Movie star Cate Blanchett is known the world over for hanging out with Hobbits, flying dragons and Indiana Jones—but it’s actually theater where her greatest passion lies.
Sydney, Australia, is her home base, where she and her husband, playwright Andrew Upton, raise three boys and run the theater company that launched Aussie actors like Geoffrey Rush and Toni Collette.
Now, here she comes again—Aug. 6-16—to New York City Center as part of this summer’s Lincoln Center Festival. She and Isabelle Huppert are co-starring in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Maids by Jean Genet, newly translated by her husband and director Benedict Andrews. It’s based on an actual French murder case, about two sisters (Blanchett and Huppert) who lock horns with their cruel, narcissistic employer (Elizabeth Debicki).
“It’s a juggling act,” she conceded recently. “A lot of my decisions are based on instinct—and, then, timing. The tour of The Maids was set up last year, and I knew a long Broadway run wasn’t possible—not because of my film career but because of my children.”
Ever since her breakout role as Elizabeth I in the film Elizabeth (1998), Blanchett has become a superstar, soaring to every corner of the planet. At the Cannes Film Festival in May, she captivated the press with different designer gowns every evening. In June, Laura Dern presented her with a “Women in Film” Award at a Los Angeles luncheon. Then she was off to the World Cup soccer games in Brazil, and cameras caught her yelling, “Go, Aussies!”
Naturally, New York is a favorite—and quite frequent—port of call for Blanchett. She was spotted checking out shops on Madison Avenue recently with the youngest of her sons, 6-year-old Ignatius Martin Upton. (His older brothers are likewise colorfully named—Roman Robert, 10, and Dashiell John, 12.)
But it’s work that usually brings her to the city (the opening of The Monuments Men at the Ziegfeld Theater in February was the latest); and she picks up prizes for the movies she makes here. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine brought Blanchett every major (and, for that matter, minor) Best Actress award of the year: The New York Film Critics presented her with their prize in the Edison Ballroom. (The performance also won her the Oscar for Best Actress.)
Plays are her idea of play, so she frequents Broadway. When in that area, it’s a safe bet that she’s mingling with the post-show folks at Joe Allen. Second guess: Orso.
She made her Manhattan stage-acting debut in July 2012, in Uncle Vanya, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. True, the hall that Lincoln Center rented—New York City Center, on W. 55th Street—was a tad too huge for Chekhov, but “on the other level,” she had to admit, “it’s incredibly rewarding to have all the tiers open and the restrictive-view tickets sold, as we did with Uncle Vanya. We found the New York audiences to be extremely receptive,” the actress admitted—so much so that she decided to come back for a second helping with The Maids.
The Maids also has a unique element: a massive screen over the set which projects, in close-ups, the intimate action occurring between the actors below on the stage.
“It makes the experience quite democratic,” said Blanchett. “The audience’s eye is constantly being directed between the fetishlike shots that are happening on the screen and the live action on the stage.”
What will she appear in next? First out of the film hopper this December will be The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Come March, she’s the wicked stepmother in a new Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Sometime in 2015, you’ll find her in Terrence Malick’s next, yet-to-be-titled opus. Also set for a 2015 release is Carol, a mystery by Patricia Highsmith, with Blanchett in the title role.
It is the Sydney Theatre Company, however, that is still her great love. “It has been the most continuously invigorating five-and-a-half years of my creative life,” she says. “Even though I’m not in any of the subscription seasons, I’m still touring, and the company is still in my DNA.”