Cate Blanchett is one of the greatest actresses of the modern era, with several dozen awards to her name and acclaimed performances ranging from Queen Elizabeth I to Blanche DuBois.In a rare interview at her home in Sussex, she talks to Lydia Slater about baking and Brexit, gardening and growing older, Me Too, motherhood, and more ...
Hollywood is overflowing with outsize personalities who, whatever their role, are always really playing themselves. But those actors who truly excel at their craft, so that they become the characters they play, are essentially elusive. These professional chameleons are naturally wary of revealing too much about their lives, in case the knowledge jeopardises their ability to convince on screen. Cate Blanchett is a perfect example, a modern Garbo. Despite her global celebrity, one knows so little about her. Where does she live, even? How many children does she have? What are her politics? You can’t even draw any conclusions from her roles; she segues effortlessly from children’s films, such as Cinderella, to brilliant arthouse dramas like Blue Jasmine and Carol, to populist blockbusters including The Lord of the Rings, Thor: Ragnarok, or her latest outing as a motorbike-mad conwoman in Ocean’s 8. The only consistency is that Blanchett is the best thing about the film she’s in; the silver-screen icon herself remains deliberately remote.
So I’m truly astonished when our prearranged, safely anonymous encounter at the South Bank is cancelled, and an alternative invitation extended for lunch at her family home in East Sussex.
When I arrive, on one of the hot summer’s hotter days, it is to find the place a hive of activity. Workmen are clambering over the scaffolding that covers the large period house, and the family dogs—a black labrador and a heavy-breathing pug called Doug—offer an enthusiastic welcome. I am led to a book-filled study, painted in a chic dark grey and adorned with numerous family photos. After I’ve been waiting for a quarter of an hour or so, Blanchett rushes in from the nursery-school run, dressed in jeans and slip-on shoes, full of apologies.
Here’s the first surprise: I have mentally prepared myself for an ice queen, a real-life Galadriel, but the porcelain skin and feline features are misleading. In the flesh, Blanchett is warm and friendly, calling out greetings in her deep, Australian-accented voice, joshing the housekeeper, introducing me to her husband, screenwriter and director Andrew Upton.
“I thought we’d have a picnic,” Blanchett suggests, leading the way out of the front door and across the sun-bleached lawn down towards a small lake. In the centre of it is a tiny island, about 20 feet across, accessed by a wooden bridge. A table covered in white cloth has been set up here in the shade of a tall pine tree twined with last Christmas’ fairy lights. We sit down to homemade quiches and plates of ham and cheese, while Doug snuffles greedily at our feet. “I never drink wine at lunchtime,” jokes Blanchett, pouring out glasses of iced rosé.
What follows feels less like an interview than a cosy chat with an intelligent friend; our conversation ranges seamlessly from the joys of north London, where we have both lived, to the World Cup—“I have never, ever cared about soccer more than this year”—to Brexit. “The rage I feel at the lazy incompetence of the men who set this in motion!” she expostulates. “Whichever way you voted, you cannot but be disappointed in the way the architects of Brexit have behaved.”
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