SBIFF: Catherine the Great: Cate Blanchett honored for her role in ‘Blue Jasmine’

Ms. Blanchett signs autographs before walking the red carpet Saturday at the Arlington Theatre.MIKE ELIASON/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
Ms. Blanchett signs autographs before walking the red carpet Saturday at the Arlington Theatre.


Cate Blanchett sat down with Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond on Saturday night for a conversation about the craft of acting.

This was the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s evening for the Outstanding Performer of the Year, honoring Ms. Blanchett for her starring (and Oscar-nominated) role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

Cate Blanchett is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."
Cate Blanchett is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

In the film she plays a once wealthy socialite coming apart at the seams years after her husband has ruined lives in a Bernie Madoff-like scheme. As Ms. Blanchett noted, Mr. Allen had done everything from broad comedy to serious Bergman-like drama, so her response to the character has been that of the viewers: Is it comedy or is it tragedy?

“Blue Jasmine” marks the star’s return to the film world. The last time she was at SBIFF, in 2008, she was pregnant with her third son.

She has returned to the theater, playing such roles as Hedda Gabler, Yelena in “Uncle Vanya,” and Blanche DuBois, who shares some artistic DNA with her character in “Blue Jasmine.” She also became artistic director of her native Sydney Theater Company in Australia.

“It’s nice to have a film career to return to,” Ms. Blanchett said.

Mr. Hammond suggested that Mr. Allen wrote “Blue Jasmine” with the actress in mind.

“That’s something I’d like to believe is true,” Ms. Blanchett laughed, imagining four other actresses whom she might have auditioned. “In perspective I was the lucky girl.”

The evening started with a video montage of Mr. Blanchett’s filmography, with scenes from her first breakout role in “Oscar and Lucinda,” then her first Oscar nomination for the starring role in “Elizabeth” in 1998, then a series of well-received films: “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Man Who Cried,” “The Shipping News,” “Charlotte Grey,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Veronica Guerin,” “The Aviator,” (her first Oscar so far, as Supporting Actress), “Notes on a Scandal,” and “I’m Not There,” where she played Bob Dylan.

Watching it all unfold made her cringe.

“I’m not a big believer in having regrets, until I saw that,” Ms. Blanchett said. “In a way you keep working as a way to rectify previous mistakes. You never feel you’ve arrived anywhere particular as an actor and that’s what keeps you keep working.

“The process (of acting) is profoundly embarrassing. That’s why I’m grateful to have two feet firmly planted on the stage. You have to risk that exposure and embarrassment every night.”

A theatrical role allows her to fix mistakes, Ms. Blanchett said, while film, she has realized, is finite.

That’s why her work with Mr. Allen was nerve-racking, Ms. Blanchett said.

He doesn’t shoot a lot of takes and there are few setups or different angles on one scene. He insists that his actors speak the lines as they are in the script, with no improvisation. And he does not involve the actors in any post-production work, like re-recording dialog.

Once she left the set, Ms. Blanchett never saw her work until the premiere.

“The role is secondary,” she said. “It’s who the director is and who I get to act with. Invariably, when I read a script, I want to play one of the other characters.”

Outside on the red carpet, Ms. Blanchett talked about her upcoming work under two other high-profile directors.

She is working with Todd Haynes on “Carol,” based, like “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” on a Patricia Highsmith novel. And she also just worked with Terrance Malick on an untitled project.

“You go fishing with Terry,” Ms. Blanchett said. “He never knows what the outcome is going to be. So that’s the adventure and the process and the poetic exchange that you enter into with him.

“With Todd, it’s wonderful to be returning with him on such strong, dense, classic narrative fare and character structure. He makes exquisitely beautiful films.”

Ms. Blanchett’s special evening came on the same day a New York Times website published a letter by Mr. Allen’s adoptive daughter reiterating an accusation that he sexually assaulted her 21 years ago, when she was 7 years old.

Dylan Farrow criticizes the acclaim Mr. Allen has received for “Blue Jasmine,” and questions people who have worked with the famed filmmaker, including Ms. Blanchett.

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