26 June 2014
Blanchett talked candidly about her life, her acting accomplishments and her views on everything from raising sons, to her fears about climate change and why it is that women are still, not treated equally.
The June 2014 issue of Anne Summers Reports contains an in-depth profile of Cate with beautiful pictures by Peter Brew-Bevan.
Anne Summers in Conversation with Cate Blanchett
Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney
26 June 2014
Anne Summers: Welcome Cate. That music was “Blue Moon” from the soundtrack of Blue Jasmine. I wanted to play it to honour Cate’s Academy Award, her second, which she won for her role in that film. We are so pleased for you Cate, and so proud of you for having won the Academy Award for this film. And I think I’d also like to just say that it’s not often that Australians are glued to the television at unusual hours of the day or night waiting for the announcement of a winner from overseas that’s not a sporting event.
I have to say it is a bit cheeky of me to be inviting you to talk on this particular stage: the stage where you have created so many extraordinary roles. I am sure that many of you in the audience tonight have seen Cate perform on this stage.
Cate Blanchett: Those of you who haven’t can leave [laugh]
Anne Summers: I certainly remember you as Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire … I saw you …
Cate: Six or seven people…
Anne Summers: …walking off that… that side of the stage, being led away by a…
Cate Blanchett: …yes… in my underpants…
Anne Summers: by a doctor and a psychiatric nurse, and saying those incredible words.
Cate Blanchett: Which ones? I can’t remember [laugh]. I forget them…
Anne Summers: …whoever you are…
Cate Blanchett: … but… the wonderful thing about that was we got to obviously perform here as part of the Sydney Theatre Company season but we [also] took it to Washington and to New York and taking a Tennessee Williams play is a bit like to taking coal to Newcastle. But it’s a wonderful privilege to be able to tour works like that, and it’s often not until you take the work out of Australia that you realise just how universal and extraordinary the work is that goes on here. Not only here at the Sydney Theatre Company but just generally in Australia.
Anne Summers: I think I remember that John Lahr, theatre writer of the New Yorker, wrote of your performance [in Streetcar] and he wrote…
Cate Blanchett: Is it good?
Anne Summers: He wrote would never see a performance like that again as long as he lived. It was very good. Very good.
We’re going to talk tonight about the many roles that make up Cate Blanchett. She’s an actor of stage and screen, obviously she’s a fashion icon, she’s a parent, she’s a wife, she’s a patron of the arts and other areas. But there’s one role that I’d like to start with in our conversation tonight which is perhaps not as well-known as some of the others. And that is the five years that you spent as the co-CEO and artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company which includes of course this theatre, a role you shared with your husband Andrew [Upton], and which he continues to do. That was a very big deal. The same John Lahr of the New Yorker said that never before had a movie actress of Blanchett’s calibre made this kind of commitment to the theatre community that launched her. So why did you do it? What made you do it?
Cate Blanchett: I think I have a healthy lack of consequence. If I had that sort of thought I probably wouldn’t ever do anything. I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning without hair and makeup … [laugh].
Anne Summers: …it always makes you feel better…
Cate Blanchett: We were happily ensconced in England and I remember Clive James saying to Andrew and I years ago about the notion of people in the creative field who leave Australia and often don’t return and he said, Well who would have said to Rimbaud: Thou shalt not travel? And I think it’s a wonderful thing no matter your line of work is that you experience that work in other cultures because it… it expands your sense of what’s possible and it puts your work here in a… with an interesting relief. And so we went on this journey and end up in England and we were offered the chance to apply for the job here. And we were gripped by it. And I think we… we’d come back and seen Judy Davis had directed a production of Victory and we’d returned to see family and friends, and we knew everyone on stage. We knew ah… everyone’s body of work, we had relationships with people. And we thought… I think we’re cultural tourists in England. And whilst we dip in and out of the culture there, and we’re engaged in what goes on in the political arena, we don’t feel that in our waters. We don’t respond to it with the, you know, with anger, with passion… we sought … we’re absorbing it, but we don’t have any responsibility to that community. And so when that offer came I think we…we all thought… ah we all thought, Well, you know, the two… two of us… The royal we. Ah, we, we thought it’s… it’s a chance. There’s a certain level of a wonderful liberation that comes from being anonymous in another culture. But I think we felt we’d be most tested by returning and seeing if we could retain that sense of liberation creatively by working within a community that knew us very well. So…
Anne Summers: Did you have any sort of ambition or any idea that this would be an opportunity to perhaps bring to life some important stories about Australia that maybe were waiting to be told, that weren’t being addressed by other areas of the arts?
Cate Blanchett: Well certainly. I mean that’s our primary job that we’re storytellers. So that was of course the sort of the nub, the core as it were of why we wanted to return back here, and I think we had a healthy sense of objectivity of perhaps having been away for a decade on the types of stories that were being told. But we wanted to internationalize the company’s profile. Cause every time Bangarra or ACO or the STC or Belvoir or Malthouse goes out, they expand. You know, it’s a piece of cultural diplomacy, you expand internationally people’s perception of us. It’s not just a prawns on the barbie and Soceroos losing but celebrating their loss, you know… um… it’s…
Cate Blanchett: We’re a much more complex place than that, so of course we want to tell Australian stories and in a sophisticated way. But I think also we wanted to earn the imprimatur of it being called the Sydney Theatre Company, we wanted to reengage the company within the precinct. We wanted to green the organization because we felt that that one of the great calamities facing us as a species is climate change and… if culture doesn’t engage in those great conversations, then it quickly becomes irrelevant. So there were a lot of other seemingly inconsequential sides, sort of adjuncts to the core business of the company that we’re also interested in.
Anne Summers: I just wonder what it was like going from being basically a freelancer in the UK, and doing mainly film…
Cate Blanchett: A dilettante
Anne Summers: A dilettante! Well, I would say a freelance actor. But you went from that to suddenly the co-boss of a 32 million dollar company. You were a CEO, you were responsible for staff, you have to go schmooze with sponsors, you have to do all that stuff, I mean that’s a huge leap for anyone to do. I’m just wondering how you found it?
Cate Blanchett: Well….
Anne Summers: Was it really challenging…
Cate Blanchett: Yes, I mean it was… certainly it’s interesting. I mean Andrew and I were obviously doing in partnership, and now he’s doing it solo and wonderfully so. But I think the biggest… The first thing we did was took the desk out of the office. We thought, you know, it’s easier to have a conversation with people where you don’t have that traditional business relationship with people. It’s a creative conversation. And we wanted to welcome the community back in. So all of that felt second nature. Even though we had gone in, we were obviously artistic directors but also co-CEOs of the company. And I think, what we were perhaps naively and enthusiastically walked into was the sense that in business, in pure business, there’s a certain career trajectory, a certain linear narrative that ends up in a CEO position. And what we didn’t realize was that there was perhaps a prejudice that we hadn’t run an organization this size. And the reason I think, I hope, why we were offered the job was because we had great instincts. And I think good instincts are what a CEO in any level, in any sphere, in any industry that’s what they need most.
Anne Summers: So, were you made to feel welcome?
Cate Blanchett: Oh, certainly by the company. Yes, I mean I think…
Anne Summers: I remember there was a bit of narky press at the time of You know, who do they think they are…
Cate Blanchett: You know personally… Look, I think we were ambushed and surprised by the offer and we felt it would have been an act of cowardice if we didn’t take it up. And I think suddenly from being an actress of international standing and importance, I was suddenly a celebrity a la Kim Kardashian. And it’s interesting in the way you get, you suddenly get…
Anne Summers: As if…
Cate Blanchett: … smaller breasts… But you get, you get, you realize you get pigeon holed very quickly and I think there was a little bit of argy bargy, but you have to have thick skin. There was a lot to do, and we got on with doing it. And I think that the impact and the work has been the proof – hopefully.
Anne Summers: Good. Can you nominate… Is there a single production or a single thing that you did during that time of which you are most proud?
Cate Blanchett: Well certainly the greening of the wharf, the greening of our operations, you know.
Anne Summers: And what you did was you raised private money to put photovoltaic panels on the roof?
Cate Blanchett: Well there was a small blip back in 2008, 2009. We partnered with the University of NSW Photovoltaic and energy faculty. And they were wanting to have a demonstration building and they looked to us. You can see us from the Bridge Climb – you can see the solar array – but also there was the Green Precincts Fund. I think the Essendon Football Club, the Adelaide Showgrounds, and the Sydney Theatre Company were seen as being demonstration buildings. And also because we were a heritage building so – is everyone asleep yet? Yes, we were seen as being an adaptive reuse building that could be a demonstration model. And of course what we thought is that people come to be entertained. And entertaining is a positive, hopefully, like tonight. It’s a positive place where people go to have a good time, to grow, and that they can do that and not have any impact on the planet, you know, reducing their carbon footprint, then people are captive in a positive way. Because the conversation for me around climate change was always based around sacrifice, and if you can have a good time without any sacrifice and that’s part of the detritus that you take away from the evening, then that’s really positive.
Anne Summers: While you were doing that job you also participated in a number of very big productions.
Cate Blanchett: Mmmm.
Anne Summers: Streetcar being just one of them. Uncle Vanya, Gross und Klein and several others. And you’ve said that you felt that your acting improved or got better as a result of your time at the Sydney Theatre Company. Can you explain that… how?
Cate Blanchett: Definitely. I’m proud of that.
Anne Summers: What exactly do you mean by that?
Cate Blanchett: I think, when you work continually and, look, every actor’s different, but for me, when you work primarily in the film industry, there’s a structure, an apparatus, around that industry that can infantilize one. And look you can’t take it personally. They just don’t want you to ride that motorbike because if you have an accident they can’t shoot tomorrow. So it’s not really about you as a human being, it’s about you as an object. But because there’s a lot of money involved, I think, and there’s a time pressure on it that you can, you can get infantilized by it. But, more importantly for me as a stage actor, you get, can get very dislocated from your audience. And I think knowing .. You know on the first night of Gross und Klein – which was probably one of the most ambitious works that we put on in the company in recent years – you know I heard, doing a monologue for 20 minutes down the front, we hadn’t ever run the play before we had our first audience, so it took a few nights to find its feet. I heard the phoom, phoom, phoom, phoom, of seats and 100 people left the theatre. And preview two, 70 people left – I checked the show report. And the third night 20 people left, and then, you know people were standing up at the end and that’s wonderful. So I think it’s that sort of robust relationship, that direct dialogue you have with the audience. And I know people are… that woman’s biting her nails over there…. Hi, I do the same thing.
But you know, you can see you have a very strong sense of what people are doing and how many people haven’t turned their mobile phones off. But sorry, in answer to your question earlier, I’m very proud of a lot of the work that’s gone on recently. I think because there’s been some short term things, ideas that have got up very quickly and some long term productions, like The Secret River from Kate Grenville that Neil Armfield directed which was I think… and I think I can say it now having left the company, I think it was a seminal piece of theatre that will be long remembered by those who saw it. So, there’s certainly a lot of stories that I feel very proud of.
Anne Summers: We’ll come back to acting in a minute, but you’ve described yourself as a working parent. Would you say that you face many of the same pressures and decisions that all working parents face? I’m just wondering if you can perhaps share with us some of the ways in which your career has been, either now or in the past when your kids were younger perhaps, has been effected by your acting responsibilities.
Cate: My histrionics… Look I’m in a very very fortunate position that I’m a freelancer who can choose not to work, who has a strong support network of family and friends, and when the children were young and when I was on set, they could come with me. And that I can afford childcare in those moments and there’s many, many working parents who are not in that position. For a long time I think Andrew and I were thinking we’d quarantine the children from that experience, that they’d grow up to be accountants and lawyers and have regular jobs. But there’s a wonderful circus aspect, you know. It’s a very enervating exciting place to be, in the theatre, to be in dialogue, to be around that sense of in parallel, practicality and fantasy. Because it’s… if any of you were to come into a rehearsal room, there’s a lot of hilarity but a lot of practicality. And I think it’s great for them to see behind the shiny façade that the world seems to be obsessed with at the moment which is the fame, the celebrity surrounding that, and see the hard work, the practicality and the great good humour and camaraderie that goes behind that. So, you know I’m very fortunate that the children could be around that, but not everyone’s in a position where they can say no to things….
Anne Summers: Even within that situation of relative privilege, you still found yourself having to make choices. And perhaps turn down some work or not take other work because of the kids’ holidays or the schooling requirements, that kind of thing.
Cate Blanchett: Definitely…
Anne Summers: I mean all parents have to make those sorts of decisions.
Cate Blanchett: It was a challenge for us because I’d never had an office job before and suddenly I was faced with office hours and then some, even though Andrew and I were working in partnership. And then you suddenly realize that the world isn’t structured around school pickup times. Perhaps if that were different, there may be greater participation. So I absented myself from filmmaking in the time when I was running the company. You simply can’t do it all.
Anne Summers: Mmm. That was going to be my next question in fact. Both of us are irritated by the fact that men are never asked about having it all. You made some comments about this at a press conference in Cannes a few weeks ago…
Cate Blanchett: Whether it was worth it…
Anne Summers: Yes, but isn’t this the conundrum? I mean, we hate being asked about “having it all”. It’s not a question that we want to be asked, one that the men aren’t asked, but if we don’t raise it, who will? I mean, do you find that an irritating conundrum that that if we don’t talk about it, this stuff gets ignored?
Cate Blanchett: Definitely.
Anne Summers: Doesn’t get acknowledged?
Cate Blanchett: I mean, I think the more women talk about it, and are not then represented in the media as whingeing about it, the fact that the childcare conundrum is not a mother’s problem, it’s a household problem. But yet it’s deemed to be women complaining that things are difficult and you know it’s difficult for them to enter the workforce. But you do find yourself, particularly as a blonde actress, getting asked questions that your male counterparts would not be asked. And I certainly did encounter, not within the company itself, but perhaps within some Old School associations that the company had in the business community. You know, how could an actress have more than one and a half brain cells to rub together and have the word CEO after her name? I mean those things are a bit…
Anne Summers: How did you deal with that?
Cate Blanchett: Ah, with grace and good humour. You know, I love that form of misogyny! You know it’s… what can you do? But I do think it’s generational as well. But it is important to keep talking about it, because we can think until we see the statistics, that we are in a point of equality and we’re just not.
Anne Summers: No. Well in fact you seem to be talking more and more about these issues lately. I’m wondering …
Cate Blanchett: I don’t know if I am. I wonder if it’s just being more reported.
Anne Summers: Well, that’s my question. Whether or not there’s something that’s made you speak out or are people suddenly taking notice. I mean it seems to me more and more women are speaking out in ways that hasn’t been feasible for maybe two decades and they are getting a lot of attention and perhaps being treated a bit more seriously than they once were. Is that your experience?
Cate Blanchett: Yes, I think. I had a particular experience at the beginning of the year where, bewilderingly, I ended up on a lot of red carpets. And I really, and even though I do like wearing a nice frock, if I got asked what I was wearing one more time, I think I was going to scream.
Anne Summers: Well I was going to ask you about that experience at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, I think it was earlier this year when you very famously crouched down and spoke to the camera.
Cate Blanchett: Oh, did I?
Anne Summers: Yes you did. Course you did. [laughs]. So do you want to tell us what happened? Why you did what you did?
Cate Blanchett: It had happened a lot to me. Look I’d been out of this whole circuit for a long time and there’s a lot of shows now and they all seem to be televised, and you’re wondering who the event is actually for. It’s wonderful to be there but, you know, you have to talk about being there a lot. And, I’d noticed about the fourth thing I’d been to one that week, which is wonderful, very grateful, very honoured, but… the cameras! I was talking and the camera started doing this, and I thought, what’s it doing! And then it went up again, and it’s something that I’d been, my brother had been, taught not to do it. I’ve certainly taught my boys. You never give a woman the one over. And that’s exactly what that man is doing behind the camera. So I found that just a bit silly. I mean they have mani-pedi cams, I mean what the… [laughs].
Anne Summers: Well there’s a famous example of Elizabeth Moss who put her hand in the mani cam.
Cate Blanchett: Did she?
Anne Summers: … and gave them the finger!
Cate Blanchett: Oh did she… [laughs].
Anne Summers: They were very upset.
Cate Blanchett: Oh, good on her. I bet they didn’t use that.
Anne Summers: Well it went crazy of course on …
Cate Blanchett: But what colour was she wearing!
Anne Summers: Who cares. Who cares! But I mean, when you resist that kind of commodification, is it seen as a bit of a game to complain about it, or do people get angry about it? Are you breaking the rules by not playing along with this increasingly the way in which the red carpet has become more of a market place?
Cate Blanchett: Look, I can’t say what what’s been happening in the last five or six years because I’ve been here in Sydney making theatre and not in that world. But it seemed to me that there was a lot of irreverence going on. I think, this is the thing, is that, it’s a bit of a media circus but it doesn’t take away from the fact that you’ve got Daniel Day Lewis and Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock and Amy Adams, all of these extraordinary actors and you know, Catherine Martin and Michael Wilkinson, an amazing amount of Australians there as well. But it’s – you know, those two things, “amazing and Australian”, are not mutually exclusive anymore – I think there’s the feeling that it has become a bit overblown.
Anne Summers: Ah, I think you said to me when we spoke a couple of weeks ago that the red carpet used to be like the path to the temple of the awards, and now it’s become more of a marketplace. I think you pass hundreds and hundreds of journalists all wanting you to speak into their microphone so they’ll have something to retail back to their network, or then the thing about the clothes being copied, so before you’ve even left the venue, there are rip-offs of them for sale on the internet.
Cate Blanchett: That would be all right if it was 100% organic Australian cotton.
Anne Summers: Mmmm.
Cate Blanchett: Yes, it is a bit of a circus. It certainly doesn’t take away when you are in that room from the experience of it, but it’s you know, I’m sure everyone else, I’m sure the public gets tired of it as well
Anne Summers: They love it.
Cate Blanchett: Do they?
Anne Summers: They love it. They lap it up.
Cate Blanchett: Right.
Anne Summers: I mean the red carpet ceremony is, as you know, televised for an hour before the actual awards ceremony.
Cate Blanchett: It’s running the gauntlet that takes longer and longer as the years get by.
Anne Summers: But can you decide who you speak to or can you just kind of barrel through and ignore them?
Cate Blanchett: I tend to go as late as possible.
Anne Summers: OK.
Cate Blanchett: Got to go… the front door’s closing.
Anne Summers: Lets come back to the way in which you make it all work. I mean some of your work, particularly now your based in Australia, involves a lot of international travel often for quite short periods of time. I’m wondering not only how you physically manage that, cause air travel even if you are in the pointy end of the plane, is still very tiring. But I’m also wondering how you manage psychically. I mean just to cite a recent example of a few weeks ago when you went off to Europe I think for five days and one minute you are at Windsor Castle wearing this extraordinarily gorgeous white Ralph Lauren gown having dinner with Prince William, and…
Cate Blanchett: Well, it’s a bit like Cinderella, it all had to go back at midnight.
Anne Summers: Oh, including the bling?
Cate Blanchett: The bling.
Anne Summers: The bling. The next night or a couple of nights later you’re at Cannes, you’re at the Armani party and you are in a dress that’s so unbelievably gorgeous that it’s almost indescribable.
Cate Blanchett: We should go shopping together…
Anne Summers: … and then two days later you are back in Sydney, you are picking the kids up from school, you are down at the local shops.
Cate Blanchett: Wearing some god awful vomit-covered tracksuit.
Anne Summers: They’re saying, Oh G’Day Cate, welcome back”! And drove yourself in here tonight. I mean I’m just wondering how you sort out those two worlds, where you’re in the stratosphere of fashion and film and then back home in Sydney being a sort of normal person. How do you kind of reconcile those two lives?
Cate Blanchett: I don’t think I’m ever not a normal person.
Anne Summers: Well that was not the implication.
Cate Blanchett: I don’t know what normal is. But I suppose to the logistics of it, I say No to more things than I say Yes to. Partly because, look what am I doing here tonight? That I’m sick of the sound of my own voice sounds a bit disingenuous, but I try and get everything into one trip, so I don’t have to fly as much as I’m asked to fly, and so I’m not away from the children because it makes me miserable in a way they probably don’t even notice. As long as I bring them something back from the airport… But it’s not how I want it. We like being together.
Anne Summers: But there is an extraordinary contrast, that extremely glamorous bit, and then this back at home with the kids hosting sleepovers and cooking a BBQ. Those two bits.
Cate Blanchett: I suppose so, I guess it is. Maybe I’ve been doing it long enough… Those people are also my friends, they are no different to the friends from mothers from the primary school. There just have different jobs.
Anne Summers: So, they all fit together?
Cate Blanchett: Yes. Yeah, you have to suck your stomach in a bit more, and that camera’s there, than you have to do at the barbeque.
Anne Summers: One of the things you said is that being a parent has changed the way you prepare for a role. I was just wondering if you could tell us how. Why and how that happened.
Cate Blanchett: Well I think part of the reason I love performing is the anthropology of it. It’s that not only that you are researching a text and exploring what that may mean but you’re also… it’s the social anthropology you know what makes that person tick. What makes the person tick within that world. So the research around a project is really fascinating. I mean I was absolutely crap at university. I couldn’t structure an argument to save myself. But I think the way I process information, it’s kinetic and so I understand that once it’s in my body, it somehow engages my brain. That way. So I love that part of it. But having three boys and both of us having very interesting and demanding jobs, I’ve had to become much more economical around the way I prepare. There was one moment I think we were doing Elizabeth the First the second time around. We finished that on the Friday and had to fly with the family to Montreal to be on set to start filming a film about Bob Dylan on the Monday. And, I thought, I mean, it was crazy, and so I was preparing for that in my lunch hour, ‘cause I knew I couldn’t prepare it when I went home at night because the children don’t really care that I’m about to play Bob Dylan and I’m absolutely terrified. They just want me to read Slinky Malinky.
Anne Summers: I mean one of the things you are certainly renowned for is your intense preparation. One of the things that you told me, or I read, that when you were preparing the Elizabeth the First – the first time – apart from reading biographies and reading a lot of history, you actually read her letters, you studied her hand writing.
Cate Blanchett: Yes, it was satisfying. I went to the British Library, and I think you can tell a lot, not only about someone’s age, but the mood that they’re in, through hand writing. I think I’m singularly keeping Filofax afloat because I can’t go to an electronic diary because I know if I’ve scratched out that appointment three times and written it back in, I can remember the mood and the importance of the events simply by the hand writing. And so I did get a lot of that information I think, subliminal information. And you know a lot of the process is you assume a character by osmosis. It’s not purely from here [points to head]. It’s not purely in your body. A lot of it is unconscious. And so it’s very difficult at the end of the process, when you have to talk about it, to somehow dredge that up and then to become conscious about the unconscious part of your work.
Anne Summers: It seems that certainly with some of the roles you’ve played that you do really inhabit the character. And I was quite struck the other day watching some interviews on YouTube that you did about Elizabeth. The various interviewers were not asking you about the character or about the role, but were asking you what it was like to be Elizabeth. They were treating you as though you were 600 years ago, or whenever it was, the Queen of England and asking you how she felt about this, or how she would have done that. I thought it was quite astonishing. I mean, not only a fantastic tribute to you but also an interesting insight of the way in which you really did capture the imagination of the people who were meant to be critical about this.
Cate Blanchett: Oh, that’s a flattering way to look at it. I mean I was sort of thinking that the iconography that surrounds Elizabeth is so much part of English culture. I mean under her reign Shakespeare flourished, I mean the English language was really born in that period that she was on the throne. So I think they are endlessly fascinated by her. But also fascinated by her as a woman. You know she famously made that speech at Tilbury about having the heart and soul of a king even though she had the weak and feeble body of a woman. It was funny, we were talking a little bit earlier, there’s a really interesting lecture by Mary Beard, the historian, where she talks about the classical silencing of women historically, and the notion of when rhetoric was born. The whole structure around the way we debate in the English language is rooted in the classical tradition where women were denied access to public speech. Elizabeth I think quintessentially understood that and that she had to appropriate male language whilst being a so-called barren monarch. And she brilliantly navigated that. And kept herself, which I found really fascinating, for diplomatic purposes, she needed to keep herself in an idealised sense very young and marriageable. So that’s the way she actually stabilised the relationship between England and France for so many years was by maintaining the masculine domain, the traditional masculine domain as a monarch, as a politician, but with the female wiles of being potentially marriageable so that she will always keep those negotiations afloat. That was really fascinating.
Anne Summers: And that’s an extraordinary insight also I think into the way…
Cate Blanchett: Off the hand mind you.
Anne Summers: And you have one of her letters I believe?
Cate Blanchett: I do, I do.
Anne Summers: You have said that you are endlessly disappointed in yourself.
Cate Blanchett: Right now.
Anne Summers: In your acting. Is this because you pursue perfection so that you are always going to be disappointed or is it that you could never find complete satisfaction in acting? What is the source of this endless disappointment?
Cate Blanchett: Martha Graham talks about the state that the creative process happens in, and she describes it as being “a blessed unrest” And I really relate to that, that you’re never at a static point. I mean just like our identity is not a static thing, your relationship, your work is not a static thing. And I think that what keeps propelling me forward is going into the unknown. I’m always picking apart the bits that I’m not happy with, and thinking Oh I don’t want to do that again. It’s not necessarily in the outcome, it can be to do with the process and it’s even in works that have been well received by the public. That’s what keeps propelling me forward. Otherwise I think I’d stop doing it altogether.
Anne Summers: So is it inappropriate to ask you whether you have a preference for stage work or screen work or does each satisfy different bits of you?
Cate Blanchett: I think it’s the shift between the two, to be honest.
Anne Summers: Few people could do it as, not as well as you, but as often as you do. You occupy both areas of work pretty completely.
Cate Blanchett: Yes, I mean, but that’s why it was such a gift to have that long stretch of time, not just running the company with Andrew, but also to be on stage so continuously. And then so many different cultures, it really does, you exercise entirely different muscles. And you find having to reach the back row up there – of course I’m miked tonight – but then when you’re on a set your relationship to a wide shot, you understand the pictorial plane in a much more visceral way because of that time spent on stage. Certainly, I don’t think I could’ve attacked Blue Jasmine the way that I did if I hadn’t played Blanche du Bois for the length of time I did. Not that we ever, ever discussed Streetcar and one you couldn’t possibly overlay one story on the other…
Anne Summers: There are so many similarities of the characters…
Cate Blanchett: But there was something about living with that set of concerns that was in part of my DNA, because there is a residue of each character that stays with you. I think it’s a compassionate… I mean it depends who you speak to, but acting can often be seen as an indulgent profession, but I think it’s a compassionate profession. But you do see the world for a short period of time, often through an unlikable person’s perspective, a person that you wouldn’t necessarily have a relationship with, and see how do they see the world, how do they pit themselves against the world and so… it does expand you as a person and, hopefully, as an actor.
Anne Summers: And you’ve made I think 47 movies if I counted correctly…
Cate Blanchett: Oh shivers, have I?
Anne Summers: According to the New York Times anyway and I don’t know how many stage performances but many many many. So, I mean are you carrying around within you, within your being …
Cate Blanchett: Laughs.
Anne Summers: … all of these characters or the bits? What do you retain? Is it a feeling? an attitude?
Cate Blanchett: It’s like holiday snaps in a way. Our family is not a big recorder of what we do, we don’t take a lot of videos, a lot of photos, but I think as a result we remember things very well. The children remember experiences and holiday and things, you know, perceptions of people, because you remember things. They pop up. They pop up in often unexpected moments. I guess so. I don’t think about it a lot to be honest.
Anne Summers: I was interested in talking a bit about Blue Jasmine because it’s the one we’ve seen most recently and the one you were honoured for with the Academy Award, and I was very interested in the research you said you did for that role which included …
Cate Blanchett: Drinking rose on the Upper East Side.
Anne Summers: Watching Upper East Side socialites interact and do their thing, but then you also said you became very conscious of homelessness and dispossession in San Francisco. You noticed aspects of that city that you hadn’t noticed before and wouldn’t necessarily have noticed if you weren’t playing that role.
Cate Blanchett: Yes, being a parent you do have to, and it’s a gift in many, many ways, is that you have to leave any anxiety or stress or concern or preoccupation with what you’re doing on set or when you leave stage door. But there’s a set of concerns I think that you engage with when you take on any script, any new role that then affects the way you look at the world. Not that I’m necessarily playing Richard III walking around like this during the day, but you would be, you’d be engaged with that set of circumstances I think. But certainly, yes I was very aware of that.
Anne Summers: But it must be hard. I mean I think when you were making that film you had the kids with you in San Francisco.
Cate Blanchett: Yes.
Anne Summers: So it must have been quite difficult to leave Jasmine French on the set and then go back to the hotel or wherever you were staying with the kids and…
Cate Blanchett: There comes the benefit of costume and hair and makeup. I mean you put those things on during the day and for me a character whether it’s on stage or screen, I never do it in isolation. And it only really comes alive when you pit yourself against the other actor, and that’s, I think that’s when… you can definitely tell it on stage when something ignites between two performers. You know, if you see an excellent performance and another excellent performance but they are not in the same universe, they are not in the same play, then the chemistry doesn’t take off… I think I always take those cues off the other actor.
Anne Summers: And I think you said…
Cate Blanchett: it’s their fault if my performance doesn’t work…
Anne Summers: Of course… I think you said that the dressing up is pretty good, that you like dressing up, that putting on the costume helps you define that character.
Cate Blanchett: I think so. I mean it’s something I’ve always done. I used to do it with my sister in front of the mirror when we were 5 and 6, it’s just an extension of that.
Anne Summers: Except now that fancy designers lend you slinky gowns.
Cate Blanchett: Ah, yes… well, it’s all costumes isn’t it. It’s all costumes…
Anne Summers: Exactly, but it must be fun.
Cate Blanchett: It is fun, it is fun, yes. I won’t deny it.
Anne Summers: And I think you look pretty damn good doing it too, and we like the fact that you’re doing it.
I’ll change the pace a little bit now and come back to talking about women and the treatment of women. One of the things that seems to me that women, and particularly women in very senior roles, are increasingly complaining about is not being treated seriously. And that was something that you mentioned before: that being female, blonde and an actress meant that some people weren’t treating you very seriously in your Sydney Theatre job. I’ve been reading the Hillary Clinton book over the last few days and she says in that when she was the US Secretary of State, there was certain heads, male heads, of government that she had met to talk to them about women’s issues, which she’d elevated to being a key US foreign policy objective, and they would roll their eyes – to her face. And Julia Gillard also commented just about a week ago in an interview on US radio, on NPR, that she felt that she wasn’t treated with the same seriousness as a male leader. Do you think that, based on your observation, your own experience, that senior women are being treated less seriously? Or do they feel more able to talk about this stuff whereas once perhaps they would have been a bit embarrassed about it and kept it hidden?
Cate Blanchett: It is interesting whenever women of great intelligence and impact, like Hillary Clinton, get up in a public space is that they are frequently talk about so called women’s issues, and, but… but less frequently about society as a whole and it… I somehow it’s the sense that – and this harks back to what Mary Beard was so bang on about, – this essay, it was just, um, the lecture.
Cate Blanchett: Oh yes, but it goes right back into those roots where to speak in public, so to have command of public discourse is an expression inherently an expression of, of masculinity, and so to speak in a public space about general societal issues is to not be woman, it’s to be an androgen, to be androgynous, and so, you see it repeatedly: Elizabeth 1, for instance, Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard, I mean, there’s something not truly female about them… Margaret Thatcher…
Anne Summers: …because they’re exercising their power…
Cate Blanchett: …because they’re exercising their power… but more importantly I think because they’re commanding public discourse. And so it’s OK when they speak about women’s issues because, oh of course, here they go again, but it is important to talk about it because the very nature of that debate is seen quintessentially as being not a female space. I think that it’s fascinating that we’re still in that place in 2014. And I know a lot of women who are younger than me who still won’t talk about themselves as being so- called feminists because it’s got sort of negative connotations. But I really think we need to take away the stigma around that because it’s about claiming our right to be in that space. And not always necessarily, to … as we are right now… to talk about the issues, the problems around being female, but to move on from that conversation, it’s progressed beyond that to
Anne Summers: …a society where it’s not an issue.
Cate Blanchett: Yes. But of course it still is.
Anne Summers: And it’s worth pointing out that it’s exactly a year ago today, almost to the very hour, that Julia Gillard was dumped by the Labor Party and was no longer Prime Minister of this country, which was a very pretty momentous occurrence I think for a lot of us.
Cate Blanchett: I was backstage actually in this theatre when it happened.
Anne Summers: How did you react?
Cate Blanchett: I almost didn’t go back on stage. I was, as well as the people I was watching it with, I was horrified by the way she was treated as a woman. Whether you admired her as a politician, as a leader, is sort of irrelevant, but the way she was treated purely because of her gender I think was a moment when a lot of people, men and women, had to take a pause.
Anne Summers: Mmmm.
Anne Summers: You were saying a minute ago that some of the women that are younger than you perhaps are less…
Cate Blanchett: Beautiful
Anne Summers: Certainly there’s that. [laughs]. I was going to talk about women in Hollywood, and your Oscar speech, calling for more roles, more decent roles for women, particularly for older women, a point that Meryl Streep has also made. I’m just wondering why is it that Hollywood is so short- sighted about this, when, as both you and Meryl Streep have pointed out, these movies actually make money.
Cate Blanchett: They, they do…. I think for quite a number of years now, the marketing department has run most studios really, run the aesthetic, the production slate of most studios. And I think when you’re dealing with big budgets people get intensely conservative. I mean, any business, you look at any major corporation, and when they’re dealing with big figures, the board of that company will be incredibly conservative. And so ultimately that corporation, that company, that industry stops progressing because of that inherent conservatism and lack of risk taking. And it atrophies and I think that’s what we are seeing in the studio system with the output, it’s …
Anne Summers: Boring.
Cate Blanchett: Well it’s this furphy, this misnomer that somehow the only audience, the true audience, the major audience is 12 or 13 year old boys. Now I don’t know where Frozen sits within that but certainly that is one of the highest grossing films of all time – with two little animated girls at the centre of it. And so you think how many more examples of success, like Mama Mia for example, breaking all box office records. But I think what happens is that it’s … it’s not just films of women, I think that the hardest sphere in which to finance films is that mid-range budget because somehow the marketing department knows how to market a film that’s 270 million, you know someone with a cape, merchandising but they don’t know how to market something that’s 30 million. And it’s the more those films that break those box office records, like for instance Blue Jasmine, I mean it made an incredible amount of money if you look at the actual initial investment and the box office return, and the more times that that happens it just, it will change, it has to change.
Anne Summers: Well you’d hope so.
Cate Blanchett: Yeah, and also you think about the way people consume film and television product now is so diverse.
Anne Summers: I’m just wondering if this thing about role, good roles for women, interesting roles for women, is this the sort of thing that you and the other stars talk about? Like you and Julia Roberts hanging out at the bar at the Oscars, were you having a chat about equal pay in Hollywood or feminism?
Cate Blanchett: We didn’t actually.
Anne Summers: No?
Cate Blanchett: We were just talking about other things. But you know I’m so inspired by the amount of women, not only in the American film industry but globally. I mean the actresses I’ve worked alongside here in the Sydney Theatre Company, remarkable, remarkable careers.
Anne Summers: So why do we still have to put up with this lack of equal pay, lack of equal roles, lack of interesting work, compared with some of the blokes?
Cate Blanchett: Well, I mean it’s obvious for someone …
Anne Summers: It seems so irrational, so illogical, and as we say not making commercial sense.
Cate Blanchett: I know it doesn’t make any commercial sense at all. And I think there’s a lot of independent female producers, like the Megan Ellison’s of the world who are moving into that sphere, and a lot more female directors who are moving up through the ranks. And it takes time but it will, it has to change. I mean it is changing, if you look at that array of films in any given year over the last 5 years, a lot of them have had women at the centre, not talking about some niche personal Oh My Goodness, it’s that’s time of the month issues, they’re universal issues. I mean Hedda Gabler isn’t a story about a women’s experience alone, it speaks volumes about shame and scandal which men and women feel.
Anne Summers: So we might finish up by talking about raising sons. You’ve got three boys, and I just wondered how does a feminist, a self styled feminist go about raising boys in today’s world? You talked before about you train your boys not to do what that camera did to you on the red carpet, what else is involved?
Cate Blanchett: I wish I could train them to lift the seat… we’re working on it… it’s a work in progress.
Anne Summers: What are the values, what are the sorts of behaviours you want to encourage or discourage with your boys and other boys for that matter?
Cate Blanchett: I think whether I had boys or girls I’d have great concerns about instilling a sense of respect for yourself and other people, and having a sense of privacy. Privacy’s a very difficult concept I think for the younger generations to understand given how available we all make ourselves or seem to make ourselves without any consequence on the internet. I’ve had the internet porn conversation far earlier than I thought I’d be having it with a 12 year old and 10 year old.
Anne Summers: What did you say?
Cate Blanchett: Look it’s a long story, but it had a lot to do around the treatment of women in that industry, to talk about the objectification of women and I think it’s respecting them too. Obviously you don’t want to give them too much information too soon. But on a general level Andrew and I always talk about the future and our obviously massive concerns about border security and food security and Australian biodiversity and all of those things and how those things will impact on the children’s future as well as internet porn. It’s a minefield isn’t it!
Anne Summers: So, just in terms of the issues that worry you about the future, apart from those that you’ve just mentioned, are there others? We talked the other night, and you were talking about the number of refugees in the world, and the fact that there is such gross inequality and unfairness, there are now very well documented large and growing it seems disparities in wealth and opportunity. Are you pessimistic about the future or do you think we will get on top of all of this?
Cate Blanchett: Well there was a terrible figure that was released last week that there’s been the largest number since the Second World War of people that have been forcibly displaced: 51.2 million people. Certainly when I grew up, Australia was celebrating how multicultural it was, how open minded it was, what a compassionate nation it was, we were. And I do worry about the message that we’re sending to children in the playground when you are saying, Respect that child, give that child that space, but yet nationally it doesn’t seem that we’re exercising that sense of compassion. I’m greatly concerned by it
Anne Summers: Well thank you very much Cate. I’ve enjoyed having the chance to talk with you and I think now it’s the turn of the audience who seem to be lined up in droves so Catriona [Wallace – emcee] will now manage the Q&A.
Marie: Hi Cate, I’m Marie, and I’m from Sydney. One of the things that I admire about you is your poise. And I was wondering whether it’s something that you’ve always had or something that you’ve worked on, whether you’ve got any tips for us?
Cate Blanchett: Um… [audience laughs].
Marie: And how well you do that poise.
Cate Blanchett: How well I do it! It’s all smoke and mirrors. Um, I think the expression is “shitting bricks” which is what I was doing when I was in the wings there. Um… [laughs], but it is a conversation, I think something that I found very difficult when I knew I’d loved performing but I found it difficult to be looked at and scrutinised and I think once I turned the table on it, so that I was looking at you and listening to you, it’s looking out, I found it easier but now I’m incredibly self conscious, so thank you for that Marie.
Mario: Hi, my name is Mario. Just two brief things. First thing is I just want to say thank you to Cate to your Antipodean loyalty. Thank you for coming back and nourishing our artistic industry. But secondly more importantly, I’m a high school teacher, and just to reflect on your point about feminism being almost a heretical word when I go and teach year ten girls about Germaine Greer and women’s lib, generally they roll their eyes with me, while they’re looking at also buying their next Kim Kardashian handbag. So, what’s your view and I guess Anne’s view as well in terms of reinvigorating the whole feminist notion for younger generations.
Cate Blanchett: Anne…
Anne Summers: Well that’s a bit unfair.
Anne Summers: I’m actually feeling quite optimistic these days. Despite the example of those year ten girls, I mean I’m very struck over the past three, two or three years by the number of young women, particularly young women, school girls and women in university, who either get in touch with me and want to talk about these issues or who invite me to come to their schools to talk, or who I’m exposed to on my various travels and various activities. It seems to me, there’s been a kind of a resurgence if you like or a new wave of women discovering these basic inequalities and the unfairness of treatment of women that we hadn’t heard of particularly during the eighties when there was an era of DIY feminism, we don’t need a movement, we don’t need to talk about it. 90s not much happened. It just seemed that the last little while there’s been this change. And I’m quite optimistic and I think that in some ways this was outrage at the treatment of Julia Gillard, that kind of crystallised things for a lot of people. We thought my God if the prime minister gets treated like that what hope is there for the rest of us. So, while the Kardashian thing is a bit, you know, disappointing, if I can put it that way, I don’t think that it necessarily means that you can’t be a feminist and like trashy stuff as well… most of us do.
Catriona: And Anne and Cate, do you use the language of Hi I’m a feminist.
Anne Summers: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Catriona: And Cate would you?
Cate Blanchett: Yes, I mean I think there’s a myriad indisputably things that are happening to women, incidence of violence against women is ever increasing and it’s not just the Boko Haram 200 girls who disappeared – without comment. I think when those things happen, when girls see the fact that girls of their age are suffering those indescribable horrors. And then when they experience it themselves – not those indescribable horror please God – but it’s the everyday when they encounter that and they think, oh hang on, maybe what my mum was talking about is right. But because of course what 15 year old girl wants to align themselves to their mother, and so you have to think, poor you, you’re in the middle of that, and I think there’s a bit of probably that going on. I think often those mentors or those role models exist away from the family unit and I think increasingly there are those role models and mentors who are finding success and a voice in the public sphere.
Catriona: Thank you.
Nicholas: Hi, I’m Nicholas, lovely to meet you both. Firstly I’d just wanted to thank you Cate. I was fortunate enough to sit centre there during The Maids, and it just blew my mind, it was like being in the room with the sun. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever experienced.[claps]
Nicholas: And I honestly mean that, like it’s a true honour to even be able to ask you this question. And Notes on a Scandal, the scene where you discover the diaries it was just, that was one of the best…
Cate Blanchett: You’re probably young enough that we could probably you know…
Nicholas: Oh yeah. It was one of the best scenes that’s committed to film, you know, “You’re nothing but waste and disappointment and yadda yadda…”
Cate Blanchett: It’s good writing.
Nicholas: Yeah, yeah, but I suppose that segues into my question and it’s Cate, where did you get that hunger and commitment? If you look at your whole body of work in your career, you’re not pigeon holed into anything, and you commit everything 100%, and it’s just like anybody who I idolise I want to know how they do their art?
Catriona: So, is the question, where does that hunger come from?
Audience: Yeah, yeah. I know, I’m not a very articulate. I’m a bit nervous, I apologise, so…
Catriona: Cate, where does that hunger for your art come from?
Cate Blanchett: Gosh. It’s a very, very big question. I think it comes out of humbling yourself to the material I guess. I mean, I’m an intensely curious person and also I don’t think every time I embark on a project, but certainly when I left drama school, I had no sense or desire to get anywhere in particular. So it’s always the work at hand. And if you don’t have that sense of consequence or gosh, if I played that role, then I probably won’t get cast in that, or if I die in page nine, then I’d never be cast in the lead of that, then you’d probably would have a different sort of career but mainly mine’s been eclectic because I’ve just been… whatever’s been offered at the time, or whatever I’ve been interested in, I’ve thrown myself against it, as if it was it was going to be my last job, my last chance.
Anne Summers: Thank you.
Nicole: My name’s Nicole. I’m an aspiring actress, I’m 18 years old, graduated last year and I’ve been meaning to ask you this question ever since I saw your production of Uncle Vanya. What I find really stands out with your work is your attention to detail, with characters and characterisation and I just kind of want to know on an acting note, what is the first thing you look for when you first read a script to help develop those characters.
Cate Blanchett: It’s never the character. I can say that for sure. It’s always, say for example Uncle Vanya, was I got to be in the room with Jacqui Weaver and Richard Roxburgh and Sandy Gore and Hugo Weaving and John Bell, Hayley McElhinney you know it was the most amazing cast. And so it wasn’t that I was burning to give my [indecipherable]. Ah, and so, it’s, it’s more about being, it’s about being in the production like The Maids, it was the chance to work with Beno [Andrew Benedict] and Isabelle [Huppert] on that text that he and Andrew adapted. So it was, it’s about the conversation. It’s like having a great dinner party, you think, wow, he’s coming and she’s coming, and I don’t know what we’re going to talk about but I think it’s going to be really interesting. So, it’s that sort of thing and then the conversation flows as it flows. And so, I find myself constantly surprised at the places that we end up. But sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Nicole: Thanks so much.
Cate Blanchett: Good luck.
Nicole: Oh thank you.
Rachel: Hi, I’m Rachel, so my question is bout at the start of last year I moved from a Masters of Economics to doing film school for a year and then somehow landed up here working in a technology space, so the three areas that I focus on are quite male dominated. So my question is: what advice do you have to female filmmakers and what can Australia or the Australian government do to help to encourage the filmmakers and our industry?
Cate Blanchett: Yes, I started off doing Economics and Arts and somehow that, that sort of sense of the practical application and the fantasy element, they do intersect. But I think the question that female filmmakers is: find yourself a like-minded producer. Because the thing that I’ve witnessed increasingly that’s an essential relationship to the way a work gets developed where it gets shopped around. And I can completely understand why directors work with producers again and again and again because it’s a very important relationship when the work is nascent, when your ideas are nascent. You go in and you pitch the thing together and so I think often if you have an ally in that way it can build your case. You know, it can feel quite solitary when you’re out there, particularly as a director male or female and if you can, you know, find that ally or that partner, it’s a really good start. And look I think it’s really important that, because we are a very potent film industry, film screen industry, but we’re very small and I think as a result it’s really important that the government supports the notion of Australian content. Because we’re in a golden age of television, for example now, but as a friend of mine Marta Dusseldorp was saying in Canberra the other day, she was saying that it’s now that you’ve got to invest in the infrastructure because in 5 years time that could be a wasteland, it’s a continual investment. I think it’s really important to have, as we discovered in trying to mentor female directors through the Sydney Theatre Company, is that people develop work in different ways, whether they be male or female and you have to find the way, if you can see a spark in someone, you need to find a way that they develop, because often if you institutionalise these things, the product ends up being very homogenous. You know often female directors will work in their own particular way and it’s a matter of allowing that to exist in the often rigid structures of funding.
Catriona: Thank you.
Claire: Hi Cate and Anne, my name’s Claire and I’m from the Blue Mountains. I was reading some old interviews you’ve given at work today, I was really anxious for the day to finish so I could come here and I was…
Cate Blanchett: You’ve read everything I’ve said, you don’t…
Claire: I’m feeling very up to date, but…
Cate Blanchett: …overloaded was what I was going to say…
Claire: …, I think I know too much anyway… No, just about before you did The Aviator, I read you had a phone call with Martin Scorsese and you hung up and you talked to your husband, and you were like, oh my goodness, I think he wants me to play Katherine Hepburn, and you were terrified. I was just wondering what role have you done or committed to and then felt completely terrified approaching, was that the big killer that you were just like, oh my goodness, how am I going to get through this or do it?
Cate Blanchett: I think every, every time, no matter how big or how small it’s always like the first day of school because I think you do have to humble yourself to the task and assume you know nothing. I’m always saying to my husband: how do I work, what’s my process? And I think if you’re really engaged in the material, and with the other performers and the creative team that you’re working with, the material reveals the way you need to work. So it’s not like I have some sort of miniature process, but I was particularly terrified with that, because obviously I was representing her in the same medium that she was iconically known and I could but disappoint. But it was Scorsese, so what was I going to do?
Catriona: Thank you.
Emily: Hi Cate, my name’s Emily. I’m looking at applying for NIDA, and I’m just curious as to what your audition pieces for NIDA were and whether … [audience laughs] can you just do a re-enactment? But more: how that’s impacted your career, has that stayed with you, because that would have been the basis of your career now? Is that something that’s always stayed with you… just curious?
Cate Blanchett: Certainly… I mean every actor is different. But for me, I relished the chance to focus in an environment that valued the pursuit of the process, to get all that mess out of the way before I was catapulted out into the industry. I mean some actors spark can be snuffed somewhat by that process, but for me, I really relished the various techniques that I learnt there. Because the inspiration will get you 80% of the way, but sometimes it fails you, and so technique, particularly when you’re on stage, you know, doing 100 performances of a show, performance 70 you need to have an architecture that can kind of propel you back into the story if you’ve separated yourself from it somewhat, just by the repetition. So, I personally welcomed it. It’s probably different now, but it was quite eclectic when I was there. There was a sort of degustation menu of acting techniques but that was good for me, because it meant that, because I’m curious then I went to explore, you know, explore them afterwards. I mean, if you can get through the audition process that would probably do you in good stead, help you get a tough skin, because you need it. The rejection is the hardest thing to deal with… fortunately I don’t get rejected anymore [laughs]… But it’s, really, that’s the most difficult thing. And actually, the biggest gift I had was a particular casting agent in Sydney. I didn’t work when I came out at all. All my cohorts were getting jobs, and I wasn’t. And she would call me in to be a reader once a week for other people’s auditions. And it was really really interesting because what I learnt is what the person walks in with, will often influence. It’s the same with a job interview, it will influence the way people perceive you. And so often, and I realised in fact it’s just that they didn’t want a red head, they wanted someone blonde and short, and so, I began to take those rejections less personally… anyway.
Nicole: Hello, Catriona, it’s Nicole. Cate and Anne, I’m from NY originally, but I live in Sydney now. I wanted to make a comment and then ask you a question. First of all, I find you, and the audience and I think the public find you to be the most enchanting talented actresses, so I know that we’re going to see a lot more of you if you choose in the future. I see your career going all the way till… you know, you’ll be like the lady on Titanic that …
Cate Blanchett: …what, until I’m 45?
Nicole: … I’m sure. But here’s my question: I’m going to be selfish because this is the thing about being Australian, everyone’s so approachable. I raised a son myself. He’s 20 now and he’s extremely talented [inaudible] person, and all he wants to do is become a stunt man. And he’s living back in NY now, he just moved back there. So, I suppose in a general sense, what is your advice to someone who has talent, cause he does, of course he does, he’s my son. And he takes after me physically. What’s your advice to someone who is clearly talented? Does he go out and find an agent, should he? What do you think?
Nicole: [laughs] Sorry not to ask a feminist based question. Sorry.
Cate Blanchett: No, not being a stunt woman myself…[laughs]. It’s interesting because, I think a creative career is not a linear thing. And so the [inaudible] which I must get the number because a couple of my sons are very interested in that as well. That may lead him in a direction, you know, if you’re able to … carve out the financial space to keep pursuing a passion, then the path gets revealed to you.
Catriona: Beautiful, thank you for that question. OK, hi, we’re going to come down here. We’ve probably got time for two more questions.
Paola: Hi my name is Paola, and I’m from Chile. I’m a journalist. And, I’m just curious about knowing about how did you decide to become an actress. If you remember any specific role or any play that make you realise that you wanted to be explore for the rest of your life.
Cate Blanchett: Well maybe you didn’t get the chance, I’m not sure when you arrived in Australia, to see the great Frank Thring. But I saw Frank Thring when when I must have been 8 or 9, he was a very large, very louche performer. And he was playing The Mikado and my mother had taken me along because it was at the high school that I was going to go to. And I watched him perform and there was a moment when his moustache fell off. And he just looked at it, and he said, Damn this Japanese merchandising! And I thought, I didn’t quite understand what it meant, but I knew it was really naughty. And that he was a really naughty man. And I thought I want a little bit of that… [laughter]… so it was probably watching Frank in The Mikado… No, watching Meryl Streep, but it was something about the danger, and that, there, there was something going on there that was unpredictable and dangerous and I found that very interesting.
Catriona: Thank you.
Zoe: Hi Cate, my name is Zoe, my question is in relation to something you kind of partially answered in one of the questions over there, but I wonder if you could expand on it a little bit. Particularly when you’re performing in stage and theatre, those techniques you talked about when you’ve been doing a show for such a long time, how you keep the character fresh for yourself and what you do if you’re maybe feeling a bit disconnected from your character but you still have to go on and perform and you know, be there for an audience.
Cate Blanchett: I try not to think about anything beyond the first moment. For me, that keeps it fresh in that you think, I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t even know how the play’s going to end. I think that that stops the nerves because all you’re doing is thinking is, all I need to do and walk on and sit there or stand there. And then someone will do something, someone else will do something, it’s like a conversation in a way. But I’m also a great lover of language and the potency of words and so if I’m ever feeling that I’ve lost that connection somewhat, I’ll go back to the dictionary and say what does the word “must” actually mean? And it will reactivate my connection to that line. And it’s always, it’s nothing is ever perfect. I mean that’s the biggest thing you have to accept, and so each night you’re going out to try and perfect the moment, and in perfecting or getting closer to perfection of one moment, you’ll lose the other moments, which means you have to go back in the next night. It’s a bit like a house of cards. One bit will fall down and you’ll have to rebuild the other bit. So every show ends up being slightly different. But I don’t know if that answers your question… it’s hugely based in language.
Leah: Hi Cate, my name’s Leah and I’m from Port Macquarie originally but I’m here in Sydney for my third year of drama school. I’m just wondering, you’re a big inspiration to me, and I’m wondering who or what inspires you as an actor.
Cate Blanchett: I’m fascinated by how available and unselfconscious young children are. You know if you watch them play, how free and how they’re able to move from one state to the next, they’re quite fluid. I’m very inspired by dance and incredibly inspired by music. I’m a great lover of the visual arts and think I don’t absorb those necessarily as, I must tuck them away for later as an actor, I think I absorb them as a human being.
Catriona: Ok, we’ll go one more question.
Tanya: There you are, lucky last. Thank you. Hi Cate and Anne, my name’s Tanya and I’m from Lavender Bay. You touch on drama school, not in great detail, but in a couple of earlier questions. I’m genuinely curious given I suppose the trajectory that your career and your life has taken. When you graduated from drama school, what were your expectations for yourself as an actor, but also as a person? And how has your trajectory followed along that line, or differed from that?
Cate Blanchett: Um..
Tanya: and if that’s a big question, sorry, it doesn’t have to be a super long answer.
Cate Blanchett: No I hoped I would work, but …[laugh]… No, but I didn’t work immediately, and I’d seen so many actors on stage, because that was where I was heading. I mean the idea of having a career in the film industry, I just didn’t think I was that person, that girl. And also because the industry, you know at that point, Nicole [Kidman] and Russell [Crowe], and all those wonderful actors were working overseas and I thought, that’s as far away as the Emerald City, I mean it doesn’t exist for me. I was very very happy to be working in theatre in Australia but I didn’t necessarily work straight away. So I gave myself five years. Because I’d seen a lot of actors Who I admired and respected who didn’t work all the time and I thought I don’t know if I can withstand those fallow times. And then, I took work perhaps that other people wouldn’t have taken. My very first job was understudying another actress here at the Sydney Theatre Company, which my agent said you don’t have to do that, and I said, yes I do, I get to be in the rehearsal room with Kerry Walker and Elizabeth Maywald and Melissa Bruce is directing and I get to watch those actors work and I get to go on stage for two weeks at the end. So I took that job, and then that job led to something else. But I took that job because I knew I needed to be around, I needed to be doing something, not because I thought it was going to catapult me somewhere else. So I just did what I could and what interested me and one thing led to another, but it’s all very random. I mean most creative careers are. Most careers are. I mean what career is linear anymore.
Tanya: Did you have an ultimate goal?
Cate Blachett: Nope.
Tanya: Or was it really just as random as just working because you loved it…
Cate Blanchett: The only thing I said to myself when I left high school was that I wanted to be able to travel with my work, whatever that was. I mean I thought I was going to go into the visual arts, I didn’t necessarily think I would be an actor. And I wanted to hopefully earn the respect of my peers. They were the two things I said to myself. But I didn’t know how that would manifest itself, whatever I would do. I mean Fine Arts and Economics, and what am I doing here. I mean, it’s very random… and it’s really hard and that’s the whole NAPLAN of it all isn’t it, is that we’re all sort of NAPLANed into certain lanes. You know you’ve got certain strengths and I think often when you use someone’s so-called weaknesses or their strengths to teach them their weaknesses, it’s in that weak point that often the inspiration lies.
Tanya: So, do you feel respected by your peers?
Cate Blanchett: Nope… You know, I don’ t know. I mean I don’t know, I don’t think about it. I only say that because, I think when you achieve a certain amount of so- called fame around what one does, it seems to be the end point, and it’s certainly wasn’t for me. It was more about getting to work with Kerry Walker and Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield and those people. That was what I was interested in, to work alongside the people that I respected.
Catriona: Great, thank you very much. Well before I hand back to Anne to do a final thank you to Cate. It’s important that I also acknowledge some of the sponsors that we’ve had who’ve come together to help us create and bring you this amazing event tonight. So, a big thank you goes to Lynn Kraus and Nicholas Adamo from Ernst and Young, also to Karen, James, Katie and Angus Mile from Women in Focus, Commonwealth Bank Australia. Melissa Hamilton and Rachel O’Loughlin from Stella. All great organisations supporting Australian women. So thank you very much…
Catriona: So now I’ll hand back to Anne to just wrap up and to give a final thank you to Cate.
Anne Summers: None of us would be here if it were not for our guest Cate Blanchett. We rely on donations from readers and proceeds from these events to keep the magazine going and I’m incredibly grateful for Cate for donating her time, not just tonight, which was fantastic and incredible, but also for devoting time a few weeks ago to an interview with me and to being photographed by Peter Brew-Bevan with some brilliant photographs you can see in the magazine. So we’re really appreciative Cate for you doing this. As a very tiny gesture of our appreciation we’re going to make a donation in your name to the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick. But please join me in thanking Cate Blanchett for an extraordinary evening.
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