A great interview with Cate for the telegraph!
ate Blanchett is forthright, funny and exceedingly good company. She is also astonishingly beautiful, but today, sitting in a hotel room in London to talk about her forthcoming film Truth, she hasn’t felt the need to put on the red-carpet style. Dressed in jeans and a loose sweatshirt with what appear to be cartoon fluffy sheep all over the front, her hair is scraped back, her face free of make-up. She looks… tired.
Blanchett and her husband, the playwright Andrew Upton, have three boys aged 13, 11 and seven, and a daughter who has just turned one. ‘Like any working mother, you just make the time for everything,’ she says. ‘What you don’t get is a lot of sleep, but it’s fine. I don’t think I’ve ever really slept that much.’
When we meet, she’s just been in New York for a short run of the Jean Genet play The Maids, adapted by Upton. Then she did a series of interviews leading up to the UK premiere of Carol, the rather beautiful Todd Haynes-directed Sapphic romance that has attracted Oscar attentionfor both Blanchett (her eighth nomination) and her co-star Rooney Mara. Now she’s fitting in some promotion for Truth, with Robert Redford and Dennis Quaid, before flying home to Sydney.
‘You feel like you’re saying the same thing over and over again, and by the time you’re done you really do want to take a bath, put some gaffer tape over your mouth and take a vow of silence,’ she declares. ‘You get so sick of the sound of your own voice.’
She and Upton moved back to their native Australia in 2006, taking over as joint artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008. It’s quite a feat, working together in such a high-profile way as well as raising a family, but she says it’s all about communication. ‘We would divvy it up in a fluid way that perhaps only a married couple could. We’ve always talked. He’s the first person I met who I could deeply talk about work with, and I think we’ve kept each other healthy in that way because you can go a bit bonkers. And I’m bonkers enough! We’ve never been competitors, and we’ve never shied away from robust argument.’
Blanchett is proud of what they have achieved there, putting on 16-19 shows a year over four stages, making the organisation environmentally sustainable, and touring productions internationally. ‘It was a lot of work, but it was in partnership. And it meant that I absented myself from filmmaking for six years. There were a lot of people who I could tell were thinking, “You’re in your late 30s, and the film industry’s not going to be your friend forever. Is this really the time?” They thought I was having some sort of early midlife crisis, but Andrew and I knew the wealth of talent in Australia, and it’s our creative wellspring. So to return to that community and to be inside it was game-changing for us.’
She stepped down from her full-time role at the theatre in 2013, but continued to star in STC productions while Upton carried on as artistic director till the end of 2015. So her film work was still limited. ‘What prevents me from picking and choosing is my geographical location and my desire to not have someone else raise my children.’
Although Truth is set in America, it’s a sign of Blanchett’s standing that the whole production was moved to Australia once she showed interest. ‘Most of the film happens in interiors, so we ran the numbers and it was possible for it to be filmed in Sydney – which I was really thrilled about, because it meant I could do it. I read the script and found it gripping, shocking, surprising and really fascinating.’
Set in 2004, just before George W Bush was elected as president for the second time, Truth follows award-winning CBS News producer Mary Mapes (Blanchett) and her team as they prepare a story on Bush’s dubious military record, a story that was ultimately to cost Mapes her job and force veteran newsman Dan Rather (Robert Redford) to resign from the network’s flagship show 60 Minutes.
Based on Mapes’s own book about the incident, it rattles along at the pace of a good thriller, offering a real insight into how TV news is made, and examining the shift from old-school investigative journalism to the brave new world of infotainment.
‘In the same way that All the President’s Men is not about Nixon, Truth is not about George W Bush,’ says Blanchett. ‘Even though it’s about a very particular moment in recent American history, it speaks universally to the state of media in the West, and that dangerous proximity of politics, big business and the corporatisation of media. It was the questions that the film was asking that I was primarily interested in – and then I met Mary, and I found her completely compelling, hilarious and wry.’
Mapes was riding a career high in 2004, having broken a string of high-profile stories, including the abuse of prisoners by US soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. At first, the story Dan Rather presented on air that September seemed to be yet another scoop, alleging that strings had been pulled to allow Bush to sit out the Vietnam War by serving in the National Guard, and that he’d failed to show up for such commitments as a routine medical.
But the Right rallied in spectacular fashion, and within hours the internet was alight with speculation that some crucial memos from one of Bush’s commanding officers were fakes. The debate suddenly became not about whether Bush unfairly evaded the Vietnam draft, or whether he had absented himself from duty with the National Guard, but whether typewriters could produce certain characters in the late 1960s. (They could, but this information was drowned out by a rising tide of personal abuse aimed at Mapes.)
The truth of the story, and the corroborating evidence that Mapes and her team had found to support it, were lost in the noise. CBS quickly chose to apologise instead of defending its story, Rather stepped down, and after an inquiry Mapes was fired. She has never worked in TV again.
‘The conservatives basically played a political parlour trick on the country,’ Mapes explains on the phone from her home in Dallas. ‘Everyone’s talking about fonts and typewriters, and it’s a forest for the trees situation. If you tell a lie loudly enough, and long enough and strong enough, pretty soon it’s not a lie any more. It becomes the truth.’
In the US, reviews of the film indicate how polarising the Bush-National Guard story still is, and Blanchett says it is still too toxic to discuss. ‘Quite a few journalists want to distance themselves from what they perceive to be a series of catastrophic bunglings. So I kept saying, “OK, but what did you think of the story?” and still no one wants to talk about it, which I find fascinating.’
Blanchett is wary of drawing too many parallels between her own life and that of the characters she plays, but she and Mapes both grew up in households dominated by women. (Mapes’s estranged father was an alcoholic, who left her mother to raise five girls alone; Blanchett’s father died of a heart attack when she was 10.)
Blanchett grew up in Melbourne, the middle of three children. Her mother, June, gave up her job as a teacher and launched a career as a property developer in order to support her children and send them to private school. ‘She was very resilient,’ Blanchett says, ‘and my grandmother had always lived with us so I grew up in a female household.’
People often ask her about her father’s death, she adds, trying to draw some sort of narrative line that she suspects isn’t really there. ‘As a child, you incorporate those losses, those hurdles, those moments of grief or challenge or whatever it is. We all have them. My life has been relatively privileged, but I think perhaps I developed enormous empathetic connection with my mother because I could see the hurdles – financial and emotional – that she had to get over. But she was determined that we would have a good education, for which I’m incredibly grateful. Not that I did massively well at school, but I had a lot of fantastic experiences there. Our school plays were all devised by the students, and if we were doing Macbeth, then the girls took turns in playing Macbeth as well as Lady Macbeth because they wanted us to have that Shakespearean experience.’
Last March Blanchett and Upton extended their own family by adopting a baby daughter, Edith. I ask if it feels different, having a girl after giving birth to three boys. ‘The first time I changed her nappy, it was a bit, “Oh, how do I do that?” ’ she says with a smile. ‘Which is ridiculous given that I’m equipped with the same apparatus!’
The process of adopting is as rigorous in Australia as it is in the UK, and the boys were involved at every stage. ‘All the children were interviewed as a family, they were interviewed individually and separately from us.’ She is enormously proud, she says, seeing them all mesh together. ‘You must remember those Sunday afternoons when your parents are doing something, and you’re off in this whole other world. Watching that now, you feel you’re fostering this unit that will be there long after you’re gone. I find it very, very moving.’
None of them enjoys seeing her on stage. ‘Andrew just did this wonderful kind of reinvention of [Chekhov’s unfinished first play] Platonov, which he called The Present, which I was in. My seven-year-old had never seen me on stage and he really wanted to go and see his dad’s writing. It was a matinee, and he sat up the back with the usher, because Andrew had to take the other boys somewhere else. In the first act, there’s one point where I come down and look towards the audience, and I could see him waving madly at the back.’
Five minutes later, when she was briefly offstage, she noticed he was at the vending machine outside the green room. ‘He didn’t make it through the first act! They know you with baby vomit on your pyjamas, and so to see you made up, pretending to be someone else, or in interview mode where you’re trying to string a sentence together, they just think it is really weird. It makes them feel uncomfortable.’
Her eldest son, Dashiell, frets about her film choices, too. ‘He asked when I was going to do a blockbuster, and I said, “Well, what’s The Lord of the Rings?” and he said, “But you’re hardly in it!” ’ She laughs. ‘He gets worried about my career path.’
Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Present will open on Broadway later this year with Blanchett starring, and Upton has said the whole family will move to New York – for a while, at least.