The Cool Allure of Cate Blanchett

Photo by Matteo Chinelatto

Cate Blanchett once told Harper’s Bazaar magazine she wants to play characters as far from herself as possible because she likes to use her roles as a way of understanding someone else’s perspective. She’s elaborated that she is “never interested” in playing characters that are too similar to who she is in real life. “I’m never interested in portraying myself,” she says. “For me, selfishly, it’s always about trying to understand someone else’s perspective. Often, the further from my own experience and my set of values, the more fascinating it is. And the only way we can move forward is to learn from history.”

Blanchett has previously confessed she was pushed into acting “against her will,” admitting that, “The only thing I wanted to do when I left high school was travel with my work. I didn’t at all think about notoriety or fame. I thought maybe I’d move into the visual arts, but from a curatorial perspective, or architecture, even though my math was absolutely woeful.”

Fortunately for the audiences who are intrigued by her chameleon-like performances, Blanchett did go into acting, and has been firmly ensconced in the profession since leaving high school. Today, she’s also a director, however, which she saw coming a few years back when she told the press she only had a few more years left in front of the camera before “I lose my sanity and attempt to make it as a director.” She explained at the time: “I don’t know what I am going to do next as an actor. I never do, really. But I feel like I’ve got probably a couple more years left in it before I lose my sanity. If the offers are still there [to go into directing]. And if they’re not, then maybe I can throw some pots?”

Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in FX/Hulu’s Mrs. America.

Hard to imagine the offers are going anywhere. Blanchett, who graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art, started out on the stage in Australia, playing roles in Electra and Hamlet, among others. In 1998, she played Elizabeth I in the movie Elizabeth, winning a BAFTA Award for Best Actress and her first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She actually took home that award for her performance in The Aviator, a biopic in which she played Katharine Hepburn, and nabbed a Best Actress Oscar for her 2013 film Blue Jasmine. But not all her accolades and awards have come from Hollywood—many are arguably more prestigious: The Australian government awarded her the Centenary Medal; the French government has appointed her Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters; she’s been presented with a Doctor of Letters from the University of New South Wales, University of Sydney and Macquarie University, and in 2015 she was honored by the Museum of Modern Art and received the British Film Institute Fellowship.

With such a prestigious CV, it’s ironic that one of her favorite roles ever was as the villainess Hela, the goddess of death, in Marvel production Thor: Ragnarok. The character was killed off in that film, but Blanchett made it clear to the Hollywood Reporter two years after the film came out that she would love it if Hela could be resurrected for the upcoming (in 2021) Thor: Love and Thunder. But even if she’s not directly involved in the movie, Blanchett is still very excited to see it, telling Entertainment Tonight, “I’m so, so excited. I’m so looking forward to seeing it, because I absolutely loved seeing them all with my kids. But I really, really loved Captain Marvel. No offense, Taika”—a reference to Thor director Taika Waititi—”but it was probably my favorite.”

As Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.

But Blanchett has plenty more time to discover a new favorite character to play. So far this year, she’s starring opposite Dominic West in the Australian series Stateless—which premiered in March on ABC—a story inspired by real-life events about a woman escaping a cult, a refugee fleeing with his family, a father trapped in a dead-end job and a bureaucrat on the verge of a national scandal, all of whom find their lives interwoven at an immigration detention center. Further afield, in yet a second television series, she’s portraying Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative activist who led the fight against the Equal Rights Movement in what is also a true story, Mrs. America, set to premiere on Hulu this April 15. The story will be told from the viewpoints of not just Schlafly but also legendary feminists Gloria Steinem (played by Rose Byrnes), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) and Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba). But all that TV work doesn’t mean she’ll be absent from the big screen: Blanchett is currently filming Nightmare Alley, and Lucy and Desi, in which she’ll star as Lucille Ball, is in pre-production. So there’s plenty for her to look forward to that doesn’t involve “throwing pots”—and plenty for us to look forward to in the way of masterful performances. As her Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) director, Richard Linklater, said of Blanchett, “She’s a genius.” We agree. 

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