Cate Blanchett for “The Missing”

Cate Blanchett remains one of Australia’s busiest international stars. The London-based actress seems as comfortable playing an Irish journalist as a nineteenth century tough single mother desperately trying to find her eldest daughter in Ron Howard’s The Missing. Beautifully attired in a glorious Marc Jacobs outfit, Blanchett, tipped for Oscar consideration this year, talked to Paul Fischer in New York.

Cate Blanchett looks like the royal princess she once played in Elizabeth, the film that also garnered her international stardom. Regally greeting the media in a New York City hotel, the now three-month pregnant star of The Missing and the recent Veronica Guerin was relaxed, despite her recent arrival from Rome where she is filming Wes Anderson’s A Life Aquatic, which finally returns her to lighter, more comedic fare. Blanchett agrees that it has been quite the year for her or as she puts it, “It’s been a smorgasbord of a year for me.” One of the world’s busiest actors, Blanchett says that she has to turn down as much as she takes on, but that is part of the life of an in-demand actress. “I think one’s so called career is a product of what you say no to as much as what you say yes to. In the end, I think the way one chooses work is always instinctual because there is no formula for making a film that connects with an audience. You can have the best script in the world, the most extraordinary cinematographer, I suppose an all star cast, but then it just doesn’t work. And sometimes you’ve got a script that you kind of feel like you’re pushing uphill and then it just takes off. So it’s always risky and that’s always exciting. I’m having a great time.” Blanchett thrives on risk, and this year was no exception, first in the dramatic Veronica Guerin, and now in the darker, intense and at times savagely violent Western The Missing, from director Ron Howard. As dark as those films may be, Blanchett says that the work for her is fun, and she tries to maintain that no matter how intense the piece. “I love what I do. Every day is fun and I find for something like The Missing, the more intense and broad your preparation is the more fun you can have. It’s like anything. You want to move through the technical to the playing of it because no one wants to see anyone’s homework. No one wants to see me struggling to get a horse under control because I can’t ride it, or see me not knowing how to deal with the psychological makeup of the character. So it was enormous fun and while it always sounds very disingenuous, this was a sublime experience for me. There were so many satisfying strands of filmmaking and from an acting perspective came together that I had a really great time.” Blanchett adds that switching on and off when in dark character mode, generally is not too difficult. “Some scenes are more intense than others and I think probably from making Veronica Guerin and going back to work with a young child, your focus has to be almost more intense. You have to switch off at the end of the day because there’s a little creature that needs you and I found that quite educational. I have a very healthy relationship to my work and I find that if a scene is working, no matter how intense it is, you have the catharsis on screen and you can let it go. I think it’s if at the end of the day you feel like you haven’t cracked it, that’s when you go home and it’s more difficult to switch off.”

The Missing is set in 19th-century New Mexico, and revolves around an estranged father “once gone native” (Tommy Lee Jones) who comes back home, hoping to reconcile with his adult daughter Maggie (Blanchett). Maggie’s daughter is kidnapped, forcing father and estranged daughter to work together to get her back. A tough, violent film, Blanchett was not only required to ride a horse, but fire guns. It was the latter that she found the most difficult, “especially from a moral perspective. I never feel particularly comfortable holding a gun, but when you’re playing somebody who lived in the frontier southwest, guns are a part of their life, so I shot at a rifle range quite a lot. Though we’re not shooting full loads, you have to know what the kickback feels like. Anyone who works with guns a lot; knows that it becomes an extension of their body, so I wanted to have that physical relationship to it.” Despite its period setting and Western tone, Blanchett, who was never much a fan of Westerns prior to this, says The Missing has its degree of uniqueness. “When I read the script and began talking to Ron, to me the huge departure is that in the classic western, the female characters either are nonexistent, they’re the good-hearted prostitute or the maiden who needs to be rescued, but not an essential part of the narrative not riding right alongside the men. Moreover in this, you have three really interesting female characters that are at the centre of the story and propelling the narrative forward, so to me that’s a huge massive departure. Also I think too, the psychological development of the characters is never sacrificed for the momentum of the chase, which to me enriches the genre.”

In The Missing, Blanchett plays another tortured mother, but would not be drawn on whether she specifically drew on her own maternalism playing this PARTICULAR tortured mother. “There are many, many different types of parents as there are many different types of children and Maggie’s own childhood [In The Missing] is incredibly damaged. The fortress that she’s built up around herself and the quality of the lioness that she brings in her protection of her family, I could definitely relate to. But for me it’s always the difference in the character that I strive to unlock because any similarity that is there is going to naturally, unconsciously exist. I don’t need to mine that stuff.” Blanchett laughingly adds that in her own life, she’s a bull, not a lion. “I think I’ve got something tragic like Taurus moon, Taurus sun, Taurus rising. I’m a complete bull.”

But not necessarily when it comes to being a parent. Now over three months pregnant with her second child, Blanchett pauses when asked if being a parent has changed her dramatically as both a human being and actress. “My personality hasn’t changed but I think my understanding of different types of love has certainly deepened. And I’ve played a mother before, say in something like The Gift, and one doesn’t have to be a murderer to play one, but I think for me, before having a child, everyone told us how things would change, things would shut down, and we’d have to alter our lives. Yes, of course you do, but for me, it’s been a very expansive experience.” To add to that expansiveness, Blanchett has learned much from her son. “You don’t want to admit it, but from an anthropological perspective it’s fascinating. I mean, watching him do all the firsts. I mean, in drama school you do all these animal exercises where you move from being an amoebae to having legs, to walking to standing. It’s fascinating and he’s just beginning to learn to speak. I called him in Rome yesterday and my husband said, “Say hi to mummy.” And he paused and went, “Ciao, bella.” So once their personality is expressed in words, it breaks your heart.” In an age where marriages consistently fail, Blanchett’s marriage to Andrew Upton is as strong as ever, and is perfectly clear as to why. “I don’t talk about it and I think that’s why it works: Because I DON’T talk about it.”

Life is good for this most successful of Aussie film stars, who joins that unique flock of Australian imports, carving a niche as part of Hollywood’s A-list. According to her latest director, had Blanchett turned down The Missing, Howard would have turned to Nicole Kidman. The irony doesn’t escape Cate. “It’s good, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s taking over but I mean, Australians, even if they’re not actors, are travellers and move around,” says the smiling actress. “For years, cinematographers, actors, directors, writers, editors have been working internationally and I think that if you’re into longevity in your career, you want to work in as many different places as you possibly can. I think there was a fearlessness to the Australian approach to performance; Just we’ll give it a go. I mean, look at Hugh [Jackman] in The Boy From Oz on Broadway. It’s extraordinary and I think that is something that people kind of warm to.”

Yet the London-based actress is not ready to give up on her native country just yet. She is looking forward to returning home early next year where she will star on stage in a new adaptation of Hedda Gabler and a new Australian film. In the meantime, she is equally yearning to take some needed time off, “for my life and my sanity. I mean, every actor is different and the way people work, there’s a myriad of different ways of working, but for me, having a rich and exhilarating life means I have a lot to draw on as an actor when you go back to work.”