“Blue Jasmine” hit theaters back in July 2013 which, by this awards-packed winter 2014, feels like ages ago. Writer-director Woody Allen ostensibly penned the title role of Jasmine French with the great Cate Blanchett, now Oscar-nominated for her iconic performance, in mind.
“Well that’s something I’d like to believe is true. The other four actresses he gave it to were unavailable. I was the lucky girl who got to do it,” the ever-bashful Blanchett told the audience last weekend at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where she accepted the award for Outstanding Performer of the Year.
Jasmine is a doozy of a role that allowed Blanchett to flex her acting muscles and brandish a wide tonal range, from comedy to operatic drama to bleak tragedy, often all at once. “I read the script and he said, OK I’ll see you in San Francisco. It was quite to the point.”
Read any interview with Blanchett and you’ll find that she firmly attributes her success to luck. She studied finance and economics in school in Australia. “I wanted to be a curator of a gallery or some stupid idea like that.” While performing in Australian theater, a casting director spotted her onstage and cast her in 1997’s “Oscar and Lucinda,” a year before she’d get her first Oscar nom for 1998’s “Elizabeth.”
“I’m not a big believer in regret until I see that,” Blanchett cracked after enduring a five-minute clip reel of highlights from her towering career, from her breakout title role in “Elizabeth” to her marvelously camp performance in “Notes on a Scandal” and her Oscar-winning portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Scorsese’s “The Aviator.” She’s been Oscar-nominated five times and she now appears in George Clooney’s WWII heist film “The Monuments Men.”
Though Q&A moderator Pete Hammond of Deadline did not broach the topic of the recent Farrow vs. Allen feud over troubling recent finger-pointing, Blanchett was put on the spot by Hollywood Elsewhere scribe Jeffrey Wells, answering the question gracefully: “It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some resolution and peace.”
1. “For me, the roles are the secondary part of the whole process to me strangely. It’s about who you’re being directed by and who the other actors are. Whenever I read a script, I think, ‘wow, that’s a great story,’ and invariably I want to play one of the other characters, and the process of working out how to play the character you’re offered is to work out why you aren’t playing the other characters. Maybe that’s why I play roles of various different sizes. The challenge is not always, necessarily, the lead role but in this case, it was all those things combined. It was an incredible story, so full of zeitgeist but yet so fueled by these strange dysfunction people.”
2. “If you’re going to change a word in a Woody script, you’ve got to have a better idea. When it’s not working, he’ll say, ‘do what you want.’ And then at the end of the take he’ll say, ‘well you can’t say that.’ It’s a way for him to allow the actors to own it… The ensemble is paramount when working with Woody, in the attendance the actors have with one another and with Woody.”
3. Regarding the stage and screen, “I don’t think the two mediums are mutually exclusively. For a role like Jasmine, I don’t think I could have approached it with such gusto, rightly or wrongly, unless I’d been doing theater consistently.” Onstage, she’s played Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire,” and Richard II in Shakespeare’s tragedy. “The detritus of those characters stays inside you. They never quite leave you.”
4. “Any parallel between my experience and a character’s will subconsciously be there. I don’t think you have to mine that stuff as an actor. To try and remember anytime where I’ve had financial insecurity or anytime I’ve had a panic attack — which I had in the middle of the night once when I was 26 — I never thought about that stuff. Because then, the dilemma becomes very small and very inward and I think your job as an actor is to reach out to someone else’s experience and therefore if you do that, you’ll reach out to the actors. [Going inward] reduces the potential of the part.”
5. “[Acting] is not a kind career necessarily, and you have to have a certain resilience, and you develop that overtime. I’ve been fortunate to work. It’s like being a violinist: if you don’t get to play or get to perform, then it’s harder to keep growing.”
6. “Ron Howard would never ask you to do anything he wasn’t prepared to do himself,” Blanchett said about making his 2001 film “The Missing.” “There was a scene where my character had to have a tarantula crawl on her. I said, ‘I’ll do anything for you Ron but I have a deep-seated fear of spiders and where I come from, every spider can kill you in about two-and-a-half seconds. He got down on the floor and put the tarantula on him, and said her name was Tara, and it crawled on him and he sat there and the tarantula was on his crotch. So you had to think, ‘okay, I will do it.’ If you ever encounter a tarantula, they get scared and freeze. She got so frightened, she didn’t move enough and they fucking well cut the scene.”
7. “They’re all fictional in the end,” Blanchett said of her characters. “They’re all inventions and they’re all harnessed, whether fixed in a real person or completely invented, to the telling of the story. I will beg, borrow and steal from anywhere and anything. You don’t know whether the point of connection is going to be something in a costume fitting or a piece of music. I find that process really exciting. Making a film is piecemeal. Anything you can do to maintain your curiosity about the world of the piece is really helpful.”
8. “‘Blue Jasmine’ was an incredible story, so full of zeitgeist yet so fueled by these strange dysfunctional people. Woody is the director who’s made ‘Interiors’ and ‘Bananas’… it was a tonally very challenging piece. Woody always says, ‘I don’t direct, I don’t direct.’ But that’s all in the edit. Where he chooses to put the edit. That’s the gag. You know you’re in a sure hand because he’s got such an impeccable sense of rhythm.”