With over 25 years of stage experience, Cate Blanchett is a veteran when it comes to the theater. But while the Oscar-winning Australian actress has performed in stage productions around the globe, her recent Broadway debut in The Present managed to keep her on her toes. Written by Blanchett’s husband, Andrew Upton, the limited-run play was initially performed in Sydney before it made the move to New York City in December—and for Blanchett, the new setting offered a completely fresh perspective on the project.
“It’s very interesting to perform the play for an American audience now, because everyone—no matter who you voted for—is in such a state of turmoil,” she told InStyle last week while celebrating the launch of Giorgio Armani’s new Si Rose Signature fragrance (she’s the face of the collection). “There are uncertain days; it’s very fragile. And the play deals a lot with the fragility and lack of time.” Blanchett’s character, Anna, is facing those topics head-on in The Present. The entire play focuses on the widowed Anna’s 40th birthday, which she’s celebrating with a group of friends at her Russian country house. With time to kill and plenty of booze to go around, things soon spiral out of control as Anna and co. reminisce about the past and revisit old relationships while trying to figure out their next steps in life.
Blanchett explains that she relates to her character’s fear of the unknown the most. “She’s very unresolved about her past and uncertain about her future,” said the 47-year-old star. “I probably share her uncertainty about the future, and I don’t think I’m alone there.” While Blanchett is similar to Anna on that front, she’s more interested in the ways that she’s unlike her stage persona. “I’m always looking for the points of difference, I think, between me and a character,” she said. “So it’s not necessarily that I share personality traits with her, but I definitely connect with her preoccupation with time being so precious and so important; spending time with people, and how little we do it. That’s probably where I connect with her most.”
Anna’s perspective on aging—and, specifically, turning 40—is wrought with mixed emotions, but for Blanchett, it’s simply a non-issue. “It’s funny, but I just didn’t have that same mentality [about turning 40],” she said. “I felt like I should, if only because everyone talks about it. I think men get talked about in a slightly different way—their age means something different. They’re somehow liberated when they’re in their forties, whereas women are meant to be sort of fixing themselves up and trying to stave off the inevitable.”
That wasn’t the case for Blanchett, who found herself unfazed upon hitting the big 4-0. “When I reached 40, I was actually sort of relieved and excited,” she said. “You approach it with such a sense of fear because it’s built up to such a degree, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We’re so full of fear, but these situations are often the opposite of what we expect.”
While it might be tricky to predict how she’ll feel on special occasions, there’s one thing that Blanchett can expect: memorable gifts from her family. “During the first couple of years of our marriage, my husband gave me a vacuum cleaner and a blender on our anniversaries,” she said. “I think he was trying to give me a few hints about being a bit more active in our domestic life.” Other than appliances, the presents that really rate with Blanchett inherently pack a special meaning. “In the end, I love the things that people—especially my children—have made,” she said. “They make things out of matchsticks, and my middle child once made a clay skull that he had drawn a bit like the Day of the Dead. It’s the handmade things that I really love.”
And, unsurprisingly, it’s family time that ranks highest on her list of favorite activities. When she’s not busy performing, Blanchett relishes relaxing with her kids at home—in one spot, specifically. “I’m growing to love my bed more than any other item of furniture in the house,” she said. “The best thing is when all four of the kids and my husband and I are just sitting there. I think we probably have our best conversations as a family in our bed. Thank god it’s enormous.”
Of course, there are a few culturally-relevant books taking up space on her nightstand at the moment. “I’m reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, which is about an immigrant family living in America,” said Blanchett. “And then the other book I have is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which is about the disconnect between the white working class and the sort of perceived privileged classes,” said Blanchett. “So it’s a book for both Democrats and Republicans. It’s about the state of the nation, really, and how America has got to where it is.” Topical, indeed.