- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

NEW YORK CITY

“We’re travelers,” observes Cate Blanchett, when asked about the success of so many fellow Australians in the movie industry over the past generation.

“We move around,” she continues. “Look at Peter Weir. Look at Hugh Jackman on Broadway right now with ‘The Boy From Oz.’ Directors, actors, writers, cinematographers. They’ve all worked internationally. There’s a fearlessness to the Australian approach. You know, the national motto of being willing to ‘give it a go.’ I’m not a fearful person. If I perceive something as a challenge, I’m more likely to go straight at it.”

The confident and good-humored Miss Blanchett was speaking at a press conference to promote the Ron Howard chase Western “The Missing,” in which she plays Maggie Gilkeson, a New Mexico rancher of the 1880s who must pursue the kidnappers of her teenage daughter. The search is complicated by the return of a prodigal father, a co-starring role for Tommy Lee Jones, who has spent decades living among Apaches. The heroine reconciles herself to his participation in the hope that his despised Indian ways will aid in retrieving her child.

Miss Blanchett, born in Melbourne in 1969 and a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, has worked for two other American directors in the past year. After “The Missing,” she joined Martin Scorsese for “The Aviator,” a biographical drama about Howard Hughes in which she plays Katharine Hepburn to Leonardo DiCaprio’s title character. She is now completing a role in an untitled Wes Anderson comedy.

Miss Blanchett and her husband, the playwright Andrew Upton, have a 2-year-old son. The approach of her second child next summer has placed all further movie offers on hold. She does expect to return to the London stage before the end of 2004 in her husband’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler.” They maintain residences in both England and Australia.

“I have a very healthy relationship with my work,” the actress remarks. “The more intense and broad your preparation, the more fun you can have. No one wants to look at an actor’s homework, so you want to move through the technical side to the playing of it.”

Miss Blanchett believes that motherhood has also been a professional boon. “My understanding of certain kinds of love has deepened,” she says. “Becoming a mother does alter your life, but I heard a lot of exaggerated talk about it limiting your range of choices. I’ve found it a very expansive experience.”

The preparation for “The Missing” involved riding lessons, shooting lessons and reading the memoirs and journals of authentic frontier women. She arrived six weeks early in order to ride with the horse wranglers and stunt riders hired for the production.

“I didn’t want to be in the position,” she recalls, “of telling Ron, ‘I can’t do that, it’s too difficult.’ So I rode out every day with the real cowboys — Evan Rachel Wood and Jenna Boyd too, who were playing my daughters. It was like silent rehearsal. We all got to know each other while riding.

“I found the guns more difficult. From a moral perspective. I never did feel too comfortable holding a gun, but if you’re playing someone in the frontier Southwest, you need to acquire a sense of the weapons as an extension of your body. And you have to know what a kickback feels like.”

The documentary literature impressed her with the stoicism required of women in frontier communities. “It wasn’t a time and place for exhibitionistic emotion,” Miss Blanchett reflects.

“For one thing, few people were around to hear it. You sank or swam. Maggie is definitely a survivor. I’ve never been especially drawn to Westerns. I was drawn to this script. I think the difference may be that the classic Western rarely makes the women essential to the narrative. They’re helpless maidens or good-hearted prostitutes. Here you have three female characters at the center of the story. That seemed a huge departure to me.”

Now that Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta-Jones have won Academy Awards, many people in the press corps would like to see Cate Blanchett collect the best actress trophy. She’ll be eligible for both “The Missing” and “Veronica Guerin.”

Someone asks, “Will you campaign and will you have to choose between your movies?”

Patiently, Miss Blanchett explains, “It’s not a political race. And there’s a lot going on in my life right now. I do realize that the piracy issue has made it tougher for small films. Often they don’t even get distribution. So if there are limits on their circulation through video and DVD copies, it reduces their chances to compete, for want of a better word.”

Someone picks up on the word and asks, “Will you compete?”

“My husband is a very smart man,” Miss Blanchett replies. “When I was nominated for ‘Elizabeth,’ he said this thing to me that maybe we should all keep in mind. He said, ‘Sweetheart, it’s better to be on the brink your entire life than to have peaked.’ I think it’s true. I should be looking to the next thing.”


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