Cate's flight of fancy

A dream role from Woody Allen.

by Richard Mowe

Cate Blanchett on the Deauville red carpet: "I may peddle in fantasy for a living but as Woody so frequently said during the shoot, we all engage in fantasy. It is part of being human ..."
Cate Blanchett on the Deauville red carpet: "I may peddle in fantasy for a living but as Woody so frequently said during the shoot, we all engage in fantasy. It is part of being human ..."

Cate Blanchett, the star of Woody Allen's latest film Blue Jasmine has already garnered some of the best reviews of her career as the titular heroine. She plays an Upper East Side Princess fallen on hard times and now in a financial and emotional shambles - hardly surprising as her husband has been exposed as a sexual philanderer and a fraudster. One of the finest actresses of her generation Oscar winner Blanchett, 44, is the subject of a special career tribute at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema where the film was given its French premiere tonight (Saturday). Earlier in the day Richard Mowe met Blanchett for an insight into working with Mr Allen, her essential stage roots, keep a grip on normality, and reflections on her career milestones.

Richard Mowe:Woody Allen has a reputation of being a consummate director of female actors. Can you give us an insight into his way of working on Blue Jasmine?

Cate Blanchett: You are right in terms of him creating extraordinary opportunities and unique roles for female actors. I think working with Woody is a process of benign neglect in a lot of ways. I would say 99 per cent of his direction happens in the script. He just wants to give the actors a long leash and see what they are going to do with it. Hopefully he likes it. It is very practical and simple and unpretentious and unfussy and he works very fast. It was fantastic that so many people in the cast had worked in the theatre. We all had a shorthand with each other and the process was really collaborative.

RM:Your character is unlike any other you have portrayed, someone who is going back to her origins after a fantasy kind of existence. Are there any similarities with the gap between acting and reality?

CB: Jasmine is somebody who is broken but has this highly romanticised sense of herself to an epic degree and as such her grip on reality has always been ‘ephemeral’ shall we say as she is on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. The mood swings are very wide. The great thing about Woody is that in all his films he creates new archetypes. The trappings of Jasmine may seem almost clichéd as an Upper East Side Princess he very quickly breaks that down as dramatist to reveal what is behind the mask and what makes her tick. The façade of Jasmine is very thin and I really relished playing the journey she under went when she was trying to make that façade her reality rather than actually facing reality. The tension between fantasy and reality was a fascinating thing to play.

RM:The fashion accessories are almost characters in their own right. What part did you play in the choice.

CB: There is certain iconography for sure that is mentality recognisable and she is somebody who because her sense of self-esteem from the get-go is constructed. She is estranged from her beginnings and changed her name and has no connection to her biological roots and has been adopted. She is somebody who has utterly adopted herself. So wearing the right things and fitting in as part of the social set is important in the circle she moves in. The value of the Hermes bag was equivalent to the entire costume budget so I felt very guilty about throwing it down on the pavement. The costume designer pulled in a lot of favours and working with her prior to the shoot was instrumental in forming the character of Jasmine. The items such as the Louis Vuitton luggage mean a lot to her because she has no idea who she is.

RM:The life of a star is the stuff of dreams – how can you connect to normal life and the kind of existence experienced by Jasmine’s sister (played by Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco?

CB: Do I have a real life? Yes I do. I may peddle in fantasy for a living but as Woody so frequently said during the shoot, we all engage in fantasy. It is part of being human but you cannot dwell there, because that way madness lies. I do have a very strong real life.

RM:You are not American but you play a character who goes from one side of the country to the other. Would you prefer to be an East or West coast person?

CB: We are all American by default in a certain kind of way. It is an extraordinary land - topographically and not politically. The Red Woods outside San Francisco and the Bay is amazing and I feel very at home there. It is similar to Sydney in a lot of ways. But I do like upstate New York. I am happy, though, living in Sydney.

RM:What is your favourite Woody Allen movie and why?

CB: It changes according to my mood. What I did go back and watch again and again before shooting was Crimes and Misdemeanours. I think it is wonderful. And there is also Hannah And Her Sisters in which the interplay between the women is absolutely delicious.

RM:You have worked in theatre recently with the iconic Liv Ullman. Is it important for you to keep in touch with your theatrical roots and find time to do stage work in your busy film schedule?

CB: It was career changing for me to work with Liv and we worked together on a production of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams which I assumed Woody had seen before he cast me as Jasmine. Working with her was expansive and I would work with her again in a heartbeat and we often speak to see if we can work something out. Theatre is something I have been doing full time for the last five or six years running the Sydney Theatre Company. It is not something that you do as a pit-stop between films. It is part of what I love – being directly connected to an audience which expands you physically and keeps you alive. I have been fortunate to be able to move between theatre and film.

RM:What do you think about being given a tribute ?

CB: Wonderful – I cannot think of a better way to enter Deauville. It should happen every year. It is nice to know that after five or six years in the theatre I still have a film career to return to. It feels very nice of Deauville to make me feel that way. The set-up for Blue Jasmine has many similarities with the set-up for Streetcar. As a dramatist Woody’s sensibility of urban, wry witticisms is completely different to the poetic longeur that is Tennessee Williams’ writing. But the sense of somebody who is walking that dangerous border between fantasy and reality, and who has a fantasised and romantic view of themselves does draw a line between Jasmine and Blanche Dubois in Streetcar. I have played a lot of those great roles on stage such as Hedda Gabler, Blanche Dubois, Richard 11, and recently Lotte Kotta in Paris. You do not consciously try to overlay those roles on to anything else but the residue remains somewhere within you. They certainly sit there.

RM:Would you like to tour in theatre in Europe?

CB:I have just finished doing The Maids with Isabelle Huppert and a young Australian actress from The Great Gatsby Elizabeth Debicki and we would love to tour in that. There are plans afoot for more projects – there are more ideas than time. I took a production of Uncle Vanya to America and I would like to continue to tour that as well.

RM:Tributes are a time for reflection (and you have another one planned at the New York Film Festival in October) – how do you look at the milestones in your career?

CB:I suppose I am old enough now to have a retrospective of some sort, unfortunately! I guess you can only know those milestones in retrospect. Certainly making Elizabeth with Shekhar Kapurwas a big shift for me because it was the first time I was leading a film overseas. My first job at the Sydney Theatre Company in a David Mamet play Oleanna with Geoffrey Rush was another important step. Working with Liv Ullmann really shifted my perception of what was possible in theatre while Todd Haynes was crucial because the ask was so ridiculous - playing a version of Bob Dylan. And there was Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Steven Soderberg. I cannot believe now that I am stringing those names together. And, of course, Woody because he provided a happy intersection for me between theatre and film - Jasmine has such a theatricalised sense of herself and she is performing all the time.

RM:Finally, give me a snapshot of your new film Monuments Men by and with George Clooney?

CB: Blue Jasmine was a cracker of a story and Monuments Men is a cracker of a story. It is a pocket of Second World War history that I did not know anything about. Roosevelt sanctioned a bunch of art restorers, curators and historians to go behind enemy lines and find the art that was being stolen from the major Jewish collections and amassed to fill Hitler’s dream museum in Lintz. You just need to look at the cast Bill Murray, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Matt Damon to realise it is very special. And it is going to be both silly and moving.

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