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Not Your Typical Star - Cate Blanchett’s Foray Into TV Marks This Non Conformist’s Victory

Arushi Sinha - 35 weeks ago

Ethereal and waif like in her beauty when she dresses up for red carpets, Blanchett lives her life without the protection offered by make-up and fancy outfits for most of the time. Always one who surprises with her choices, Blanchett is currently taking a big step as producer.

Cate Blanchett has a lot to her credit. She has eight Oscar nominations amongst a score of others, 2 Academy awards, 4 kids and an artistic collaborator in her husband Andrew Upton. Ethereal and waif like in her beauty when she dresses up for red carpets, Blanchett lives her life without the protection offered by make-up and fancy outfits for most of the time. Always one who surprises with her choices, Blanchett is currently taking a big step as producer. This time too, she has kept her choice consistent with her track record of being an outspoken feminist, one who will pick up cudgels for women’ rights. 

(Behind the scenes photo of Cate Blanchett and director Todd Haynes on the sets of Carol)

That her first foray onto television production, with Stateless, has an all-female writing and directing team speaks volumes. The six-part Australian TV series co-produced by Blanchett and her husband Andrew Upton for their company Dirty Films, has Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse as directors, and Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko as writers. Sheila Jayadev and Paul Ranford of Matchbox Pictures also co-produce the six-part series with Tony Ayres. To be shot and produced in Australia, Blanchett, Dominic West and Yvonne Strahovski top-line a varied cast of actors. 

(Director Shekhar Kapur explaining a scene to Cate Blanchett on the sets of Elizabeth)

As artiste, Blanchett has chosen differently. In Carol (2016), the heady, intoxicating tale of forbidden lesbian love set in 1950s America, Blanchett delivers a performance bearing an undercurrent of self-doubt and extreme impulse. Carol is about sharing passionate love despite life’s restrictions for a short period of time. For this film too, she brought alive a complex character that screenwriter Phyllis Nagy had adapted beautifully from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt. This collaboration - of women that bring alive nuances and minute touches of a powerful, light headed romance in the writing and acting departments - perhaps set the tone for the creative team behind Stateless. Her first claim to international recognition came with Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth in 1998. Originally written for Emily Watson, the lissome Australian actor caught Kapur’s eye in Oscar and Lucinda, a popular Indie. She won a Golden Globe and BAFTA and followed it up with a sequel. But what stood out was the arrival of a visually stunning, powerful actor with great screen presence and unexplored depths as performer. Not many know that originally, Elizabeth was mounted as an independent film, facing budgetary challenges. Her relationship with independent cinema, off the cuff, unexpected and equally engaging continued much after she found her footing as Hollywood star. Blanchett starred as one of Bob Dylan’s various phases in life in I Am Not There. In 2007, she spoke to Variety about playing Jude Quinn the ‘rock and roll martyr’ stage of Dylan’s public life, in a film studded with fabulous actors Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw and the late Heath Ledger. Not many, even those that count themselves amongst experimental cinema aficionados, can claim to understand this Todd Haynes musical drama that oscillates between imagined truths and real life. But Blanchett carried off the part of Quinn effortlessly, twitchy, restless and with a piercing gaze. Her waif like appearance, with its element of delicacy, adds to the vulnerable, emotional Dylan at this stage. With this performance, she set herself apart as an actor who sets her own benchmark. Of course, Haynes and she collaborated again in the masterful Carol

(Cate Blanchett and husband Andrew Upton attend a photo call at the Sydney Theatre Company's Open Day in 2008)

Yet another strong testimonial to Blanchett’s art above all else persona is her decision to up and move back to Australia in 2006 with her husband Andrew Upton and 4 children, to take over jointly as directors of the reputed Sydney Theatre Company. Most considered it professionally damaging, given that Hollywood has a short memory and Australia is far away. But Blanchett wanted to return home, along with Upton to nurture home-grown talent. Some years later, she stepped down from her official position but continues to act in productions for the Company that trained her as a rookie artiste.  Not many know that as a young student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia, she defended the director against criticism of her being a hard task master. Blanchett has supported and helped theatre writers and technicians throughout her career to find work in film, so her first love for theatre has stood her in good stead. As for her film career, filmmakers and productions would go so far as relocate to her continent to have her in them! After all, the entire production of Truth including Robert Redford moved to Sydney so that she could shoot for her part as journalist Mary Mapes. That The Lord of The Rings trilogy was filmed here helped in landing her the part of Galadriel. In an interview she gave to Fox Television Network, she admitted blushingly that she had accepted the role of Galadriel, the Elf Queen, in The Lord of The Rings trilogy because she always wanted to appear in a movie wearing pointed ears! She repeated her love for fantasy by playing the evil sister Hella in Thor Ragnorak, a Marvel movie.  Blanchett, however, found it difficult to portray the character in a motion capture suit rather than costume, feeling Hela's headdress is ‘such a huge part of’ the power of the character that she would have liked to wear it on set. 

(A publicity still of Cate Blanchett from I'm Not There)

Unlike most actors, her early influences continue to shape her choices and decisions. Cate’s brother Bob suffered from cerebral palsy and her mother bought up three kids by herself after her father’s sudden death. She defended Bob against common ridicule. Her strong personality and nature took shape right from this stage. At fifteen, she shaved her head, sparking enough ire amongst her employers at a nursing home to almost fire her. A Seventies child, she was naturally drawn to freedom and free expression of herself. Thanking her brother during an Oscar acceptance speech, she set the tone for her forward thinking persona when she said that her award for Blue Jasmine is an eye-opener for those of us in the industry who were still foolishly clinging to the idea that films with women in the centre are niche experiences. Blanchett’s strongly opinionated, independent personality goes beyond Hollywood standardisation. But at fifty, she remains a respected, loved and innovative artiste. Apart from Stateless, she will act as activist Rose Byrne in Mrs America, a TV series. A film with Aaron Sorkin, on the life and times of Lucille Ball is in the works too. Not playing by the rules worked well for her. Hopefully, as content grows stronger, there will be more surprises from this fantastic star. 

Tags

Cate Blanchett / Carol / Stateless / Blue Jasmine / Elizabeth / Andrew Upton / Manifesto / I Am Not There / Sydney Theatre Company /

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