Whether smudging her mascara just so or leaving her forehead slightly shiny, Cate Blanchett uses cosmetic signals to help craft her on-screen personae: “We really fine-tune those details,” Blanchett says. “The audience takes a cue from the visual before the characters even open their mouths.” Here, the two-time Oscar winner (and longtime ambassador for SK-II skin care) gives us a master class on the art of transformation.
How much does a character’s hair and makeup affect the psychology behind your performance?
It matters greatly. Personally, I prefer to play against the look: If a character appears particularly unhinged, with makeup running down her face, I like to play her as if she has it together. I think that juxtaposition makes it so much more interesting.
Have you ever played a character whose beauty habits made you uncomfortable with your own reflection?
I just completed this movie, Carol, in which I had to pluck my eyebrows nearly every day to achieve that very stern look. I just hated it. I much prefer a natural approach to beauty. You know, Coco Chanel always said to take one thing off before you leave the house, and I think that also applies to makeup.
Do you ever do your own makeup?
I’ve just come off of a three-week run of The Maids, where the backstage makeup is pretty bare-bones. It’s just you and the mirror. While I much prefer when a professional does it, I’m getting better at it—even liquid liner. After a run of several night events, you begin to appreciate the solitude and the quiet backstage. And then, of course, a healthy sweep of jet-black mascara. I’ve also taken to lining my eyes in white pencil to make them look instantly brighter and bigger. That’s something I’ve learned from the pros.
At the Emmys last year, a lot of people were talking about how the age ceiling has been shattered for women in Hollywood. What does that mean to you? Why is that always a topic of conversation?
Look at the women on Orange Is the New Black, American Horror Story, or The Good Wife. People really do want to see women doing dark, complicated, and crazy shit! Those shows have a myriad of male viewers because the writing is simply good. It’s not as if women just stop watching TV after they turn 40. I think what happened is that the women finally started to do something about it; they began writing and producing.
So much of beauty is predicated on what our mothers did. What was something you inherited from yours?
It does, doesn’t it? My mom always used Oil of Olay. She was always very careful not to expose herself to the sun and was always wearing a hat. My sister and I are also rather pale, you know? I think my generation is much more careful about not going into the sun. Some of my friends’ mums were total sun bunnies.
Who’s the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen up close?
Michelle Williams—she just has this light about her. Jessica Chastain, too, in that same way that she’s sort of lit from within. And Norwegian director Liv Ullmann. Just beautiful.
via Elle Magazine