February 20, 2000Queen
Wishes to Dance
CATE Blanchett has only just finished apologising for her
melancholy mood when she quietly lets drop her bombshell. "I don't know that I want
to act forever.''
Maybe, she says, her mood comes from her speaking in the
early hours of the morning from a strange town -- Savannah, Georgia, where she is starring
in The Gift for movie director Sam Raimi. Perhaps it's the macabre documentary she's just
been watching, about American boys accused of a satanic murder.
But the Australian actor, and this newspaper's Australian of
the Year, is quick to point out that her feelings about acting are not from "any
sense of being dissatisfied''. It's just that there are aspects of life other than acting
that she would like to explore. Directing theatre, for one thing, and maybe "dance
installations, hybrids and other things.
"I'm not as obsessed with film as everyone else seems to
be,'' admits the woman who was last year nominated for an Academy Award in her first
leading film role, as the 17th-century queen in Elizabeth.
Despite having scarcely stopped working since -- her more
recent films include Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, the comedy Pushing Tin and the
thriller The Talented Mr Ripley -- she says movie acting is not her raison d'etre. If she
had her life over again it would be as a dancer with Pina Bausch, she says, and indeed she
hopes that "things will continue to be unpredictable''.
Cinema is all-consuming and powerful in our globalised
culture and Australia's latest international movie star finds it odd that people overseas
either forget, or don't know about, her theatrical background. Here we are less ready to
forget she trained with NIDA and spent several years on the Australian stage before
appearing in such local movies as Paradise Road (Bruce Beresford), Oscar and Lucinda
(Gillian Armstrong) and Thank God He Met Lizzie (Cherie Nowlan). After Elizabeth,
Blanchett found herself splashed across the covers of glossy magazines the world over, but
she still views herself as an actor first, a star second.
Ripley's English writer-director, Anthony Minghella, told The
Australian he was "amazed'' by her readiness to play second fiddle to Gwyneth Paltrow
in his film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel.
"I thought that her agent had decided to talk to her
about Gwyneth' s part and hope that that part was still open. Obviously she was only in
the process of filming Elizabeth at that time, but nevertheless, quite clearly her card
was marked for big things. I thought it was a very interesting index of who she is that
you can see she's looking for films rather than parts. I think that really defines her.''
When Blanchett appeared on the London stage last year in the
lead role in David Hare's Plenty, she was bemused to discover that the UK media saw her as
a film star setting out to prove herself in the theatre. No one realised, she says, that
she had been there three years earlier in Michael Gow's Sweet Phoebe at the Croydon
Though she feels like going home and having a bath when she
sees disappointing theatre, what she likes about live performance is that "as an
audience member I feel implicated''.
She continues: "When I see wonderful theatre, it stays
with me for years and years. I don't have the same visceral experience, that I keep for
years, with film. There's something about things that are alive.'' This does not
necessarily mean three act plays, she adds. Even Jerry Springer's tabloid talk show or
World Championship Wrestling have a vital live element -- "it's basically the same
thing. People [audiences] want to see people [performers] moving through space."
Another advantage theatre has over film is that it gives
actors the chance to reinterpret. Plenty, for which she was roundly applauded by the UK
critics, "was an extraordinary experience, but one I would probably do completely
differently if I did it again'', on account of the density and complexity of the role. The
same goes for David Mamet's Oleanna, a Sydney Theatre Company production in which she
played a student who makes bogus complaints about sexual assault by her professor, played
by Geoffrey Rush.
Blanchett's musings on creativity reveal, perhaps, a
temperamental or existential frustration with the film industry. Her celebrity has
happened so swiftly that she can sometimes appear contradictory: how else to explain her
appearance at the Oscars last year in a dress clearly designed to create a sensation,
followed by comments belittling media interest in movie star fashion.
Being under constant media scrutiny is "a necessary
by-product'' of success, she says. "It's incredible being flattered, to be liked, but
the challenge remains to be imaginative and creative under that scrutiny.''
You might imagine Blanchett to be so inundated with scripts
that it would be hard to decide what to do next, but those worth doing are few. "I
was spoiled early on with Bruce [Beresford] and Oscar and Lucinda with Gill [Armstrong].
My standards on how a script could be were incredibly high. It's been quite an
extraordinary experience this year, the amount of scripts I have read, and [then] watching
them being made.''
Ridley Scott recently talked to her about taking the lead
role of Clarice Starling in Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, but as much
as she admires Scott, it wasn't for her. Yes, she says, in retrospect she has made
mistakes in turning down certain roles. "Sometimes you're right and sometimes you're
wrong.'' Nonetheless the films she rejected "can look pretty good with someone else
in it. I'm not particularly greedy.''
Sadly, Australian producers appear shy about approaching her
these days. "I think people make assumptions, hilariously enough, about what is
termed one's price. It's kind of not the point.'' Money, she says, is secondary.
"It's about doing things that are well-written."
Producing material herself is the next likely move: she would
like to get up a couple of self-produced projects for 2001. But first she has to finish
The Gift -- in which she co-stars with Keanu Reeves as a woman with psychic powers --
before flying to New Zealand to play elf queen Galadriel in Peter Jackson's version of
J.R.R Tolkien' s The Lord of the Rings. The latter role turns out to be poetically apt:
her first theatrical experience came when, aged 10, she played a dragon slayer in her
school play -- an adaptation of Tolkien's The Hobbit.
The Talented Mr Ripley opens next Thursday.