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BLANCHETT, CATE: Oscar and Lucinda

BLANCHES AT NOTHING
Cate Blanchett, the Lucinda of Oscar and Lucinda, is Currently in England playing the title role in the story of Queen Elizabeth I. Just before Blanchett left Australia, she spoke to PAUL FISCHER.

Cate Blanchett is in a bit of a rush. Just days before departing for England to star in her first international movie, she has barely enough time to pack, catch her breath and hurriedly chat about a career that most actresses can only dream of. "It's a been a bit wild, hasn't it", the former NIDA graduate admits. Now she's about to play a character initially developed as a vehicle for Nicole Kidman - royalty's most famous virgin, Queen Elizabeth I. "I must warn you, it's not going to be a conventional historical biography. We're taking bits and pieces of her life," says Blanchett, unafraid and matter of fact, it seems, Blanchett shows little signs of the strain that she would understandably feel. Elizabeth I, yet.

"The film has SUCH a good heart, and such a powerful effect, particularly on women of a certain generation" on Paradise Road

"It's all very nice, but you've kind of got to put your head down and keep working." Despite her new-found fame, this really down-to-earth actress finds it easy to put it all in perspective. "It helps when you have a supportive husband." It's ironic that she met her husband [of less than a year] on the set of the recent hit comedy, Thank God He Met Lizzie. Ironic, because this new Aussie comedy/drama explored the ups and downs of courtship and marriage. "I had such a ball making that film." Blanchett says that part of her attraction to Thank God He Met Lizzie, was that she was "challenged by the difficulty of defining who Lizzie is. I also loved the subversion of the script and the story." Since graduating from Sydney's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts, Blanchett concentrated mainly on theatre, but now it's her film career that has taken off in leaps and bounds, along with the media spotlight.

Another film which would have had a similar effect on audiences, was Paradise Road, a film savagely maligned by American critics, but which is about to enjoy a resurgence on video next month with a special Director's Cut. Blanchett, who gave an astonishing performance as an Australian nurse, couldn't understand the film's international reaction. "The film has SUCH a good heart, and such a powerful effect, particularly on women of a certain generation. But as far as the American critics were concerned, there seemed to be a bit of an agenda operating."

"There are certainly fantastic female characters out there, but not just that, there are also fantastic stories out there as well"

With actresses complaining about the dearth of decent roles, Blanchett doesn't seem to be doing badly. The strong material is coming in nicely, thank you very much. "Having just accepted Elizabeth I, I have to say that it hasn't been difficult finding strong women to play. There are certainly fantastic female characters out there, but not just that, there are also fantastic stories out there as well, and I think more and more, women aren't put into films simply because they're women's movies, but because there are exciting stories being written and told about women as well." Blanchett wants to take "a more pro-active role in that, as well as waiting for things to come along, seeking them out and putting them into development, using your track record to help you go further."

Blanchett recently returned home for more media scrutiny as Oscar and Lucinda, in which she stars opposite Ralph Fiennes. Based on the acclaimed novel by Peter Carey, the film is set in mid-1800's England. Oscar (Ralph Fiennes) is a young Anglican priest, a misfit and an outcast, but with the soul of an angel. As a boy, even though from a strict Pentecostal family, he felt God told him through a sign to leave his father and his faith and join the Church of England. Lucinda (Cate Blanchett) is a young Australian heiress who has an almost desperate desire to liberate her sex from the confines of the male-dominated culture of the Australia of that time.

"I can't believe how lucky I am to have done that. Gillian [Armstrong] is such an amazing film maker, and Ralph is incredible."

She buys a glass factory and has a dream of building a church made almost entirely of glass, and then transporting it to the Australian outback. Oscar and Lucinda meet on a ship going to Australia; once there, they are for different reasons ostracized from society, and join forces. Oscar and Lucinda are both passionate gamblers, and Lucinda bets Oscar her entire inheritance that he cannot transport the glass church to the Outback safely. Oscar accepts her wager, and this leads to the events that change both their lives forever.

It's a film about which she has much enthusiasm. "I can't believe how lucky I am to have done that. Gillian [Armstrong] is such an amazing film maker, and Ralph is incredible. It could be an Oscar for Oscar, I think. It was a gift to work on, and the whole experience was as good as it can get. It's a very moving story, and one that hopefully will strike people as distinctive from anything I've done before."

Despite the offers pouring in, don't expect Cate to be leaving our shores permanently for wilder cinematic pastures just yet. "I think the Australian film industry is a vital one, and always has been. People keep saying there's a Renaissance but it's been ongoing for years. If you look back, there have been gems which will follow us in the years to come."

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of Oscar and Lucinda

Hear an excerpt from the soundtrack and read Lynden Barber's SOUNDTRACK REVIEW


As Elizabeth I



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of Thank God He Met Lizzie


See Andrew L. Urban's interview with
FRANCES O'CONNOR







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