SARAH HALLIWELL meets Oscar-winning actress and face of GIORGIO ARMANI Sì Nacre Sparkling Limited Edition fragrance, CATE BLANCHETT, in Milan …
After a late-night dinner, a front row appearance at Giorgio Armani’s SS18 show and a day of interviews, Cate Blanchett might well be talked out. As we wait to meet her, watching a screening of her new Sì perfume campaign – she has been the face of the perfume for the past four years – the PR warns that the Australian actress can be “succinct”. The sound of Milan traffic filters up to the penthouse of the Armani hotel. Blanchett strikes a model figure, over 5’8 and willowy, in a perfectly fitting, sharp-shouldered mannish red houndstooth suit; the quirky sunglasses she wore earlier in the day inspired an instant waiting list, and her hair, newly chopped to the jawline, makes a strong case for going shorter in your late 40s. But there’s no entourage, no fuss. And she’s instantly direct and chatty, confessing to being “a bit sick of the sound of my own voice!” Frosty, no; razor-sharp, certainly, and with mesmerising, bona fide Hollywood star quality. Having a meaningful chat in a strictly monitored time slot is always going to be a challenge, but Blanchett is a master at making it feel almost natural and spontaneous. We can now capture a little of her starry quality with the new limited edition version of Armani’s bestselling Sì fragrance, Sì Nacre Sparkling, the palest nude-pink scent that veils skin with its warm gourmand notes and light-capturing sheen. Shaking the bottle is like watching the most sophisticated snowglobe you’ve ever seen.
Blanchett has had a soft spot for Ireland since filming Veronica Guerin here in 2002. “We’ve been back to visit friends and for short bursts but I haven’t worked in Ireland again and I would really love to. I’d love to work in the theatre there and now we’ve moved back to the UK that might be much more possible; we had a wonderful time there.” I have an instant image of our own Cillian Murphy and Blanchett teaming up for a blue-eye-off onstage … She mentions having wanted to work with director of the moment, Ivo van Hove, “for over a decade” – surely a killer combination.
At this year’s Emmy awards, Blanchett’s contemporary, Nicole Kidman, talked about creating a series because of the lack of interesting roles available for women. Blanchett has certainly found a few, with upcoming parts including a Marvel villainess in Thor, satirical comedy Where’d you go, Bernadette?, and all-female Ocean’s Eight, as well as appearing on Broadway last year. “I think we are entering a time when women no longer want to guard their successes or their stumbling blocks,” she says, “but rather share them and debrief with other women.”
She’s made careful choices from the beginning: “Straight after I played Elizabeth the First [in 1998], there were a whole load of scripts that came my way that were ostensibly the same character – a woman in a man’s world – but with different costumes. And they were leading roles, but I thought, I don’t want to tell this same story, and so I took small roles, thinking, ‘no one will watch me because I die on page nine, but I haven’t tried that sort of character before,’ or ‘I’d like to work with that director’, and so things that other people rejected I saw an opportunity in. A director friend of mine said to me, you’ve got to stop taking small roles, you’re a leading lady … But I think it was just having the presence of mind to just follow my nose a little bit. And not try and get anywhere – I think there’s a certain way to develop a career and some people get onto a treadmill very quickly and unthinkingly. And that may suit them. But I’m certainly glad that I meandered, and will probably continue to do so. For everything you say yes to, there’s a hundred things that you have to say no to for one reason or another …”
Blanchett’s recent work for an art installation, Manifesto, directed by Julian Rosefeldt, was another unconventional choice, pushing the actress to take on 13 different characters in a very short space of time. “It was all challenging but especially the rapidity with which we shot: we filmed it all in about ten days and we had a day to work out what all the looks were going to be, and then there was so much text to learn. Every night I’d go home and have to adopt a new voice – it was literally like doing stand-up; there was no time to prepare, you just had to do it. And I loved the instinctual responses to it. All of it was daunting, but you know when you’ve got a huge task, there’s no time to be frightened. And I love being so outside my comfort zone. When the challenge is so enormous, you just have to throw yourself at it. It was very intense, but also hilarious.” Originally created to be shown in a museum, it was shown at the London Film Festival last month and will be at Sundance in January.
When you have won two Oscars (for playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, and for the troubled Blanche DuBois-inspired lead in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine), as Blanchett has, and juggled a family too, ambitions take on a new focus. Having adopted a daughter two years ago, and with three sons aged under 15, it’s fair to say Blanchett has her hands full before even reading a script. “You know the thing I really want to do? It’s to not act for a while – that’s what I really want to do. I really want to do some other things. I relished producing at the Sydney Theatre Company, and I think I’d really like to do more of that.” All her various recent work has taken its toll. “I have the most woefully large stack of books that have been a quarter finished, or almost attempted … and that’s part of why I really need to take a year. I think my brain and my heartbeat are operating at such a rapid rate at the moment, I just want it to slow down so I can think better, actually, and absorb more.”
Blanchett originally considered a career in the arts. “I was studying fine arts and economics and I thought I wanted to go into the visual arts, into curation. But this is a vocation, so I’m just grateful that I’ve lasted the distance, I suppose, and got a bit better at it, because you only get a bit better at it by doing it. You can be the most extraordinary violinist, but if you don’t get the chance to play, you don’t grow.” Art is still a passion, and Blanchett catches exhibitions when she can. “Recently I was filming in Pittsburg, and went to the Andy Warhol museum. I loved the top floor with all the video work and just sat there for hours watching it,” she enthuses. “Looking at his formative art school work and learning that he painted Russian icons when he was at college makes such sense, in that he went on to paint cinematic and social icons and objects – that was profoundly illuminating. Also they had this really interesting gallery there called the Mattress Factory, which had a lot of installations, including works by Sarah Oppenheimer; I think she’s a fantastic sculptor. And I saw the [Japanese artist] Yayoi Kusama retrospective in Seattle, which was fantastic.”
For all her longing for some time off, Blanchett is already attached to a Lucille Ball biopic, written by Aaron Sorkin – and she has so much more to say. “Time is short, so I like life to be rich as full as possible.” Meanwhile, I’m off to look for a houndstooth trouser suit …
Giorgio Armani Sì Nacre Sparkling Limited Edition fragrance is available nationwide, from €87.
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