It took Winter Storm Stella to prove what we’ve long suspected:
Cate Blanchett is fucking hardcore.
The acclaimed actress is dressed, glossed, and ready to go at 10 am, despite blizzard conditions shutting down Manhattan. She insists she’ll perform as scheduled in the stage hit The Present, even if half the audience will be stuck home in New Jersey. She gamely talks about politics, Rihanna, and day-old eyeliner as the wind hits 70 mph outside. And she knows a lot about skincare, too, which is good because we’re here for SK-II’s latest launch.
It’s a version of their famous Facial Treatment Essence, decked with flowers and designed for Mother’s Day gifting. Called “Sakura” after Japan’s famous cherry blossom season, the limited-edition bottle hits Sephora this week—just as Blanchett, SK-II’s most famous spokeswoman, wraps her six-month run on Broadway.
We grabbed our sled dogs and mushed uptown for the chance to meet Blanchett in person. (Yes, she looks exactly the same as she does onscreen. Yes, we were nervous. Yes, that means we asked really random questions… Would you have it any other way?)
You’ve played two immortal characters: Galadriel in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ and Hela, the goddess of death, in the upcoming ‘Thor’ movie. Is there a skincare technique you use to look immortal onscreen? Some sort of seriously ageless primer?
Okay, that’s really interesting. An ageless primer… hmm… Well, first I need to give credit to my amazing makeup artist Morag Ross. I’ve worked with her for years, and she’s truly a genius. And I will say that she’s used the SK-II mist to help set my looks, because it’s hydration but not shiny. I can’t stand powder, and feeling dry on my face. This mist, I guess it is sort of an immortal primer, if you want to call it that, because it keeps the glow but also seals my makeup look in. And I’ll tell you that when I first started meeting with the Thor team about Hela, they wanted her to wear a mask the whole time.
No! She’s too cool for that.
Well, Morag and I had gone on YouTube and found all these incredible Hela makeup looks that women all over the world had done, as fans. They showed her face, and they imagined it was sort of necrotized, and it was so powerful. So I said, “Don’t you want to know what she looks like without her mask? Isn’t that more interesting?” And Morag did such an incredible job with the makeup that I think you’ll get to see my the character’s face a lot more.
What does the goddess of death get to wear?
Morag worked a lot with iridescent powders and veins in the face—I mean, she’s the goddess of death. She has to look striking, obviously.
She’s also got some serious after-party eyeliner happening.
Good, that’s what we were going for! I mean, she’s been locked in a closet for millennia.
How do you get makeup like that off, after you’ve been filming for twelve hours straight?
You know, this is a true story: I spoke to SK-II years ago and [requested] an eye makeup remover, exactly because of things like that! And they gave me this oil cleanser, and it’s what I always use on-set and onstage.
This Sakura bottle is meant for Mother’s Day. But how do you give your mother a skincare product without the implication that she needs help in the beauty department?
I mean, my mother asks for it! She’s very happy when I come back from an SK-II press trip. This is the thing: I’ve got friends in their 20’s who use anti-aging facial treatments. I’ve been using mine for over 15 years. Everyone gets obsessed with anti-aging but I’d rather look as good as I can at the age I am. And the thing about the facial treatment essence is there’s no other product like it because it’s about clarity, tone, texture, and what I’ve found is it’s given my skin elasticity. Which is great for anti-aging, but it’s not the only benefit. So if you have someone who’s sensitive about it, maybe just spin it away from aging. Say something like, “This is for you, to make you feel good.” Also, it’s very pretty. The cherry blossoms on the bottle really make it look like a gift, although do you give gifts to yourself?
Good, I do, too. I have SK-II products all over my house.
Do they ever go missing, like after you have a party?
You know, I have a friend—she works in the beauty industry—and she lines up scents in her bathroom. So when you go visit her, you can try something new, and I quite like that. So if you want to try one of my products, that’s out in full view, go for it. But if your friends are stealing your beauty products, you might want to get new friends. Or stop having parties where you don’t know everyone.
Have you thrown a rager recently?
It’s been a while. But I do think, also, that there used to be something illicit about a woman’s beauty regimen, where it had to be a “secret,” and so sometimes people would snoop because everyone’s products were behind closed doors. And I’m incredibly open about that stuff. All my friends know what I use. They’re already stocked up.
Can you talk about Ocean’s Eight at all? Did you get to pick pockets like Matt Damon?
Oh, my character doesn’t get to rob people like that. At one point, and I don’t know whether it’s in the movie or not, but I had to learn to ride a motorbike. And I did have to play a lot of poker. That’s what my character does, she plays poker. So I would play all the time with Sandra [Bullock].
Did you win?
I’ve got a really good poker face, to be honest. You just have to blank your eyes. But the bluffing of poker is where the pleasure really is, at least for me. But you know who’s a really good poker player? Ben Affleck. He is world class, as they say. I’m not there yet.
My mom plays poker, and she’s amazing. But she says sometimes people can’t read her, just because they don’t expect a woman at the table…
The idea of women playing poker, they’re not given a lot of credit. People underestimate you. Women have the power to ambush in that situation, and there’s a lot of fun and pleasure in that. But I just wish we had power, full-stop.
We’re fighting for it. We won’t stop.
Yeah, but we’ve been working on it for a couple of Millennia now. It’s been a long time since universal suffrage, and I’m sick of the old white men running the show.
What do you think is the way forward? A strike?
We have to band together, but the thing in this country is that people are terrified of losing their jobs… Maybe California needs to secede. The only thing that’ll make any difference is the money… Tax dollars and losing that amount of money. It’s one of the most economically powerful states, isn’t it? That’s where it hurts.
What about through the arts? Should political stories be given more exposure right now? What can artists do?
You know, I was talking to a theater director who I really rate. He was saying some work is overly political. If you were doing a production of Richard III right now, it wouldn’t be anything but political. But then some work deals with the kind of timeless undertones of being human. And I think it’s really important to embrace both types of work, because culture civilizes us, and that’s why every single despotic regime has tried to smash [the arts]. Because art civilizes us and it connects us and activates us. And so it’s really important to connect with compassion, with stories about people who are different from us. Moonlight is an astonishing film because it’s not overtly political, but it’s human. And that’s why it had such a big trajectory, because in the current climate, things that are true, brave human stories become political.
Many women love music festivals, art openings, ballets… but it’s harder to get some people to go see a play. What’s your advice for theater newbies?
The first thing is to accept that theater is an unknown. If you go to a concert, you know the music. If you go to an art show, you can literally see the art on your phone before you see it in person. But with theater, often times people aren’t prepared to take risks, even though that’s exactly what’s great about it. So go get a rush seat to a play, or get a really cheap ticket through an online promotion or because it’s a smaller theater. The great thing about theater is that when it’s great, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. But if you go see ten shows, you’ll only get five—if you’re lucky—that’ll give you that experience. But the rest, at the very least, will be interesting. You will not leave the theater with nothing to talk about. For me, comedy and tragedy when you get them both in one evening, that’s the most satisfying. So I’d say, look for that.
Benedict Cumberbatch had to tell audiences to stop filming ‘Hamlet’ on their phones. Do you see smartphones onstage when you’re performing in ‘The Present’?
You do sometimes! I know actors who have stopped the show. I haven’t done that yet, but at the same time, you know, I just don’t understand it. To record something on your iPhone to be watched later, that’s like the opposite of theater. The joy of being there is experiencing it with other people. It doesn’t translate onto your phone. It’s about being present. And I can absolutely see you if you’ve got your phone up. You can’t hide it from us.
Last question: How’s Rihanna as an actress?
Oh, she’s honestly great! She’s really open and humble, and she’s got a great sense of humor. She’s got a really dry wit about her. And she’s really relaxed and natural.
Did she beat you at poker?
She never got to play! Her character is more of a computer person. But if she did start playing poker, I bet she’d be really good at it. Really good.