Signature line: “Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.” One can’t imagine that Cate Blanchett – whose formidable yet versatile onscreen persona often falls somewhere between the androgynous other-worldliness of England’s Tilda Swinton and the regal frostiness of fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman — would ever find herself pushed to the crumbling edges of financial and emotional despair. But she is more than believable as the wretched struggling socialite who utters those words in “Blue Jasmine.” Who else but Blanchett would have dared to take on the inimitable Katharine Hepburn, one of the greatest performers to ever grace the silver screen, and win a supporting Oscar for her efforts in 2004’s “The Aviator” – the first actor or actress to be rewarded for having the audacity to play another Oscar winner? And not just any winner, since Hepburn is still the reigning Oscar champ with a record four acting wins. No one will ever mistake this great Cate for a scaredy cat.
Career peaks: Born on May 14, 1969, in Melbourne to a teacher mother and a Texan father who had served in the Navy before becoming an ad man. When he died in a movie theater from a heart attack when Blanchett was only 10, she was told by an acquaintance of her dad’s that her mom would be going through a difficult period, adding, “You have to be very, very good.” The self-described “part extrovert, part wallflower” and graduate of Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art took the advice to heart, honing a perfectionist streak while pursuing an acting career first on stage, then in TV and movies. In 1997, she made her international film debut in the World War II drama “Paradise Road” and, by 1998, had her big-screen breakthrough as a dewy maiden who quickly learns to be a devious queen in 1998’s “Elizabeth” – the source of her first of six Oscar nominations. Its 2007 sequel, “The Golden Age,” along with her gender-bending role that same year in “I’m Not There” as music legend Bob Dylan would lead to nominations No. 4 and 5.
Awards attention: In the 20 years since Blanchett made her film debut in something called “Police Rescue: The Movie,” she could only go uphill. Indeed, she has attracted Oscar nominations at an admirable pace. In addition to those already mentioned, she was also given a nod as a rare weak-willed character – a high-school art teacher whose secret affair with a student leaves her vulnerable to the sociopathic manipulations of no less than Judi Dench in 2006’s “Notes on a Scandal.” But the 2013 Academy Awards race proved to be her time to claim her rightful perch as one of Hollywood’s premiere leading ladies not only for her astonishing turn in “Blue Jasmine,” but also because of the sharp insight, humor, grace and class that she displayed throughout the season. Her acceptance speech Sunday night proved the perfect capper. First, she forthrightly thanked director Woody Allen, who tailored the role of Jasmine for her while paying no mind to the fallout from the decades-old sexual abuse allegations revived in the media recently by his adopted daughter with Mia Farrow. Then she used her global TV platform not just for personal gain, but for the good of all women in the film business with this timely observation: “And thank you to… those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films, with women at the center, are niche experiences. They are not — audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”
Latest misstep: “The Monuments Men.” It speaks well of Blanchett that the informal boy’s club led by Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who directed and stars in this lethargic account about the recovery of art treasures stolen by the Nazis in World War II, have recruited her as a sort of female mascot as part of their nearly all-male movie ensembles. But while Julia Roberts was their chosen playmate in “Ocean’s 11” and “12,” Blanchett didn’t exactly benefit from appearing in this recent lesser effort or by doing Steven Soderbergh’s regrettable “The Good German” in 2006 that also featured Gorgeous George.
Biggest problem. Whether as the ethereal elfin monarch Galadriel in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies or as Pitt’s star-crossed ballerina love Daisy in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Blanchett has the uncanny ability to disappear into her characters. But she often risks blurring in the minds of moviegoers since she doesn’t strive to curry celebrityhood or share her private life with the press. Not helping matters is that she has been dividing her attention between stage and screen as the co-artistic director and part of the acting troupe of the Sydney Theatre Company alongside her husband, playwright and screenwriter Andrew Upton since 2008. But that should change now that Upton has taken on full responsibility of the company in January and plenty of new film projects are in the offing. And going on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show on Monday and allowing her audience members to manhandle her precious Oscar is not a bad way to increase your profile as a household name.
Biggest Assets. Whether as a villain, heroine, love interest or even playing opposite herself as cousins in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” from 2003, great directors are eager to work with this game-for-anything throwback to the glamour gals of Hollywood’s golden age who rarely takes a bad photo or gets patted down by the fashion police. The best in the biz from mainstream legends to art-house auteurs have beckoned her services, including Ron Howard (2003’s “The Missing”), Wes Anderson (2004’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (2006’s “Babel”), Steven Spielberg (2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Joe Wright (2011’s “Hanna”) and Terrence Malick (an upcoming untitled project and “Knight of Cups”). Still, at 44, Blanchett needs to continue to choose carefully between creative challenges and sizable paychecks (no more second-rate Spielberg sequels, please) if she wants to ensure her longevity. She often looks to her older peers as guides. As she told The Independent last year, “There are so many actresses – you think Helen Mirren, Judi Dench or Maggie Smith – who’ve had such rich careers in all mediums. They have forged those careers because they have not stopped at any point in taking risks and trying something new. People love to work with them.”
Gossip. Save for being dragged into the Woody Allen mess earlier this year, the only scandal that Blanchett has been associated with is in the title of “Notes on a Scandal.” She has been happily married to Upton for 16 years, is mother to three sons ages 5, 9 and 12 and relishes living away from the Hollywood hubbub in Sydney. Still, when she resided in England in the early 2000s, the press once made a fuss over an expensive marble bath that had to hoisted into their Brighton home. As she told The Independent, “No one would be interested in my bathtub or what soap I wash my clothes with if I hadn’t made films. But also I don’t suffer the incredible scrutiny some actors do.”
Next step. With her second Oscar in hand and a Woody Allen hit in her pocket, Blanchett has never been a hotter commodity. And she has a slew of opportunities lined up. Besides the upcoming Malick films and the final chapter of “The Hobbit” later this year, she will star in a live-action version of “Cinderella” directed by Kenneth Branagh as the wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine next year; she gets tangled up in a lesbian affair with Rooney Mara (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) in Carol, a thriller directed by “I’m Not There”’s Todd Haynes; and she will do a rare TV role as a real-life New Yorker cartoonist who battled cancer in HBO’s “Cancer Vixen,” directed by Julie Delpy.
Career advice. Seek out artistic roles that reveal new facets of your talent but choose your mainstream big-budget efforts with a sharper, more discerning eye. And don’t trust that George Clooney.