|International Herald Tribune
December 26, 2000
Picking Her Roles and
HALF MOON BAY, California. Cate Blanchett is looking particularly ethereal. Perhaps it's the way she's roosting on a pillow on the floor of a Japanese restaurant, a low, wood table in front of her holding two small bowls of salad, some soup, a gently steaming cup of sake. Or maybe it's the way her strawberry-blonde hair has been cropped, close to the scalp, for her role in Barry Levinson's new comedy, "Bandits," which is filming nearby. Or perhaps it's just a little leftover glow from four months spent in New Zealand playing the Lady Galadriel, an elf queen, in Peter Jackson's monumental three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," which is still in production. .
Even the waitress notices something. "You look so familiar," she says to Blanchett. "Do I know you? Should I know you? Are you a model or something?"
Blanchett, 31, smiles sweetly and shakes her head. "I just have one of those faces," she says.
Ever since she thundered to international acclaim in her Oscar nominated role in "Elizabeth" (1998), playing a seductively intelligent version of England's virgin queen, Blanchett has had a steady stream of acclaimed roles in high profile films, from a stubbornly virtuous wife in "An Ideal Husband" in 1999 to a ditsy American nuisance in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" later the same year. So it's no surprise to find her, once again, in the thick of the pre-Oscar speculation.
This time it is for her role as Annie, a small-town Southern psychic in "The Gift," a film directed by Sam Raimi and based on a script by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton (her co-star both in last year's "Pushing Tin" and in the currently shooting "Bandits"). A supernatural murder mystery, the film opened on Wednesday in Los Angeles, to meet the deadline for Academy Award consideration, and will open elsewhere in the United States on Jan. 19.
"I found Annie very elusive and very layered," Blanchett says. "And there's something about the way, because of the death of her husband, she has shut herself off from the people around her. She is very open and attuned to people she barely knows, but is blind about the people who are closest to her."
One might expect a Southern psychic to be portrayed as ostentatiously eccentric, but Blanchett plays Annie as a very grounded, straightforward woman whose psychic abilities are as much a burden as a gift. They are the only means she has of providing for her children after her husband's accidental death the year before. The supporting cast includes Katie Holmes as a local socialite who turns up dead in a swamp, Greg Kinnear as the socialite's cuckolded fiancÚ, Keanu Reeves as the town bully who is accused of the crime, Hilary Swank as the bully's battered wife and Giovanni Ribisi as the emotionally troubled town mechanic who comes to Annie for help.
"When I choose a part, it's always for more than the character," Blanchett says. "It's the whole group of people who are going to be telling the story. First, I look at the script and see the character. But then I want to know who else is involved and whether I want to work with this particular group of people. And I find that I've been very lucky in that regard."
Blanchett was born in Melbourne to an American father and an Australian mother and was school drama captain at the Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne before studying at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art, from which she graduated in 1992. Success came quickly on the stage.
She joined the Sydney Theater Company's production of Caryl Churchill's "Top Girls" in 1992 and the next year appeared in Timothy Daly's "Kafka Dances" and David Mamet's "Oleanna," performances that won her the Sydney Theater Critics Circle's best newcomer of the year and best actress of the year awards, the first time both have gone to the same performer.
By 1994, she was working for American networks, appearing in such television series as "Police Rescue" and "Heartland." She made her feature film debut in "Paradise Road" in 1997, but drew her first serious attention playing a spirited 19th-century Australian heiress opposite Ralph Fiennes in Gillian Armstrong's movie adaptation of Peter Carey's novel, "Oscar and Lucinda." The next year, with "Elizabeth," she won the British Academy Award, the Golden Globe and a half-dozen other honors, besides drawing an Oscar nomination.
"She is, without question, one of the best actresses of her generation," Armstrong said in a telephone interview from London, where she was scouting locations for her next film, "Charlotte Gray," which will star Blanchett. "And when I say best I mean that she is someone who could play anything. I could give her any character, and she could do it. She can transform. Besides having an incredible quality on camera, a real unusual beauty, she is very intelligent and has great emotional depth. But she could also play a really dumb broad, too."
Raimi said he had never paused for a moment in considering an Australian actress for the small town Southern psychic. "The screenplay was great because it really painted very real pictures of these characters in a small Southern town, and I felt that the only way I could do it justice was in casting the best actress there was," he said. "In fact, once I got into it, I became convinced that the only way I could do the picture justice was if I could cast Cate Blanchett in the part."
Blanchett, who lives in London with her husband, Andrew Upton, a writer, says she has tried to be careful in sorting through the offers that her sudden fame has brought, turning down several big-studio projects that would have paid her a great deal more than a small, independent film like "The Gift." She hopes she won't come to regret it.
"I have gotten those offers, and I don't want to come off like I'm opposed to doing something like that," she says. "I love action movies. I'd love to be in one. I just haven't yet. Maybe one day I'll regret that because, you know, it wasn't that long ago that I couldn't even pay my electric bill."
Blanchett says she wants to continue choosing projects on the basis of the characters and her colleagues. "But not to the extent that it's just an indulgence to me," she says. "The further you go down this road, the more traps there are to indulge yourself. I think you always have to remember that, at the end of the day, there are going to be people sitting down at the cinema, and you want them to have a good time."