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Despite the massive logistics and technicalities involved, work on The Lord of the Rings was, in the end, always "just about the dark truth," a very busy Cate Blanchett tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

By the time you read this, Cate Blanchett will probably be a mother. (See Stop Press at left) Looking radiant and ready-to-drop in an Alberta Feretti black maternity dress during a recent interview at the posh Savoy hotel in London, the 32-year-old Aussie star - married to fellow Australian writer Andrew Upton - revealed her baby was due mid-December and the birth would cap off one of the most productive years of her life, personally and professionally.

She’s not exaggerating. With six films shot in the past year and another one already waiting in the wings when she returns from maternity leave next year, she won’t be dropping from Hollywood’s radar screens anytime soon. Coming up, Cate will be seen in two dramatically different roles - playing Galadriel, Queen of the Elves in the Tolkien epic Fellowship of the Ring, and a Scottish woman who joins the French resistance during World War II in her Oscar contender for this season, Charlotte Gray, directed by fellow Australian Gillian Armstrong.

It has certainly been an incredibly busy year for you, don’t you agree?
I think the last year was just a feast. It was quite extraordinary. I knew at the beginning of the year I was doing The Gift and then The Lord of the Rings and the rest of the year was an open book. Then all of a sudden Heaven got up and running and then Bandits got a slot, Charlotte Gray got its money and then (director) Lasse Halstrom came to me and asked me to do a week of work on The Shipping News. So I don’t think every year is going to be like that but I’m meant to be working in the first half of next year with Joel Schumacher, on a film about the murdered Irish journalist Veronica Guerin so it’s not going to stop.

Any plans to cut back on work after the baby?
As a child I was very inspired by my mother’s work and the stimulation she brought back home by doing something for herself with other people. So I guess it’s just a day at a time and life will have to change in some way but my husband and I are incredibly open to change. We’ll just play it by ear but obviously there will be another priority, a different priority. We’ll keep working and keep our lives parallel to our work, I hope.

What can you tell us about The Fellowship of the Ring and your role as an Elf?
Queen of the Elves no less (laughs)! By the time I got to New Zealand they’d been filming for about nine months and I was there for a month; it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences. The sets were so extraordinary and I’d never worked on anything that was that technical but I loved the books and wanted to work with Peter Jackson because he’s a genius. But I did want the ears too! What fascinated me about Peter was that even though there were obviously so many technical things to think about, he was absolutely about actors contacting actors so in the end all that other stuff dropped away and it became just about the dark truth, which is part of the book.

What do you think is the fascination with stories like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, the two big fantasy films of the year?
I think Harry Potter is a wonderful fantasy for children and I’ve got many friends who are obsessed as adults but Tolkien was an Oxford professor and a linguist and I think what he has created is a timeless odyssey that a lot of other books and fantasies have really drawn from over the years. They’re not simply fairytales but a moral odyssey about confronting the evil within oneself and the trials that Frodo and the Fellowship have to go through are really profound and quite archetypal, so that’s probably what the obsession is. I also had to speak Elvish for this film and I was amazed to learn there are communities of people who get together and speak Elvish. We had an Elvish expert who was absolutely fluent in Elvish and then I learned that there’s people who also get together and speak Klingon (from Star Trek), so it was a whole new world to me which I found quite fascinating (laughs)!

In your comedy action movie, Bandits, you play a woman taken hostage by two bank robbers, played by Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton who falls in love with both of them. How much fun was that?
I am completely and utterly in love with the man I am married to but it’s actually kind of inspiring what my character Kate Wheeler does in that film because it would be difficult to juggle two at once! (laughs)

What about your role in the movie Heaven, directed by Tom Tykwer, the German director of Run Lola Run?
It was a very dark, intense experience because we shot in a prison cell for about three months, which wasn’t particularly pleasant. So it was great to go from Heaven to Bandits and then Charlotte Gray, which was more intense again. I recently saw a final cut of the film and I don’t think I’ve actually been part of a film that was – I don’t want to sound wanky – but it’s very Zen. It’s almost like all the layers have been stripped away. Tom is a remarkable collaborator and I hope I always know him. I think it was brave of him to take on a script by Kiewslowski, who is such an auteur, and his sensibilities are so different to Kiewslowski but he was a great choice to direct because he’s not a pale imitation.

What was your experience working on Charlotte Gray?
I couldn’t believe Gillian would want to work with me again! I found out I was pregnant towards the end of that shoot and I never told her because I knew she’d panic. We had a great time and the locations in France were quite extraordinary. At one point the film was conceived to be a bilingual film so I pulled out my high school French books because the film with Tom Tykwer was in Italian and English so I’d had to learn Italian, but it was decided to be an English language film in the end so I didn’t have to get good enough to do it.

In Shipping News, you play the estranged wife of a reporter (Kevin Spacey) and your character dies in a car accident pretty early on. What was the attraction to that role?
I think I die on page nine of the script (laughs) which was great because she is so obnoxious and unrelentingly horrible to him that nobody would want to watch someone that revolting for the entire movie! Once again I think it was just the difference in the character I wanted to play and the thing of not knowing if I could do it. And Lasse is a great audience and he creates such a buoyant atmosphere on the set. The great thing about Kevin is that he just went with it too. I said to Kevin and Lasse ‘you just tell me if I am going too far’ because I was just going for it and Kevin was great to improvise with.

You’ve lived in London for a while. Any plans to move back to Australia?
I’ve been incredibly homesick this last year and I find that the more I move around the worse it gets. But Australia is in my blood and it’s what I understand and I think what I loved about Australia growing up was that it instilled in me a healthy sense of curiosity about the rest of the world. You don’t grow up thinking you’re the center of the universe like if you grow up in New York. But Australians also travel a lot and that for me is a huge contributing factor to our creative sense and how we formulate ideas. To impart that to a child I think would be invaluable so we’d love to move back to Australia and probably will.

What does it mean to you to be an ambassador for the Australian Film Institute?
I was thrilled when they asked me and what I’ve found is that there is a constant fascination with Australia. It’s like, ‘what do you put in the water? Why are there 20 million of you and you’re taking over filmmaking internationally?’ I think Australians go in the back door. They go in quietly and do their work and all of a sudden people say, ‘where did you come from’ and you say, ‘well I’ve been here for five years!’ It was great working on Charlotte Gray for that reason too – working with Gill obviously was fantastic and she had so many Australians on the crew and I find Australians on every crew that I’ve worked on, so it really feels like we are everywhere and we should be proud of that.

Published December 13, 2001

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Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings


Stop Press, December 5, 2001: Cate and Andrew Upton (Mr Cate) announce birth of their baby boy, Dashiell. Congratulations from all of us at Urban Cinefile.

... in Lord of the Rings

... in Bandits

... in Charlotte Gray

... in Heaven

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