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Cate Blanchett is this year (2015) awarded Australia’s highest screen honour: the AACTA Longford Lyell Award (Wednesday,Dec. 9 at AACTA Awards). Andrew L. Urban glances through her career, recalling some of the conversations they had about her films and her views on acting.

Cate Blanchett is one of Australia’s leading exports; the actress who made the historic Elizabeth (in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2008*), a real, human figure in a role that many believe should have resulted in her second Oscar after her win for The Aviator (2005), is a genuine world star. In 2014 Blanchett did win her second Oscar, for Blue Jasmine (for which she also won A Golden Globe and a BAFTA award).

But she was already a repeatedly acclaimed and multi-awarded actress in 2001, when she said in an interview with this writer, while promoting her film, The Gift: "The more successful your position becomes, the more important it is to take risks and embrace the right to fail . . .very publicly. For me it’s important to keep challenging myself and to keep taking on things I don’t necessarily know how to do. It’s incredibly public so you don’t want to fall flat on your face – but you do have to take that risk. I always find it disappointing when good actors reach certain levels and you think, why are they taking the soft option?”

We had a brief conversation about The Gift a year earlier, as she was preparing to make The Talented Mr Ripley, having just finished The Gift.

It's Friday evening in Savannah, and rehearsals have just finished; the production office is shutting down for the weekend, before the start of principal photography on The Gift, directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Blanchett with Keanu Reeves. Downstairs, a salsa club is about to fire up for the night. Blanchett, incredibly punctual for this interview, is sitting by a desk with a phone in one of several abandoned buildings - some have been taken over by the School of Art and Design. (This one by the film crew from Lakeshore Entertainment, which is producing The Gift.)

In The Gift

Blanchett plays Ms Annie Wilson from a rural town in Georgia, who has psychic abilities: The Gift. Beyond that, Blanchett is not ready to describe her character as yet. "Gosh, I find it incredibly difficult to …I almost don't know what a character is until six months after I finish playing it.”

In The Talented Mr Ripley, (2000) Meredith Logue is a young innocent American heiress travelling in Europe. She bumps into Ripley - who passes himself off as the young American heir Dickie Greenleaf - one of her own class. He passes in and out of her life quite quickly. "The time she spends with Ripley," says Blanchett, "is probably the most wonderful week in her life . . . she feels he's the man she's been waiting to meet, and is unaware of his duplicity."

Meredith is not a big role, but to Blanchett, size does not matter. "I've been surprised that people have not been talking about the role but about the size of the role - which I find such a bizarre concept.”

She adds: “ … look, I'm not averse to a big pay cheque like anyone, but it's not the reason why you do it. If you get a good script, you do it for the love of it."

Blanchett and cinematographer John Seale were only two of the Australians on the Ripley shoot. "Oh, the place was crawling with us!" she says. "Like Steve Andrews, one of the world's most astonishingly calm First Assistant Directors . . .he and John and Anthony all just created this sense of calm." Blanchett's mobile phone rings (a second time); "Oh, I'm so sorry about this…I just got a mobile two days ago. And it's hell." (Well, that was 15 years ago!)

She won her first accolade (Best Supporting Actress) for Cherie Nowlan’s Thank God She Met Lizzie, the same year – 1997 – that she co-starred with Glenn Close and Pauline Collins in Bruce Beresford’s Paradise Road. In all, Blanchett has so far won 131 acting awards and received 128 nominations.

Film debut in Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road (Frances McDormand at left)

Speaking of her latest accolade, Blanchett says: “When I look at the outstanding men and women who have received this prestigious award before me, I am truly honoured to be considered among venerable practitioners and performers; creative spirits who have had a strong and lasting influence, not only on my work, but on what I thought creatively possible in this country.

“I applaud AACTA for expanding this award to acknowledge Lottie Lyell’s rich creative legacy. The paths we forge in this great film industry of ours are rarely linear and Lyell’s astonishing achievements as an actress of stage and screen, as a writer, producer and director stand as an inspiration for us all.”

The AACTA Longford Lyell Award
The first AFI Raymond Longford Award was awarded to Ian Dunlop (director) in 1968. Since then, many icons of the Australian screen industry have been bestowed the AFI Raymond Longford Award, including Peter Weir, Geoffrey Rush, Fred Schepisi, Ken G. Hall, Tim Burstall, Jack Thompson, Jan Chapman, David Stratton and many more.

Following the launch of AACTA in 2011, three AACTA Raymond Longford Awards have been presented: cinematographer Don McAlpine was awarded in 2012; Producer Al Clark was awarded in 2013; and actress Jacki Weaver was awarded in 2014. Writer and Producer Andrew Knight was the first recipient of the AACTA Longford Lyell Award at the 4th AACTA Awards in January 2015.

* Blanchett won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Best Actress in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Thank God He Met Lizzie (with Richard Roxburgh at left)

Published December 6, 2015

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Cate Blanchett

in Elizabeth

in The Talented Mr Ripley

in The Aviator

in Blue Jasmine

in Carol

in Notes on a Scandal

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