Cate Blanchett on Acting and Armani

Blanchett, the face of Giorgio Armani’s latest scent, Si, discusses her career and off-screen activities.

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Blanchett is now turning to other pursuits. “Although I am no longer running it [the theater company], it was a very intense and rewarding time, probably the most intense and rewarding five years of my creative life,” she said. “It made me have a very thick skin and having a thick skin, you don’t want to lose any of your sensitivity, your empathy as an actor. Also, my husband and I have always been in creative dialogue with each other, so it was very bonding for us. I feel I matured creatively by having to be responsible for — on a minute-by-minute basis — producing other people’s work, but also mentoring young artists, emerging writers, performers and directors.”

Asked if her experiences as a director and an actress at the theater influenced either craft, she said, “I was forced to become conscious about the way I worked. In an age where there is no money to make anything and often you have to make financial compromises, you are forced to make very rapid, quick, inventive creative solutions. Sometimes what would seem to us to be a terrible financial compromise that we had to make because we are working with very creative people, we find another avenue around it. I’m not indulgent. I don’t feel that everyone has to work a certain way, but something I was adamant about whenever I was in a production that I would say to Andrew, ‘Whilst I may be the lead actor in the room, I think I realize the meaning of lead actress.’ It’s not just having the nice words — you have to lead the company. You think of the great roles Glenda Jackson played and she led a company of people. When I was in the room, I said to Andrew, ‘I’m not going to caretake the financials on this.’ I didn’t want the other actors to feel that the artistic director was sitting at another table. I was part of that ensemble because it’s really important and an audience can feel it — that a group of actors are together on a level playing field. I knew that when we had to troubleshoot something, and I’d let Andrew know when something was going on, but I wasn’t the artistic director in the room. I was another actress alongside those people. ”

It didn’t necessarily imbue her with the desire to immediately direct a feature film, though. “I’ve been asked, several times, and I realized why perhaps there are not more female directors,” she said with a laugh. “I’m the mother of three boys and I’m in a very supportive partnership. I don’t want to be disingenuous — having had an intense responsibility for the last six years, I’m enjoying being freelance. I’m enjoying not knowing what is coming next and I also enjoy the rhythm of theater. If you have an idea and it’s a good idea, you can gather a group of people and you can get the thing on. You need a profound level of patience working in the independent sector, primarily in the film industry to stay with an idea for the length of time it can take to get made.” Pointing to “Dallas Buyers Club,” which Blanchett said took almost 20 years to make it onto the screen, she said, “With the film I just made, ‘Carol,’ Phyllis Nagy wrote the script 12 years ago. So these things can sit.”

Turning to her appearance in the fragrance commercial — in which she appears highly emotive while constantly moving, almost like in a short silent movie — Blanchett said, “I don’t think I could have done that without being so intensively in the rehearsal mode of the theater company for the past six years. Because in the rehearsal room, on Day One, you just get up there and you have to do something. You have to just say, ‘OK, this is going to be s--t [laughs], but try this and see what happens.’ I think I would have found it really embarrassing [before that] but somehow I think it’s liberated me from any sense of — you’re asking me to do this, so give it a go and it might work and it might not work. Theater denudes you of your preciousness. Also, I knew Anne Fontaine [TV director for commercials] and I had several dinners with her, and I got on very well with Anne and Darius Khondji, whom I adore, who shot the commercial. His work on this was just divine. You knew you were in dialogue with really brilliant people.”

Which leads to the question — favorite role ever? “I played in a German play called ‘Gross und Klein’ [‘Big and Small’] and I played a character called Lotte Kotte,” she said. “I loved it. It was terrifying — I had to start out the play with one of the loneliest experiences an actor can have onstage, a 25-minute monologue. I’d think ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight,’ and I’d start. I loved it. The process of making it with the director and with the other actors was to reinvent something that none of us had envisioned. So it was an utter surprise and revelation to me and I think to the audience.”

Blanchett laughs at the suggestion that she’s down to earth. “What does that mean? Do you interview people who are divas? I’ll tell you how I stay grounded. My husband said to me when ‘Elizabeth’ came out — he was so happy for me and so supportive and he said, ‘This is so great! The next five years are going to be fabulous.’ I said, ‘Oh, are they?’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, it’s not right, but as an actress you only have five years. You should enjoy it.’ And so I took his advice and enjoyed it, and then one thing has led to another. But neither of us have ever thought when he’s at high moments or I’m at so-called high moments that we’ve arrived anywhere. You always have to earn the right to be there.”

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