Cate Blanchett begins our conversation perfectly in character: by complimenting another woman.
The two-time Oscar winner had just seen Hostiles the night before, when it opened the 14th Dubai International Film Festival. The tense period western has garnered buzz due to a lead performance from Christian Bale. But Blanchett, poised with her finger to her mouth, says, “Rosamund was amazing, wasn’t she?”
She means Rosamund Pike, of course, Bale’s co-star and actress extraordinaire.
Later, Blanchett returns to this: women supporting women is the most exciting and profound change she’s seen in Hollywood. Pitted against one another for so long, “we’ve been seeing each other as competitors rather than collaborators.”
The Australian actress, who stars in the upcoming Ocean’s 8 with an all-female cast, further delved into the importance of dismantling the ‘casting couch’ mentality in the film industry (i.e. exchanging sexual favours for employment opportunities) — and what it was like to turn into a super villain for the big screen.
We just saw you in Thor: Ragnarok. What was it like to play a villain — and an all-powerful one at that?
It was fascinating for me, I think, because there’s so much post-process in it. It’s the equivalent of acting to a tennis ball, but obviously the tennis ball happens to be Chris [Hemsworth]. Working with [director] Taika Waititi was great — I didn’t get to work with Mark Ruffalo unfortunately, who I love — but it was Taika’s vision that was really interesting to me. Being part of a superhero universe, you get to speak to a really different audience. Having gone to comic con — I didn’t go the first time around with the Lord of the Rings, but I went with the Hobbit. And those people completely own the genre.
Have you seen fan reactions to your character on Twitter? They’re extreme.
No! But we went online, prior to shooting, and there were women doing Hela make-up. We took a lot of inspiration from that; she’s the goddess of death, so they did all these veins. It wasn’t a direction that Marvel were thinking of. Initially they just wanted me to have a headdress all the time, and we talked about she would look like without the headdress. What I loved about Marvel and Taika was they were really open to that.
You’ve always been a proponent of women in Hollywood...
Well, I am one.
What are your thoughts on the state of affairs in Hollywood today?
The creative industries are always going to deal with doubt. They’re always examining themselves because their job is to examine the world around them. The example that we’re setting is going to be — and has to be — a positive one. Because we’re not the only industry that has unequal pay for equal work. And we’re not the only industry where women are not given the same level of opportunities, where there’s an equivalent of a casting couch. It’s in a lot of industries and I hope that other industries will follow suit. I feel hopeful.
Ocean’s 8 is a great example of that. How was it like working with such a big cast?
In the end for me, the result was immaterial. It was the opportunity to hang out and work with all these women. I’ve long loved Helena [Bonham Carter], for instance. We’d been in Cinderella but we didn’t get to do anything together. I just adore her. And Sarah [Paulson], and finally getting to work with Sandy [Sandra Bullock] and with Annie [Anne Hathaway]. And you know, meeting Nora [Lum] and Mindy [Kaling], who I didn’t know at all, and Rih Rih [Rihanna], who is such a firebrand. What she’s done in the music industry, of course, is incomparable, but also with her new beauty line — she’s a really, really interesting person. It was a game-changer for me.
Do you think you’ve made that movie, Ocean’s 8, your own?
Oh, I haven’t seen it. I don’t know. Gary Ross was directing it — he’s in the editing room at the moment and I haven’t spoken to him, so I hope it’s gonna be great. But what was great and will continue to be great was the relationship with those women.
You’ve won several awards over the span of your career. Is there one you hold closest to your heart?
I think the Order of Australia that I received recently for my perceived contribution to cultural life in Australia was a pretty profound one for me. I’ve received several honorary doctorates. They meant an incredible amount to me.
You’ve portrayed iconic characters in the past, like Katharine Hepburn and Queen Elizabeth I of England.
But it depends who’s looking at you. You can act your socks off in the best screenplay ever written, but if the director is disinterested, if you don’t have a great cinematographer, if you’re not working with an amazing focus-puller and other actors who are engaged… It’s a conversation. I was really fortunate that Shekhar Kapur [director of Elizabeth] believed in me and was interested in what I had to offer.
When you were starting out, did you ever suffer imposter syndrome?
I think the imposter syndrome gets worse.
Oh, yeah. Definitely. You’ve got nothing to lose, in a way. And you’ve got no time to be frightened. The more that’s expected of you, the harder it is to put those expectations aside and continue to risk trying new things and failing. That space becomes more difficult, I think.
I heard you recently moved to the country. Is that a necessary move in order to get away from the noise? Or do you like city life just as much?
I do. But my husband’s a writer. To find a bit of quiet is difficult, not only with how busy our lives are, but how busy cities are and how noisy the 24-hour news cycle is. It’s also for our children. We both grew up riding our bikes around neighbourhoods with a bit of benign neglect from our parents, and it’s really hard to find that space now because we all keep one another under surveillance. It’s really great to be in places that don’t have WiFi.
What’s your favourite part of living in the country?
Probably the pigs and the chickens. But also, we’re undertaking constructing a garden, which has been so… You have to be very humble and very patient. You can’t plant certain things until the next seasons. Sometimes your so-called crops will fail. It’s about learning patience.
This is your third time at Diff. What keeps you coming back?
Chairing the IWC Filmmakers jury the first time [where four Gulf directors compete for partial funding], I just found the submissions really interesting and diverse. Film is not only a temporal medium but it’s a mirror that a society holds up to itself. What it chooses to examine and how it chooses to examine it.
*Diff runs until December 13 at Madinat Jumeirah.