At her tribute from the New York Film Society last night, Cate Blanchett looked ethereal and Galadriel-like in a delicate nude lacey Armani Privé gown. (Ralph Fiennes will have a gala tribute next week.)
After a VIP dinner, festival director and programmer Kent Jones moderated a Q&A and career retrospective with the “Blue Jasmine” Oscar frontrunner that featured clips from Blanchett’s many movies, highlighting the diverse and full-dimensional roles the 44-year-old Australian actress has portrayed in her still young career.
Blanchett was charming and self deprecating and even commented on the number of empty seats, something as a theater actress she would be particularly prone to notice. Later when Jones asked her if she enjoyed watching scenes from her movies, she said she found it “excruciating.”
Although she didn’t look it, she mentioned she was jetlagged; she just flew in from London where she is shooting Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella,” in which she plays Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s evil stepmother.
The succession of clips from the five-time Oscar nominee’s films included Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” for which she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2004 for portraying Katherine Hepburn. Also highlighted were clips from “Elizabeth,” in which she plays the title character, and that she would reprise again nearly a decade later in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”
There was a segment from the Todd Haynes film “I’m Not There,” where she plays Bob Dylan. “As a woman I was asked to inhabit that really iconic silhouette as Dylan,” she said.
“It was utterly liberating because I was crossing the gender line in a movie which is often very neutral, and I think if a man had been asked to do that, there would have been a much greater vote of responsibility of accuracy of some kind, which I was fortunately liberated from because I’m not a man,” she laughed.
She said of the director, “I would do anything for that man.” Blanchett added, “I’m so happy to be working with him again next June.” She will star in Haynes’ next film, “Carol,” set in 1950’s New York, about a department-store clerk (Rooney Mara) who falls for an older, married woman (Blanchett).
There were also scenes from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” in which she ages along with a gorgeous Brad Pitt. Blanchett holds her own in “Notes on a Scandal” with a particularly scary Judi Dench. And she played against herself in two roles as a famous actress and also as her jealous punk rocker cousin in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes.” “He heard I had a blond wig and a dark wig, and he thought I’d come cheap,” she quipped.
Jones began the evening by bringing up Orson Welles, who said there was no difference between acting in the theater or in films, and Jones asked Blanchett if she agreed with Welles.
“I agree with that to a certain extent,” she said, adding, “I never expected to have a film career at all and being very grateful and happy working in the theater.”
But there was a lack of control in the cinema you don’t have in the theater, she added. “You don’t always know whether people have connected with what you’ve done in the cinema, so in the end you’re performing for the director and their gaze and for the gaze of the crew, and then through your relationship with the camera crew, specifically, you hope to reach an audience, whereas in the theater you’re much more engaged.”
Later on, she said, “Good work is good work, and I think that when you hit the intersection between so-called film and television and theater, I mean, that’s an interesting place.”
She began her movie career at age 18 as an extra with one line in an Egyptian film about boxing, for which she worked for five pounds and free falafels. The experience “put me off (film) and I went back to the theater.” In a hilarious moment, it turned out the Egyptian director was actually in the audience last night.
As for the pressure of playing Hollywood legend Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” she said she knew diehard fans of the legendary actress would never be happy. In a spot-on imitation of Scorsese, who encouraged her to embody Hepburn’s spirit and make “the role her own,” despite her concerns, he told her “don’t worry about any of that, and that was the most liberating piece of direction,” Blanchett said. After all, about Hepburn the actress cracked, “She died and she can’t play that role, and I was the schmuck who got the job.”
She appeared in the blockbuster trilogy of “The Lord of the Rings,” but that didn’t seem to impress her son, who asked her only recently, “When are you gonna make a blockbuster?”
Blanchett described director Peter Jackson as a “genius.” Jones asked if she actually had Galadriel’s “ears bronzed,” and Blanchett replied, “Yes. Next Question.” She humorously recounted how after the “Rings” films came out her young son went to a toy store and saw the Galadriel action figure and was “horrified to discover that elves didn’t wear underpants.”
When someone in the audience asked about her favorite role, she replied that if a “gun was held to her head,” that “Gross und Klein,” a German play she appeared in last year was her favorite in the theater, and – no surprise given the big Oscar push – that Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” was her favorite movie role. “He wants it to be alive in the moment” was how she described Allen’s direction.
Other nuggets about her film career: The actress said she loved making Steven Soderbergh’s “The Good German,” not one of her more successful films. “He’s such a fascinating filmmaker.”
As for David Fincher, “Benjamin Button,” in “any other director’s hands it could have been extremely episodic.” Blanchett went on to emphasize that it was one of the first films in HD and that Fincher is “so ahead of technology that technology is always in service to him as a filmmaker.” She added, “It was a really personal film for him.”
She also shot a film with Terrence Malick in the last year, which she described as “a cross between cinema, philosophy, poetry and a quasi religious experience.” She added, “You weren’t so much playing characters so much as states of being.”
She said she searches out roles in a process that is “instinctual” and roles that she worries she is not able to do. “It’s always terrifying when you’ve been asked to bite off more than you think you can chew. But I think if you think you know how to do it when you read the script then, really, the resulting process of doing it will be mundane.”
Jones said he had a “little surprise” for Blanchett. “I’m supposed to sit here?” she asked as the lights went down. Then there was a video of Allen, who appeared to be home. He cracked, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there tonight, but I find it impossible to sit through two hours of relentless adulation, especially for somebody else.”
He went on to thank the actress for all the warm and complimentary things she had said about him to the press, cracking that he had to look up what “exculpable” meant. He closed by saying, “I hope we can do it again and I wish you all the best.”
A truly surprised Blanchett asked, “How did you get him to do that? Did you offer to finance his next movie?” She added of the New York based director, “He must have been in town.”
The evening concluded with a screening of Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”