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