Matt Sayles photo
Matt Sayles photo

There’s always been something in actress Cate Blanchett’s eyes that has made her a star, perhaps it’s this sense that behind her most glamorous characters, there’s a touch of pain. It’s a vulnerable beauty she’s used to good effect from playing Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator” to her role in “Babel.” She also plays characters enigmatic —”Elizabeth I,” and ethereal — Galadriel in “Lord of the Rings.” But it’s her stunning, lead role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” that has justifiably earned her a sixth Oscar nomination and this year’s “Outstanding Performer of the Year” award at the SBIFF (Saturday at the Arlington).

And what a role it is, in one of Woody Allen’s best films in a long time. Ms. Blanchett’s Jasmine is a woman not just on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but living through one in real time. In flashback, we learn she lived the life of luxury with her Bernie Madoff-like husband, but when he went to prison, she lost everything. Now she has to move in with her sister, whose savings her ex also lost. Yet, Jasmine refuses to face facts and continues to live in a fantasy world of excess. Ms. Blanchett plays her just this side of sympathy, bringing all that vulnerability to the fore.

Cate Blanchett in a scene from "Blue Jasmine"
Cate Blanchett in a scene from “Blue Jasmine”

Playing many nationalities for years, it’s a surprise to hear Ms. Blanchett’s Australian accent. She’s a bit quiet and demure, but relishes doing interviews again now that she’s doing the Oscar rounds.

“It’s like doing a third season of a play,” she says. “It seems to have come around in people’s consciousnesses — and that’s thrilling.”

“Jasmine is a theatrical creation,” she says of her character. “She’s externally living a fantasy life, while inwardly butting up against reality, constantly. She’s a human version of that obsession Woody has about that interface between reality and fantasy.” That’s something you see in a lot of his films, she points out.

Mr. Allen is known for his tight shooting schedules, his devotion to his vision, and shooting scenes very fast. Unlike some directors, there’s rarely a lot of coverage (the same scene shot from many angles), and precious few takes.

“Ninety-seven percent of Woody’s direction is in the script,” she says, “And you have to be very clear about why you want to change a single syllable because the story is so impeccably structured.”

Mr. Allen cast Ms. Blanchett based not on her recent work, but having seen “The Talented Mr. Ripley” many years ago. “He’s like an elephant. He stores them all in a bottom drawer,” she says. “He gets an idea and then he says, what about that girl, she’s probably older now, but she was great in that film from 1999.”

While “Blue Jasmine” taps into the zeitgeist of the current financial mess triggered in 2008, Ms. Blanchett sees Jasmine as one in a long list of proud, but damaged and slightly deluded women like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She drew from that history — as she’s played the Tennessee Williams’ character on stage — but “given how vilified, and rightfully so, people in the banking arena have been, you know the audience is going to bring a lot of judgment to a character like this. And Woody was very aware of that. You have to present the character warts and all, and hope as the fissures in her mask start to break open that people can see in there and what’s motivating her. Not to like it, but to understand where she’s coming from.”

The film opens and closes with scenes where Jasmine is reminiscing about her past, and sets the stage for her fantasy world. However in the opening, she has a captive audience, sitting on a plane next to a passenger who is clearly not interested. In the end — spoiler! — she repeats the tale, but to herself on a park bench. It’s a cruel, brutal ending, but fabulous with a feeling of absolute solitude.

“We did (the scene) twice,” Ms. Blanchett says, confirming the aforementioned working methods of its director. “And I said after the first take — and if you’ve been around people who are having mental collapses or suffering — the panic attack part of her, she’s not even aware of the external. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if she got in the shower?’ She’s got the jacket on that she has in the first scene, but her hair’s wet and she’s got no makeup on … I was a bit worried when we had to do it again. He wanted to make it a bit shorter as it is intense, so he went back and rewrote some stuff and had another go at it.”

Similarly, Ms. Blanchett had a different post production experience on this film than with other directors. While actors are usually called into the editing room to either watch or to fix dialog here and there, Ms. Blanchett said she didn’t see anything until she sat down for the film’s premiere.

The experience definitely changed her, she says.

“It was confronting and excruciating, and terrifying and hilarious — and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Cate Blanchett: Outstanding Performer of the Year
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St.
Cost: $35
Information: sbiff.org

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