Cate Blanchett on Academy Awards, encounters with dragons, Cinderella & Rooney Mara

EXCLUSIVE: One year later, 2013 Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett is ready to hit the Oscar stage again.

This year she will be opening the envelope and announcing the name of the Lead Actor winner, the most hotly contested of all acting races. But when I mentioned that as I spoke with her on the phone her home in Australia, Blanchett almost brushed it aside, wanting to talk about instead about a different category: the one she won in last year for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. “Well, I don’t know. There are also a lot of great performances, yet again by women, and another five that didn’t make it could easily have been nominated,” she said.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since she became a first-time Best Actress winner after winning in 2004 for her Supporting role as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. She’s not resting on her laurels, though. “It’s about as big as it gets,” Blanchett said. “It was huge, glorious and wonderful, and you never forget it, but you also in a strange way have  to forget it and move on. And that’s why it was so wonderful to go in and do Carol and go back to the theater and think, ‘OK, what’s next?’”

Carol is one of those things that is “next.” She started shooting the film opposite Rooney Mara right after the Oscars for director Todd Haynes, who guided Blanchett to one of her six Oscar noms as the Bob Dylan-like figure in 2007’s I’m Not There. She says she met Mara for the first time when she came to present Blanchett with her Outstanding Performer Of The Year award at the tribute I hosted for her at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last February. She’s excited about the 1950s-set film about a department store clerk who falls for an older, married woman, and she loved working with Mara. “She is really a good egg,” she said. “That was a really beautiful experience, actually. I mean, coming back to work with Todd, having done the Dylan film with him and then working on such a different endeavor was really fantastic. But Rooney’s great. She takes her work seriously but doesn’t take herself necessarily very seriously. She’s also got a really great non-sentimental radar. So she’s not interested in being liked, but she’s interested in revealing stuff.”

After her Oscar appearance on February 22, Blanchett has another biggie coming out from Disney on March 13, the live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh in which she plays the evil Lady Tremaine.It was really fun. Incredibly fun,” she said. “I mean, it’s always fun playing someone wicked. There’s been a trend of late, which has been really interesting, to see how one can twist the fairy tales. And I think what Ken has done is he’s delivered the fairy tale with all its warts and dark nooks and crannies but has sort of a grace and a levity and a beauty and a majesty, like a beautiful, wonderful MGM picture. It’s pretty rare these days. For my money, it’s got that quality of a classic, in that it’s sort of moving beyond the zeitgeist. It’s reaching for something deeper and grander.” Blanchett also praised Lily James, who plays Cinderella, and Richard Madden as Prince Charming.

And though she will be attending the Oscars this year as a presenter, not a nominee, Blanchett has a rooting interest in one of the movies in the Best Animated Feature category. In How To Train Your Dragon 2, she voices Valka, the mother of Hiccup who returns after 20 years away to her family. She joined a cast that was already tight thanks to working on the 2010 original as well as its TV series spinoff. And there was even an Oscar connection as to how she got involved. She was at the Oscar ceremony in 2011 when she was approached by director Dean DeBlois. “I was kind of ambushed by Dean,” she said. “Approached, accosted — it depends how you look at it. The first time around was so complete, I was really curious  to see how they could possibly equal it, let alone top it. So, then when I read the script, I thought: ‘This is really exciting. This is a really unusual mother-son relationship.’ So I was thrilled to be part of it.” Blanchett added that she started gushing to DeBlois when she learned he was one of the creators because she and her sons loved the first one so much. Suddenly the prospect of being in the sequel was intriguing, even though it puts her in the midst of another trilogy. She just finished co-starring in the Hobbit films for Peter Jackson and, of course also did the Lord Of The Rings pictures. But the character really got to her in Dragon.

“I sort of gripped the idea of this sort of Jane Goodall-esque woman who spent many, many years with the dragons and almost had forgotten how to co-exist with humans,” she told me. “And also it’s rare in a conventional drama, let along an animated film, that the notion of a mother leaving her child was sort of dealt with and reconciled in a way that is so satisfying, complex and, I think, heartrending.”She added that since doing the film she had been stopped by people from 7 to 70;  the breadth of the audience for Dragon 2 really startled her.

via Deadline