­ge­les, dis­cussing his tour de force, The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton .

‘‘ I can’t tell you how many peo­ple say this when I ask them, ‘ What did you think of Cate [ in the movie]?’ They say, ‘ Oh, she’s great, but she’s al­ways great.’ What is that about? Do they want her to take two movies off and just be shitty, just so they can ap­pre­ci­ate her?’’

The curse of be­ing Cate Blanchett man­i­fested it­self a few days af­ter this in­ter­view when ar­guably the great­est fe­male ac­tor of her gen­er­a­tion was over­looked by the Hol­ly­wood For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion in its Golden Globe nom­i­na­tions. It was a stun­ning snub from an or­gan­i­sa­tion that has loved her and be­stowed her with seven nom­i­na­tions — and two wins — over the past decade since her break­through per­for­mance in El­iz­a­beth .

Stun­ning in the sense that few ac­tors could have pulled off the per­for­mance Blanchett gives op­po­site Brad Pitt in the screen adap­ta­tion of F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s short story about a man who ages back­wards. She’s never been bet­ter.

Blanchett suc­ceeds in por­tray­ing Daisy, Pitt’s soul­mate in this beau­ti­ful, if ul­ti­mately me­lan­choly, love story, be­cause she doesn’t try: the chameleon from the Aus­tralian sub­urbs just is Daisy. Blanchett, clearly feel­ing the morn­ing chill, breaks the se­ri­ous­ness of Fincher’s ob­ser­va­tion and the en­su­ing dis­cus­sion about this sup­posed curse with a joke. She seems prac­tised at self-dep­re­ca­tion, while other movie stars usu­ally love bask­ing in adu­la­tion.

‘‘ I need a Mickey Rourke mo­ment,’’ she de­clares. ‘‘ I’ve got to get ar­rested.’’

But ar­rested for what? It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the mother of three young boys throw­ing a phone at a ho­tel desk clerk. Blanchett and her writer hus­band, An­drew Up­ton, are too grown up and per­haps too bor­ing to be tabloid fod­der. Not to men­tion too busy, jug­gling the de­mands of chil­dren, ca­reers and run­ning the Syd­ney The­atre Com­pany.

But while Blanchett is ea­ger to dis­cuss Ben­jamin But­ton and dis­sect its grand themes — Fitzger­ald’s in­spi­ra­tion was Mark Twain’s ob­ser­va­tion that life would be hap­pier if we could be born at 80 and grad­u­ally ap­proach 18 — she is care­ful, if not guarded, about dis­cussing her pri­vate life. Daisy, she can talk about; Cate, not so much.

Given the film’s re­cur­ring theme of death and loss of love, I ask her whether it made her think about the death of her fa­ther, a Texan who fell in love with her mother and Mel­bourne on a shore visit.

Bob Blanchett, an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive af­ter leav­ing the US Navy, died af­ter a heart at­tack in a movie cin­ema when he was 40. His daugh­ter was 10 at the time.

‘‘ It hap­pened to me, it’s hap­pened to a lot of peo­ple,’’ she says. ‘‘ But, look, I don’t have to ref­er­ence the death of my dog in or­der to feel what it’s like to lose a dog. I think if you’re con­stantly ref­er­enc­ing your own per­sonal grief then some­how you don’t rise to the uni­ver­sal state that the film is try­ing to tap into.

‘‘ But [ the grief is] there. It’s part of who I am, so I don’t have to think about it. But def­i­nitely in the re­hearsal process we all talked about var­i­ous dif­fer­ent mo­ments in time that we’ve lost some­one or missed some­one. That sense of yearn­ing.’’

She felt the sense of yearn­ing the day be­fore this in­ter­view, when she re­ceived a star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame. ‘‘ There are mo­ments

Din life where you get mar­ried, or you have a child and you wish they were there,’’ she says of her fa­ther. ‘‘ I don’t know what it’s like to have a fa­ther at a wed­ding and be given away.

‘‘ And I felt yes­ter­day this would have been some­thing that I would’ve hoped that he would have been there for.’’

When I ask if her fa­ther re­tained his Texan ac­cent, she men­tions an old tele­phone an­swer­ing ma­chine greet­ing tape she had found years ago and kept.

I find the story very touch­ing, yet when I ask whether she of­ten lis­tens to the tape, she re­alises we’ve gone too deep and it’s time to talk about Ben­jamin But­ton again. ‘‘ Cin­ema deals a lot of the time with ro­mance, but it doesn’t re­ally deal with love,’’ she ob­serves.

In the hands of an­other di­rec­tor, Ben­jamin But­ton could have turned to mush, she says. But Fincher is not so sen­ti­men­tal. He says he wanted to avoid mak­ing yet an­other film about what he calls ‘‘ the bal­lad of co-de­pen­dency’’.

‘‘ I love Romeo and Juliet and it has its place in the story of re­la­tion­ships, but it’s to­tally im­ma­ture and it’s based on ideals and the no­tion that two peo­ple are two halves of a whole, [ which] is in­her­ently un­healthy,’’ he says.

‘‘ And it is, quite hon­estly, all we get from the movies, be­cause cin­ema is about drama­tis­ing things, and this is an eas­ily drama­tised dy­namic. On the other hand, it’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to drama­tise real, ma­ture emo­tional states, be­cause a lot of it is ac­qui­es­cence . . . not liv­ing to fight an­other day but re­al­is­ing that I’m in a re­la­tion­ship with some­body and a cer­tain num­ber of ar­gu­ments are won or lost not be­cause you change your mind but be­cause you might re­alise that it’s no longer as im­por­tant for me to win.’’

Blanchett re­flects on the way the film ‘‘ brings up re­ally pri­mal stuff for peo­ple’’.

‘‘ Every­one’s so ter­ri­fied of say­ing, ‘ Look, I re­ally feel this’, be­cause we doubt that gen­uine con­nec­tion to our emo­tions,’’ she says.

As our time to­gether comes to a close, I ask what the past 10 years have been like: the arc from young ac­tor to ma­jor movie star. ‘‘ It’s been in­cred­i­ble,’’ she says. When I note that she should have won the best ac­tress Os­car for El­iz­a­beth — she was scan­dalously over­looked in favour of Gwyneth Pal­trow in the over­rated Shake­speare in Love — she laughs.

‘‘ Some­times I think it’s so good not to win those things,’’ she says. ‘‘ And, any­way, who wants to peak when they’re 28?’’ The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton opens on De­cem­ber 26.

Me­lan­choly love story: Cate Blanchett in a scene from The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton

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