With an almost ethereal authority and intelligence, it’s no wonder people seek out Cate Blanchett for advice on anything from relationships to kittens
Words: Emma Strenner
Cate Blanchett is politely stifling a yawn. No, in spite of what you might think, it isn’t my riveting company or conversation that has prompted it – and of course, in that contagious fashion, I am now straining my jaw and throat to suppress my own. She does have an excuse though. She’s flown in from Sydney with her three boys (Dashiell, 11, Roman, 8, and Ignatius, 4) for The Hobbit premiere and I think I may have spotted her on Lorraine earlier today at some ungodly hour while I sat in my pyjamas with the first tea of the day. And here she is now, meeting me for luxury Japanese skincare brand SK-II. She is, as you might expect, ethereal, a la elf princess Galadriel with platinum blonde hair and a fitted gold dress on her slight frame.
Yet her voice is startingly low, something of a baritone. In spite of her deep voice that exudes authority and power, she’s terribly nice, in a quiet, unassuming way. And in spite of knowing her Australian roots, it comes as a surprise to hear that somewhat laid back lilt of an Aussie accent.
So where do you start with a woman who can embody Queen Elizabeth I, have Brad Pitt fall in love with her… twice, strum on her guitar as folk legend Bob Dylan and steal scenes from legendary thesps Ian McKellen and Judi Dench?
“I never really want to talk about anything. But lately I find people are always coming to me for advice,” she says, sitting back as she sips her fresh mint tea. Her voice carries, like a song and really, well, why wouldn’t you come to Cate for advice if you could? Richard Eyre, director of Notes On A Scandal, described her as “one of the most intelligent actors I have ever worked with”.
“Lately people have been coming to me about animals. We recently got a puppy and kitten. The kitten’s a Tonkinese, a sort of cross between a Siamese and Burmese. The boys have called him Warwick. But I tend not to dole out advice left, right and centre. I find in the end that people know the answer, you know?” Oh god, do I know the answer? Are we still talking about pets now? I nod furiously. “Sometimes people just have to talk things out, so that they can come to the conclusions themselves. I’m not all seeing and all knowing.” And yet somehow, when you’re faced with this glowing, ethereal Queen-like Cate, it would be the natural instinct to assume she is – after all, isn’t Galadriel, her character in The Lord Of The Rings and most recently The Hobbit the all-knowing elf-princess?
“Relationships too, that seems to be a theme these days. Maybe it’s because I’ve been married so long. 16, 17 years… something like that.” She pauses a lot. Between sentences. She’s measured and considered in all of her answers. Not jaded or suspicious, you just know she’s actually thinking.
Four years ago, in 2008 she joined the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) which is clearly her pride and joy. “I’m asked a lot about the company.” She is co-artistic director with playwright Andrew Upton (the husband of 16 or 17 years) and more recently toured to Broadway with a production of Ibsen’s Uncle Vanya and to the Barbican with Gross Und Klein by Botho Strauss. Theatre seems to be in her blood – and her love of Shakespeare is just as prevalent. She once compared the verbal sparring between her and Upton when they first met to Beatrice and Benedick’s in Much Ado About Nothing.
I press her on her love of Shakespeare. She pauses and looks surprised. As though this came as news to her. Do I mention him a lot? “My fourth form teacher used to have us read Romeo And Juliet aloud. I realised then that it was meant to be performed, that plays were meant to be played with. Encountering the sonnets was massive for me. Especially in times of trouble, or when I need inspiration. There’s an enormous understanding for the complexity of human existence and also the darkness that rests within us all. The way light can turn to dark in just a few syllables.” I find myself looking up at her, not too dissimilar to Frodo in The Fellowship Of The Ring, seeking light from her own luminous presence.
“And they need to be read aloud.” Theatre is at the very core of her being after all. Not only for her recent devotion to the STC, but even through her performances in film – every role she has played delivers that emphasised passion the stage commands: a concentrate of presence and charisma. And she can’t help but revert back to this love.
She claims to suffer chronic forgetfulness, hence her current bedside read Barbara Arrowsmith- Young’s, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. “I have a terrible memory, and I thought, what would it be like if I could simply teach myself to remember better? I had this monologue in Gross Und Klein this year. I did the physical warm up of course, but I would find that if I sat at the front of the stage, and say the first line, I wouldn’t need anymore… because you can only start at the beginning. It reveals itself.” Are we still talking about theatre?
Out of Character
As I leave, I want one last time, for myself, to see if we can make light of things. I ask her if she knows that Galadriel is the inspiration for the hottest beauty trend sweeping spring/summer 2013 catwalks – the elfin ear poking out of the hair.
“Really? Finally! I’ve been trying to hide them all my life and now everybody wants it.” I ask her about her own regime – how she survives all the travel and the schedules. “It’s simple. I have such a basic skincare routine. I steam my voice and add some Olbas Oil so inadvertently end up steaming my face. And I love the SK-II Facial Treatment masks which I wear throughout those long haul flights… Oh and scent, I love to have comforting scents like Diptyque’s Figuier candles burning. They make me feel at home.”
She calls after me as I’m ushered out. And yet, there is something about Blanchett, it’s not just the roles she’s played, but her delivery, her intensity, her ethereal, luminous skin and deep cerulean eyes that makes you think: she knows more. In EE Cummings’ words you know she has “the deepest secret nobody knows”.
Cate is ambassador for luxury skincare brand SK-II. SK-II is available from Harrods.