Thanks to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ eligibility guidelines, no actor or actress — lead or supporting — can be nominated in the same category in the same year, a provision that seems likely to impact Cate Blanchett this year, as both of her lead turns in James Vanderbilt’s “Truth” and Todd Haynes’ “Carol” have garnered significant acclaim on the festival circuit. Blanchett has two Oscars under her belt already, but she doesn’t seem particularly worried about how this year’s awards race is going to shake out. In fact, she said, she’s “sad in a way” that both films are coming out nearly on top of each other: Vanderbilt’s fact-based “Truth” opens this week, followed by Haynes’ period romance “Carol” on November 20.
In “Truth,” Blanchett stars as CBS producer Mary Mapes, who headed up a 2004 “60 Minutes II” investigation into George W. Bush’s military service records, ultimately leading to a blockbuster news report (delivered by Dan Rather, played in the film by Robert Redford) that was swiftly criticized and doubted, ultimately leading to the ousting of both Mapes and Rather from the network they had called home for many years.
Indiewire recently sat down with Blanchett to talk about the (very real) possibility she’ll compete against herself during awards season, why she took a chance on a first-time filmmaker with “Truth” and her favorite films of the season.
At the end of the film, a title card comes up that explains that Mary hasn’t worked in journalism since the events depicted in the film. Was that surprising to you?
The very first time I met her, I asked her, “How’s your contact been with ’60 Minutes’?” She looked at me like I’m a fucking moron and said, “Well, it’s been non-existent.” It changed the course of her career, but it’s like B.C. and A.D., it’s a before and after moment for her.
It’s interesting that you’re playing a character whose life and work is derailed by criticism — is that something you worry about in your own life?
It’s very different being an investigative journalist, because over the course of one story and the opinionating that went on — because it was a contentious story! — it also had something to do with the time in which it was released, and suddenly her entire career was decimated. Whereas, as an actor, I can still keep making work. You know, I can go work in a 50-seat theater and it might only play to an audience of five. But I think it was profoundly disillusioning to her. I’m constantly giving up acting.
I think as an actor, you know that not everyone is going to like what you do and you invite criticism simply by making something. That’s something that you become — not immune to, because I feel profoundly responsible to an audience, it’s why you do it, you want people to go and see it and it’s their right to like or dislike it — so you kind develop a thick skin, but a thin skin enough that you are open and sensitive enough to what you do.
I think it’s a very different experience for a journalist, it wasn’t an option for her being so disillusioned, but also a lot of doors were closed.
James Vanderbilt is one of the few first-time directors you’ve worked with during the course of your career. What does a director need to have and to demonstrate to get you to say yes?
I’ve only accepted something on the face of the script a couple of times, and it hasn’t always been successful because, in the end, it’s about a dialogue with the director. What I like about this script, and certainly within the first five minutes of speaking to Jamie, is that the bulk of the direction, like Woody Allen in a way, is in the script! I had zero dialogue with Woody, but I could tell by the rhythm and the choices that were made in the script what the film was going to feel like.
With a first-time director, what can be lacking in the resulting product is atmosphere and rhythm, but the script had oodles of both. I found it compelling. The process of making the film was simply to allow that to jump off the page. When I knew Dennis [Quaid] was going to do it and Bob [Redford] was going to do it, there was a moment where I couldn’t believe I was there. I was watching Stacy Keach and Robert Redford, and then Noni Hazlehurst, who I’ve long admired. With the three of those actors in one room, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
There’s been a lot of chatter since “Carol” premiered at Cannes and “Truth” premiered at TIFF that you’re probably going to be competing against yourself when it comes to this year’s awards race.
You know, I hope people go and see [“Carol”]. I think what is beautiful — Todd is an exquisite filmmaker and I love him till the end of time and working with Rooney was just glorious — but I think the power of that film was that, yes, there’s two women falling in love in the ’50s, but it really is a film about falling in love. Gender, in a way, becomes an obstacle, but it’s not the only obstacle, their age gap is another one.
He’s made such a subtle, beautiful, textured, layered beast of a film, and then in the same year to be offered a role like Mary, with subject matter that’s very relevant and still dangerous, and to be working opposite Redford — I’m sad in a way that they’re coming out on top of one another, but I just hope they can both find their audience.
Even with all your accolades, you don’t seem especially fazed by the concept of awards season or the competition to win things. Is that something you’ve worked at?
[laughs] Well, I’ve been working primarily in theater for the last eight years, and I did a play with a great bunch of people on a brilliant script and I’ve never wanted to get any particular place. I’m always sort of surprised. I thought working in theater for so long and working in Australia and running the theater company — which has been revolutionary for me and I hope I’ve become a better actor because of it — I didn’t necessarily think there’d be film work to go back to.
I remember Jane Fonda describing this moment where she stepped away from filmmaking at the point where she was a lead actor, and came back and suddenly she went, “Where’s my role?” I’ve been so surprised and excited by the offers that have come my way. The rest is out of your control.
It’s someone else’s opinion, really.
Right, and as much as people may like what you do and be interested in what you do, they’ll be disinterested.
You know what is really exciting is there are so many interesting films being made, and films of all shapes and sizes. Another film that’s at the festival is from a director who I’ve just had the fortune to work with in the theater: John Crowley’s “Brooklyn.” Saoirse and Emory together are electrifying. I wept like a baby!
It’s so lovely.
I’ve worked with both of them [John Crowley and Saoirse Ronan] and they’re both extraordinary. If you describe the plot outline of “Brooklyn,” you go, “yeah…,” but it creeps up on you with such emotional power and the stealth. I felt so ambushed by it.
I was watching it with my husband, and we’ve been married for 18 years, but we looked at each other at the same time when they went to have the civil ceremony and we were holding one another’s hands! Like a couple of old people in diapers, being like, “I remember when we fell in love.” It’s really, really powerful about the fact that you only live one life and the choices you make.
The process to maturity is one that’s littered with broken glass. It’s such a beautiful film. Saoirse — having seen everything she’s done — she’s wonderful and she’s always wonderful to work with. I mean, talk about down to earth. I’ve also worked with her father. He played my brother in “Veronica Guerin.” She’s so powerful in this. John has made the most beautiful, beautiful film. But there are others! I want to see “Spotlight.” There’s a lot of really interesting films worth seeing. Have you seen “Sicario”?
She is incredible in that film, and the filmmaking is extraordinary. Watching Benicio Del Toro — I think he’s never been better and everything he does is brilliant. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff to go and see. I feel very invigorated by what’s happening in cinema in the moment.
“Truth” hits theaters on Friday, October 16.