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January 10, 2007

Cate Blanchett: Cate The Great

After a breezy, chatty afternoon in Sydney, Cleo Glyde finds even more reasons to love Cate Blanchett than the chic cheekbones and impeccable performances.

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Photo Credit: Richard Bailey

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Cate Heats Up

I'm waiting for Cate Blanchett in a breakfast café in Balmain, a Sydney Harbour peninsula dotted with 19th-century cottages, close to the neighborhood where she lives with her husband and two golden-tressed boys. Given Blanchett's Streep-ian perfection on-screen, it's hard to imagine what she'll be like in person: Will those photogenic angles cast terrifying shadows? Will she speak in verse?

Blanchett enters stage right, completely backlit in off-duty jeans, flats, and a leather aviator jacket over a khaki cotton blouse with a grandfather collar (yes, I was reminded of her stylized turn as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, too). She is five-foot-eight but seems taller, given the graceful elongation of her every limb and plane. She shakes my hand heartily and flops down in her seat. "At last!" she says with a grin, referring to all the rescheduling we had to do to set up this meeting. (On top of opening three movies — including The Good German, with George Clooney, and Notes on a Scandal — and directing Harold Pinter's A Kind of Alaska at the Sydney Theatre Company, she'd actually lost her voice for a little while, which made talking to me impossible.)

In a Hollywood ecosystem stocked with attention junkies, hacks, pilot fish, and box-office whales, Blanchett is rare in having made consistently good, classy choices; in both her profession and her private life, she seems almost incapable of a misstep, as if held aloft by her unassailable cheekbones. For women, she's the blonde-joke antidote. She resolutely will not use her personal stuff as interview fodder, although she is more than happy to discuss the work.

Holding that line can't always be easy; starring in films opposite Pitt, Clooney, DiCaprio, Law, she's had a ringside seat at the celebrity circus. Tabloids are part of her world, yet she has avoided their glare. Just the idea of them deflates her. "I don't read them," she says. "There is some terrible statistic that the average person will only ever read 300 books in their lifetime — with two children, even that seems unattainable. So why would you waste your time? In order to switch off, I suppose, but I strive to find ways other than processing junk to do that — like sleep!"

These days, if you do see a candid shot of her in the paper, she won't be sans panties exiting a limo with Paris Hilton; she'll be marching in protest against global warming with 20,000 Sydneysiders, in jeans and a ponytail. The next day, there will be a shot of her on a red carpet in Hollywood in a tapered metallic-gold gown before heading back Down Under the next morning to direct the play.

With kids, it's an even more demanding schedule. "You have to let certain things go, and grooming seems to be the first one," Blanchett says with an exhausted laugh, picking up some unblowdried strands of her medieval-maid natural-blonde hair. "It just means getting two hours of sleep less. The parent-teacher night, the theater, dinner, jet-lagged kids, and the emails waiting at home — it's going to be 1 o'clock in the morning. This isn't particular to me - and I'm in a very privileged position."

You can't tell she's let the grooming go; as costar Judi Dench's character correctly observes about her in Notes on a Scandal, Blanchett has the complexion of a white peach. Hers is a face that can express a groundswell of feeling without a word. The payoff has been one remarkable performance after another: the teenage queen who must learn how to wield absolute power in Elizabeth; the Scottish spy Charlotte Gray, whose cherry lips are a foil for the rationing drabness of 1940s Vichy France; that flinty paragon of WASP derring-do in The Aviator, for which she won an Oscar. All virtuosic turns, which only heighten anticipation for what she'll do in the role of, yes, Bob Dylan in I'm Not There, opening later this year.


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