New interview and promotional image for Cinderella.
It’s a wonderfully upbeat time for Cate Blanchett. Not just a hit Hollywood movie but a new adopted baby, Edith, has joined the three sons she has with husband Andrew Upton.
With up to four more movies expected to open this year and another one filming, the family are planning a move overseas once Upton’s contract directing the Sydney Theatre Company expires.
So there is much to talk about as Blanchett arrives at an upmarket Sydney hotel the morning after the Australian premiere of Cinderella. Disappointingly, the two-time Oscar winner, dressed in a stylish blue pantsuit, is dropped off in an anonymous black hire car. Surely, after the movie’s successful international opening, Disney should have made an effort.
Where is the ornate gold coach, created magically from a pumpkin and drawn by white horses?
“The service only runs to midnight,” Blanchett flashes back.
Whether it’s from spending so much time around theatres and film sets or just high spirits, she does excellent banter.
Blanchett played Katharine Hepburn well enough in The Aviator to win an Oscar, and she seems to share some of that actress’s characteristic sassiness. Not to mention her directness.
“Mind if I pee?” she says, scanning the marble foyer.
“We’ve got a room,” says a publicist, gesturing to the lift.
“Ah, we’ve got a room,” she says, stepping inside with publicist and journalist. “People will talk.”
We are here to talk about films, but once settled, having ordered a skinny latte and a cup of hot water with lemon, Blanchett opens up – just a little – on the topic that everyone seems most interested in lately: the tiny bundle who appears, from the paparazzi photos taken since she arrived back from the US, to be a particularly gorgeous baby.
“She’s more beautiful in real life,” Blanchett says.
What’s it like having a new bub again?
“It’s extraordinary. It’s been an absolute gift and we’re utterly besotted.”
And how have her sons – Dashiell, 13, Roman, 10, and Ignatius, 6 – reacted?
“They’ve been extraordinary. I remember spending hours and hours on a Saturday afternoon with my siblings in a whole separate universe and coming downstairs to my parents and their life would have continued and they had no idea what we’d been up to.
“Not that it was devious, but it was just apart from them. I find it extraordinary, glimpsing them becoming a unit. And a very welcoming unit. I’m very proud of them.”
I ask if she wants to talk about adopting. While joking that she will shut down if the questions get too intrusive, Blanchett admits they have wanted to adopt for more than a decade. “We’ve been talking about it since our first son was born,” she says.
But it was not from a particular desire to have a daughter. “Adoption – the process – it’s pot luck,” she says. “It’s not about designing a family. It’s about welcoming. There’s a lot of children out there in need, both children who are up for adoption but also children in the foster system. So it wasn’t necessarily about having a girl, but that’s what landed in our lap and we feel absolutely blessed.”
The Cate Blanchett everyone knows is an ethereal celebrity who delivers famous performances on stage and screen and looks impossibly glamorous at premieres and awards ceremonies.
But if that suggests a remoteness from ordinary life – a detachment from reality courtesy of fame, beauty and wealth – Blanchett has sometimes revealed how politically engaged she is. She attended Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit in 2008 – she calls it “very flawed but noble” – so that the arts had a place at the table. In her time at the STC, the couple made the theatre more environmentally sustainable with the Greening the Wharf project. In 2011, she became a high-profile advocate for the carbon tax. And, late last year, she delivered a thoughtful speech praising Gough Whitlam’s initiatives in free tertiary education, healthcare, support for the arts, the country’s relationship with Asia, women’s rights and indigenous issues at the former prime minister’s memorial service.
At 45, her celebrated career includes two Oscars, four other nominations, an enviable mix of commercial hits and smart art-house films around the world, and widespread acclaim for theatre performances in the likes of Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire, Uncle Vanya and The Maids.
But she doesn’t mind admitting that not everything has been a triumph.
“Shitty, crappy niche films, I’ve made plenty of those,” she says.
Blanchett also admits she has to be careful what she says publicly. If a reminder was needed, it came when she was attacked as “Carbon Cate”, presumably a green version of wartime propagandist Tokyo Rose, by Murdoch newspapers.
“In terms of weighing into a political debate, it’s so noisy,” she says. “Even speaking to you, it can sound like one’s proferring one’s opinions left, right and centre. It’s not really who I am. You have to be quite judicious about what you weigh into and when.
“If you’re a blonde actress who makes movies, you can be a hindrance sometimes. When they don’t like what you say, you’re a multimillionaire celebrity. And when they do like what you say, you’re an internationally respected actress.”
So you’re either Our Cate or That Crazy Actress?
“Exactly. So you just have to think, ‘Am I going to help here or am I going to be a hindrance?'”
Since the final stages of her six years co-directing the STC with Upton – she finished in 2013 – Blanchett has been one of the world’s most in-demand actresses.
The Monuments Men, in which she played a French art curator, was a disappointment enough for director-star George Clooney to agonise about not sleeping for 30 hours after the bad reviews in an email leaked during the Sony Pictures hack.
But there was acclaim at every turn when she played a New York socialite brought down to earth in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. She won her second Oscar – one of more than 30 awards for the performance – and made a rousing speech about the need for more Hollywood movies centring on women. “The world is round, people,” she declared.
As well as returning as the ethereal Galadriel in the Hobbit movies, voicing a dragon rider in How to Train Your Dragon 2, and small comedic roles in both The Turning and Rake, Blanchett shot two movies back-to-back with master director Terrence Malick (The Tree Of Life).
In the poetic drama Knight of Cups, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, she was the doctor ex-wife of a troubled screenwriter (Christian Bale). In typical Malick fashion, details of the second film – even the title – remain sketchy.
“The suite of films he’s been making lately are part of one big investigation,” Blanchett says.
There has also been a second film with director Todd Haynes. After playing a version of Bob Dylan in 2007’s I’m Not There, Blanchett plays a married woman who attracts the affections of a young department store clerk (Rooney Mara) in the romantic drama Carol, set in 1950s New York.
And in James Vanderbilt’s drama Truth, she plays 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, who became embroiled in a 2004 controversy when newsman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) reported criticisms of President George W. Bush’s military service during the Vietnam War.
While Lily James is the star of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, Blanchett has won rave reviews as the wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine, who resembles a 1940s screen siren in a succession of spectacular gowns. She is a cruel figure motivated by jealousy, with her apparent elegance undermined by a coarse laugh.
“I think it terrified Ken, which I found very exciting the first time I did it,” she says. “You’re always seeing how far you can push it. I probably push things too far and then pull it back – hopefully pull it back – but the look of horror and revulsion on his face! I thought, ‘That’s perfect’.
“It’s always a thing when a woman plays someone who does and says things that are unlikeable. I had the same thing with Woody Allen on Blue Jasmine. The male director often gets very concerned that the audience is going to – they use the word – ‘relate’ to them. But what they mean is ‘sympathise’ or ‘be attracted’ to them. That’s a red rag to a bull with me.”
In one of the movie’s central themes, Cinderella’s mother advises her daughter to “have courage and be kind”. For Blanchett, encouraging her children is more by example than any similar motto. “Children are hypocrisy detectors,” she says. “And it’s constantly, ‘You’re not doing that, you’re saying it’.
“Having three sons, I hope I’m setting a good example for the many different things a woman can be. It’s about respect. Maybe it’s something my own mother said to me: it’s about respecting others and respecting yourself and having boundaries.
“Something we do talk a lot about is layers of intimacy. Something I find very heartwarming is they seem to have really good friends, true friends, friends who can keep their confidence, friends who can have their back in a way. Long after we’re gone … ”
She baulks at that downbeat note and starts again. “In the end, no matter what they do, you want them to be able to have – without getting too ooger-booger about it – truly loving relationships.”
Has Hollywood listened to her call for more movies centring on women? Blanchett seems optimistic that female producers collaborating with other women with clout in Hollywood are making these kind of movies – and that Cinderella shows they can make money, despite the myth for years that anything not made for 13-year-old boys has only a niche audience.
“There’s a critical mass of women audience members as well as participants in the industry who have just said, ‘enough, enough’,” she says. “We’ve known for years this is rubbish. We’ve been told to shut up because we’re complaining.
“When you’ve got a certain number of women running studios and a certain number of female producers with runs on the board, you think, ‘OK, what are your pet projects? How long are you going to be doing one for the boys, doing one for the team?’
In her latest role, Blanchett has started playing the snake Kaa in Jungle Book: Origins, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the tiger Shere Khan and Christian Bale as the panther Bagheera.
“Andy Serkis, who I revere and adore, is doing a motion capture version,” she says. “I’d witnessed motion capture obviously on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit but I’d never been a participant. So I did a couple of days on that. He calls it authoring a performance. It was so liberating. It was like being back in the rehearsal room for a play.
“They mocked up the tree and so you’re working in tandem with a bank of people behind computer screens who are getting all the information from your bodily movements and it helps you find the voice. The voice comes out of the body. All of that information gets immediately fed into the computer and so then you can start to see where your 10-metre long slithering body is moving.”
From an evil, jealous stepmother to a snake, it seems there is a dark turn to Blanchett’s roles. What’s next? The devil? “I’m up for anything,” she says. “I never say no to anything.”
After a moment’s thought, it turns out that’s not quite right. “In fact, I say no to everything and have to get seduced into doing it,” she says. “I’ve got no grand plan.”
Well, there is one plan. To take the family overseas when Upton finishes at the STC. And possibly direct a film.
Eighteen months ago, Blanchett was mooted as director of The Dinner, based on a Dutch novel that is described as a psychological thriller about “how far some parents might go to protect their children”.
“When he was asked to renew his contract and we looked at how long we’d been running the company and how extraordinary it’s been, we decided there were other things that we wanted to pursue,” she says of the end of Upton’s tenure. “That may well be in Europe and there’s a few projects in the States directorially.
“But as a mother of now four children, it’s not just the shooting of something, it’s the pre- and post- that mean a lot of time away. But we were always planning to take some sort of sabbatical with the children. So maybe there’s an opportunity to dovetail those desires.”
So it could be either Europe or the States? “Yes, it’s a circus existence. One byproduct – a gift – of running the Sydney Theatre Company is that it’s been a real anchor, going deeper into the cultural life of this country but also deeper into our connections with our family, and that stability has been fantastic for the kids.
“It’s a circus life when you’re freelance. It’s like being a diplomat without the respect.”
But at least there is respect at home when it comes to her conflict with Cinderella. “My son said, ‘I didn’t like it when you lost in the end,'” she says.