BLANCHETT, CATE – NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Cate Blanchett, the 37 year-old mother-of-two with an Oscar for playing
Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, is arguably at the peak of her powers, ably
demonstrated by her work in Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Zoë Heller’s novel
Notes on a Scandal. She plays Sheba, a London art teacher who enters into an
illicit affair with a pupil, only to be discovered by a jealous colleague (Judi
Dench). Alongside her work in Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German, it
demonstrates a remarkable maturity, says James Mottram.
Why did you take the role of Sheba in Notes on a Scandal?
t was the package really. My first connection was to the book, which was a
fantastic read. It was all from Barbara’s (Judi Dench) perspective. The
character of Sheba was hard to extricate from Barbara’s judgement and I liked
that Patrick (Marber, writer) really liberated her. He gave her her own voice.
And obviously working with Judi and Bill (Nighy) was a fantastic experience.
Were you nervous about working with Judi? She’s obviously so highly regarded…
Well, that’s easy. She’s so unbelievably generous and puts people at ease in a
second. And she’s infinitely curious about what makes other people tick. She’s
also incredibly humble, enormously talented and wickedly funny. It was an
How difficult was the (sex) scene by the railway yard with young Andrew
I can’t say I was looking forward to it! But the scene has its own anxiety –
where they are and what they’re doing. I’m glad it was dark because I was
blushing! Whenever you have physical scenes like that with an actor…I remember
on the first day on a film with Sally Potter with the gorgeous John Turturro,
and John and I had never met and we didn’t have any rehearsal time, because he
had come from the set of one film onto the set of that. And we had to be in bed
together! It was ‘Hi John, let’s take our clothes off!’ I mean, you often find
yourself in those situations as an actor, so you get a little bit used to it,
but this involved a sixteen year-old boy. And although the actor was above the
age of consent, he was still very young, so we had to tread very delicately and
I’m the adult in that situation…
Were you worried about Andrew’s parents?
Of course! I didn’t have to worry about Bill Nighy’s parents! But you do have to
make sure what the entirety of the script is, and that they’re fine and have
talked to him, because I don’t know Andrew and what makes him tick. Not that
he’s a child but he’s a young man – and film sets are very adult places.
Do you lean towards younger or older men?
I’d be veering towards Bill before Andrew, personally! But I’m not interested in
playing characters that think the same way as me. So ultimately my judgement was
something I had to suspend entirely and try and work out the headspace that
someone could be in to embark upon such a destructive – ultimately –
Did the paparazzi sequence in the film make you consider media intrusions in
your own life?
Well, I only deal with things like that in very controlled circumstances. Cannes
can be very noisy! But the notion of scandal is very interesting these days.
Sheba is not Mary Kay Letourneau. She’s not about to write a memoir and go on
talk shows about her experience. She’s very private. When I open the paper, and
invariably there is some article about a teacher having sex with a student,
beyond reading the title I tend to close the paper. I think it’s devastating for
every single person involved in that, and incredibly private and I don’t want to
be part of this spectator sport. But I don’t feel harangued or harassed [by the
press]. These days, if you have a scandal around you, it can boost your career!
You often play strong women. How did you perceive Sheba? Is she strong?
I think anyone who has a large hand in the construction of a narrative as a
character has a strong presence. There is a great fragility to Sheba, a very
unformed gossamer quality to her. She’s actually described in the book – which I
think Patrick [Marber] kept in the screenplay – as a fey sort of person and I
like that. There’s almost an adolescent, girlish quality to her. She’s not
predatory. It’s not about a serial paedophile. That’s not what the film’s about.
What I like about the film is that it doesn’t justify in any way the
transgression, and it doesn’t seek to explain why she did what she did. She
transgressed in a massive, major, foolish way. If you want to destroy your life,
there are other ways of doing it, other than having sex in the summerhouse at
the back of your garden where your husband can look down from the window.
There’s a Peter Pan quality to her, where she doesn’t really want to grow up.
The limp justifications that she has – ‘He’s sixteen in May’ and ‘I love him’.
She knows that those are no justifications but she can’t help herself.
Do you analyse your characters or do you just dive in?
Every character is different but, yes, of course. You put them on the
psychiatrist’s couch and ask them all the questions. But I don’t seek to answer
all the questions necessarily. Particularly in film. The rehearsal turns into a
take and hopefully you get a few takes and you get to rehearse in different
ways. But the rehearsal is the starting point, and the lift-off, the invention,
has to happen when you’re in front of the camera. Nobody is interested in seeing
So what did you do for this role?
Well, I did the opposite of what I do as a citizen and I trawled the Internet
for cases of women who had been involved in such sex scandals, to see what they
looked like, how they dealt with the press…but in the end what you see is the
media’s interpretation of why they did what they did. You really get to know
people. So in the end it was from the script. And because the women are thrust
into this agonising, but delicious and fatally flawed friendship…it was in the
There’s a punk-ish New Wave picture of you in the film. Was that real?
It was photoshopped, but I went through it as well. I went through a big Goth
and then punk period – shaved my head, blah blah blah! I had to dress up like
How do you define your style now?
Eclectic. Maybe I have internalised my man. I don’t like shopping but that
doesn’t mean I don’t like fashion. The Internet is very handy, isn’t it? I know
what I like and there are usually one or two amazing dresses every season and
it’s a thrill if you get to wear them. It was fun dressing up as Sheba –
thinking of someone who had gone from a punk period to being floaty and soft.
And I think it’s interesting when you look at photos of people and see how their
Do you think you know anyone like Barbara?
I don’t think you necessarily know people like Barbara because the thing with
her is…I don’t think anyone knows until they read her diary the depth of her
venom, so I hope I don’t know anyone like Barbara or I’m in trouble!
Tell me about your role in The Good German…
It’s a high style piece, which I think is absolutely brilliantly. It’s a
synthesis of archival footage, shot in black-and-white on the back-lot. It’s set
in post-war Berlin, told from the perspective of the vanquished rather than the
victors. And the performance style is a very high, front-footed, melodramatic,
unabashedly theatrical performance style. I think the sense of cinematic truth
was very different to what we know post-Method now. It’s not about subtext. It’s
about what characters do or say and the narrative actually propels them forward.
So did you re-watch a lot of old Michael Curtiz films then?
I watched a lot of different films actually. Soderbergh had a viewing list of
things that he wanted us to see. Even though I went very rapidly between films –
I finished Notes on a Scandal on a Friday, and I flew to LA with my boys and was
on set by Monday – it was pleasurable. I was watching all these great films.
Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce to Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and Casablanca,
and early Dietrich films. I watched a lot of Hildegaard Knef’s films, a German
actress who I didn’t know. I saw Germany Year Zero…a variety of different
things. Basically, this was to absorb the acting style, but also to see how they
were lit and how the camera was moving.
How did you prepare for playing a German woman?
It felt like an old-fashioned studio picture. I assumed when I read the script
that we’d be shooting in Romania, and there’d be lots of blood and guts. But
then I heard we were shooting on the back-lot on L.A. and it was in high style,
so it became a different endeavour. So the preparation became … of course
internal and emotional and psychological …. but also stylistic. I’m eternally
grateful that when it reaches Germany it will be dubbed!
Do you want to play a villain?
I don’t know if I ever put those labels on a character. I just think this is
what they do, and what do they think they’re doing…
Published July 26, 2007
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... in Notes on a Scandal
Australian release: February 15, 2006
Australian DVD release: July 26, 2007
... in The Good German