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BLANCHETT, CATE: THE GIFT

SUCCESS & RISK – THE ACTOR’S LOT
Cate Blanchett admits to being in the scary position of not having a real process in building characters, and continues to feel vulnerable as an actress. As for her success, it does give her greater choice, but at a price. "The more successful your position becomes, the more important it is to take risks and embrace the right to fail . . .very publicly," she tells Andrew L. Urban in this special interview.

Cate Blanchett is one of Australia’s leading exports; the actress who made the historic Elizabeth, Queen of England, a real, human figure in a role that many believe should have won her an Oscar, is a genuine world star. And after having finished working in Heaven, Cate went on to shoot two more films, back to back. She’s hot, as they say. (Cate Blanchett was made Ambassador for the Australian Film Institute recently [April 5, 2001].)

In mid 2001, Cate Blanchett begins filming The Shipping News, adapated from Ann Rice’s international best seller. But first, in March & April 2001, Cate is shooting the adaptation of the much acclaimed novel, Charlotte Gray. She took a Sunday morning break to talk about her latest film to release in Australia, The Gift, in which she plays a young widowed mother with psychic gifts, co-starring with Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes and Giovanni Ribisi – with who she also worked on Heaven, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).

How do you form a character like the on in The Gift, that is outside your own experience?
I wish I could answer your question…I don’t really have a process, which is quite scary, so every film I start I have to find my way through it. And even though it’s a psychological thriller, and Sam Raimi’s background is sort of ‘horror with heart’, I felt it was really important to me, given the genre, to find the centre of the character, which is the guilt she feels surviving her husband’s death.

Were there any reference points of people, who you used to formulate the inner workings of the character?
I met a psychic in Savannah, quite an extraordinary person who was intensely private and my understanding of psychics – never having been to one – was that they were very public. Almost showman type figures. I also met [screenplay writer] Billy Bob’s [Thornton] mother, which was an interesting reference point for me, knowing Billy Bob’s history and that she didn’t want anyone to know that’s what she did, because once people know you have that psychic ability, you open a whole can of worms and it’s very exposing for them – if that makes any sense…

It does…I wonder if it has any parallels for you in fame? Once you acquire fame you become a target for attention and people want things from you – like people want things from a psychic?
Oh I didn’t think about that at the time…but I think that is interesting. Because I think you do have to maintain a mystery – not between you and the public but between you and what you channel as an actor. And if you become too conscious it can be a hinderance because I think there is a spiritual…shaman side to being an actor as well as a very technical, specific side. And if people know too much, it gets in between the screen and the audience. I like that distance.

I want to ask you about the joys of success and the price of fame…because you have achieved what a lot of actors set out to achieve, namely choice and do good work.
Having been an actor for a while, it’s very easy externally to connect the dots. Whereas I’ve just been making it dot by dot by dot . . . and all of a sudden, externally I seem to have a career path. But it’s not something I consciously set out to do. It’s just what felt the right thing to do at the time...

I understand that, but you are in a position to pick the fruits of success by having choice; am I right in that?
Ah…yes, I’m certainly offered a lot more things than I was a few years ago – but at the same time, after Elizabeth, I was asked to do a lot of things that replicated what I had already done – you know, some for a lot of money. And then you have to have a lot strength to say why am I doing this, why am I an actor?

And how did you answer those questions…those offers?
In the face of a lot of money you have to find a lot of inner strength [laughs]. But in the end they’re not hard decisions to make. You know – I’m not a banker, I’m an actor.

What are some of the hard decisions? I am sure there are some.
The more secure your position becomes, the more important it is to keep taking risks and to embrace the right to fail. For me it’s important to keep challenging myself and to keep taking on things I don’t necessarily know how to do. It’s incredibly public so you don’t want to fall flat on your face – but you do have to take that risk. I always find it disappointing when good actors reach certain levels and you think, why are they taking the soft option?

Now – when as you put it, internally there wasn’t a career path but externally there seemed to be one – is there a path you have build; do you have to become more business oriented the more successful you become?
I think you natrually acquire some business acumen – but it doesn’t drive my decisions. The more public you become the more people have opinions on what you should do.

You still love acting? And it’s still what you want to do for the rest of your life? Or do you want to perhaps move behind the camera in any shape of form?
Not necessarily behind the camera; I’m always hoping I’ll grow out of this type of work. I’m hoping I’ll tire of it and do something sensible.[laughs]

Published April 19, 2001

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