She’s been a monarch, an ethereal elf, won an Oscar for her portrayal of a society lady’s dramatic fall from grace and now Cate Blanchett is beguiling as Cinderella’s cruel stepmother. With a strong interest in environmental issues, women’s rights and the arts, the luminous Blanchett is also now a mother of four, thanks to her and her husband’s recent adoption of a baby girl.
Her name evokes the ultimate in elegance and sophistication, and she’s a woman so impeccably put together that she seems almost preternatural. As always in life, the truth may be somewhat different, hearing Blanchett’s recollection of a recent family trip to LA that saw her navigating the city’s perilous freeways with three boisterous young sons in tow.
“Apparently I’m in the zone where I’m now deeply embarrassing,” she laughs. “Everything I do is deeply embarrassing. We were in the middle of a four-lane freeway and we were all singing to a song on the radio. My son had his head in his hands saying, ‘Can you stop, Mum, someone might hear you!’ And I said, ‘What? We’re in the middle of a freeway.’ The things that come out of the mouths of babes. Hilarious.”
Blanchett is a far cry from any sort of embarrassment this afternoon, in a Jonathan Saunders black-and-blue dress, with flawless hair and make-up. It’s the day before she will announce the life-altering news that she and husband Andrew Upton’s brood of three sons, Dashiell, 13, Roman, 10, and Ignatius, six, has been joined by adopted baby girl Edith. I ask if she ever feels outnumbered in a house full of testosterone, but ever the pro she replies coyly, “We have a dog called Carol”.
The new mum’s latest role is as the evil stepmother in Cinderella (2015); Blanchett delighted in the opportunity to play the villain. “Oh, I relished it,” she swoons. “It was delicious.” She stars opposite Lily James (Lady Rose in Downton Abbey) in the live action movie directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Cruel to be kind
A contradiction of sorts, Blanchett’s physical allure has an ethereal quality (who else could have played the elf Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy so authentically?). Yet away from the cameras, she has a rather brusque, straightforward demeanour utterly rooted in the real world. She scoffs at the notion that some parents fear reading fairytales to their children due to their often-dark content.
“I think it’s incredibly important to read fairytales to children. I think children are interested in testing the boundaries; it’s like if you put too much hand sanitiser on your child they don’t build a resistance to bacteria in the world. It’s the same for their emotional life. Fairytales have been around for centuries, told across cultures because they teach not only a moral lesson but also gently introduce the dangers of the world and offer the child, before they go to sleep, a chance to dream and navigate through that.”
Watching Blanchett’s performance as this iconic baddie, it seems that she does wicked very well indeed. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” she smiles.
“I think there’s meanness in us all. I think that’s why we love watching others vicariously doing mean things. It draws back to the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to reveal but in the intimacy of the screen, we can say, ‘Oh, I felt that,’ or, ‘I would like to do that’. And it’s about teasing that out of people and giving them a catharsis.”
Of course, there are endless examples of cruelty, particularly nowadays with social media. “I don’t think people set out to destroy other people but they do inadvertently. I think the cruelty we inflict upon people is often unintentional and we don’t realise that we’re doing it.”
Woman of substance
Blanchett comes across as, to use a very tired Hollywood cliché, “blessed”. Even before movie stardom and a successful personal life, Blanchett was a good student and attended Methodist Ladies’ College before going on to the University of Melbourne and then the National Institute of Dramatic Art.
Given that her formative years were spent in a single-sex school, Blanchett has obviously witnessed the gamut of female relationships.
“I found that I took schoolyard girl-girl cruelty more personally than any sticks and stones that were thrown by a boy. I felt that I could bat that right back. But female cruelty is much more invisible and subtle and difficult to pinpoint.”
A serious expression appears on her face. “When I find people acting unjustly towards other people it really gets my goat.” It seems there are a few things that get her goat.
“Women who endure terrible abuses,” she says without hesitation. She told Sky News in 2013 that she was concerned about “a wave of conservatism sweeping the globe,” in regards to women’s roles in society.
Blanchett isn’t one to shy away from political debate. “When I was in high school studying 400-year wars that were waged during the Middle Ages or during the Greek period, and people were sailing off to Troy, I would think, ‘How did that happen? How can they fight wars for 400 years?’”
Well, we are there. We are in the middle of one and at some point the retaliation has to stop, the invasions have to stop, the baiting, both economic and political. But a lot of it is to do with our energy resources.” She takes a sip of water. “We pretend it’s about religion, but it’s not really.”
A keen environmentalist, Blanchett has been an ambassador for the Australian Conservation Foundation since 2007 and has learned that volunteering for a cause can sometimes bring unwanted attention. In 2011, for example, she was criticised and branded “Carbon Cate” for taking part in a TV campaign promoting the benefits of a carbon tax. “The gift of being an actor is that you have to develop a pretty thick skin,” she says.
Speaking of skin, hers has always garnered high praise. She glances at a poster featuring her luminous complexion and famed bone structure at its best advantage.
“It’s a team effort. For better or worse, I have one of those faces that can look incredibly plain, or, with the right lighting and make-up, okay,” understates the face of luxe skincare line, SK-II.
Interestingly, Blanchett has few opportunities to look at her face when she’s at home, except when she least wants to. “We actually don’t have any mirrors in our house, except in our shower, which is very confronting because it’s mirrored from all angles. So, I have very short showers – not only for environmental reasons.”
So, what does she do when she needs to check her outfit before leaving the house?
“I step into the shower.”
Blanchett and Upton, a playwright and screenwriter, met in 1996 and married the following year. The family made their home in Brighton, England, for nearly a decade before relocating to Sydney in 2006. What is her home like? She pauses.
“I respond to visuals and so any time we had a little bit of extra money tucked away, we would collect paintings, sculptures. I love living with those things,” she says. “My taste is very eclectic.”
Upton has held the artistic directorship of the Sydney Theatre Company since 2008 (including five years as co-artistic director with Blanchett), but as his term comes to an end later this year, the family has decided to seize the opportunity for change and move to the United States.
Blanchett is fairly certain that allowing her children to live in other cultures can only be a positive learning curve. “I don’t know what a normal childhood is. I think childhood is a deeply abnormal thing,” she says.
Although they enjoy the typical family beach holiday, as evidenced by paparazzi shots taken of the family in Vanuatu last year, they also appear to enjoy gatherings with extended family.
“We had a wonderful huge sprawling family Christmas full of memories that will stay with me for a very long time – for all of us, I think.” Were they perhaps sunning themselves on a tropical island paradise? “No. We were in Europe. We went to
many places and we took our boys to Auschwitz.
It was extraordinary.”
Like most mothers, her children are never far from her mind. It must be challenging for one whose life is so privileged to raise children in a manner in which they will become productive, sensitive adults.
“I realise when I go to other children’s houses that mine don’t really have that many toys. We offered to buy our eldest son a Kindle for Christmas because his backpack was so heavy with books. He said, ‘No. I like the smell of print. I want to hold it’.”
She smiles proudly. “And then I thought, ‘Well, okay. We’ve done something right’.”
Happily ever after
In this technology-driven age, when our devices and social media profiles can be so personalised, the thought of sharing an email address can seem quite confronting. Yet this is exactly what Cate Blanchett credits as her secret to a successful relationship.
Blanchett says the arrangement with her husband, writer and director Andrew Upton, works for them because “he hates emails” and is more than happy to leave all matters of correspondence up to her. The actor says this allows her to run the household like a “well-oiled machine”.
“We work together and it’s a way of synchronising our lives. I can see what he’s up to – it’s not that I don’t trust him,’’ she says.
The actor says of her husband, “[I was] incredibly fortunate to have met the intelligent, generous, risk-taking, stimulating man to whom I am married.
“He’s really amazing. I don’t think it’s more difficult for actors to have a good marriage than anyone.
“I think, in the end, a really important component of any relationship is honesty, and it also comes down to luck,” she adds.