Cate Blanchett honored with Outstanding Performer of the Year Award at 38th Santa Barbara International Film Festival [VIDEO]
In the first sold-out event of the 38th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival last night, actor Cate Blanchett was honored with the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award. Blanchett was warmly welcomed by the adoring crowd at the historic Arlington Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara, as she sat down with Hollywood Reporter film reporter Scott Feinberg for a comprehensive discussion of her career, leading up to her latest film, TÁR, for which she is currently Oscar-nominated for Best Actress. After the conversation, which lasted for about forty-five minutes, TÁR director Todd Field presented Blanchett with the award, which Blanchett received with visible emotion.
Here are some highlights of the evening.
Similar to Angela Bassett, who was honored the previous night, Blanchett went to school to study something other than acting, believing it wasn’t practical to imagine a career in performing. “It wasn’t something you earned a living from.” But then, after having performed in many plays while studying Fine Arts and Economics in Melbourne, she said “someone who didn’t like me suggested I go to drama school, so I left.”
Blanchett was quick to note that she fell in love with live theatre at an early age and it’s still where she’s the happiest. “I feel most free when I’m on stage.” Because of the way Field worked on TÁR, in a very freeing way, she said shooting TÁR felt like “a homecoming,” because it reminded her of being on stage.
One of Blanchett’s early jobs while being an unemployed actor was to serve as a reader for a casting agent. She said it proved invaluable, because she learned as a young actor how, often, parts are cast for reasons other than skill. It proved to be an invaluable lesson early in her career, and she knows now that, “if you can get through the audition, you can do the role.”
Her breakthrough in Hollywood came when Gillian Anderson, the director of Oscar and Lucinda (1997), insisted on casting an Australian actress in the lead, opposite Ralph Fiennes, and a casting director who was looking for the lead for the film Elizabeth (1998) saw Blanchett on stage as Nina in The Seagull and thought she’d be good as the virgin Queen.
Blanchett’s performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth drew raves and worldwide acclaim for Blanchett, but she was “a deer caught in headlights” during the promotional whirlwind for the film, which included famous film festivals. “I didn’t even know there was a festival in Venice. I had nothing to wear.”
After Elizabeth, for which Blanchett was nominated for her first Oscar for Best Actress, she says many scripts came in, “they all had a lot of lines, but they were all the same character, just in different costumes.” She wasn’t looking to do the same thing again, which is why she chose a small role in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). She took a moment to call out the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom she worked with on that film, calling him brilliant and wonderful.
She called her film Pushing Tin (1999), about air traffic controllers, a “scary movie,” and admitted that she didn’t fly for a while after making it.
Feinberg noted that, in her career, Blanchett had taken a couple breaks from Hollywood to return to Australia to do theatre. She notes that she “is fortunate to work between two mediums” and that the structure of the theater proscenium has taught her how to work in the frame of a film screen. Theatre has also taught her how to be intimate with an audience, even in a large theatre, which proved invaluable for her film work.
People tried to talk her out of taking the role of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, telling her, “you don’t want to go to New Zealand to play an elf.” But she responded, “but it’s Peter Jackson!” Despite the fact that the main cast worked for over two years on the trilogy, Blanchett shot her part in just twenty-one days.
Of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Blanchett noted, “everyone takes for granted what a risk that was.”
Blanchett loved working with Jackson on the trilogy so much she said she “stalked Peter to be in The Hobbit.” It worked, because she appears in all three of The Hobbit films.
She was a bit intimidated to play Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), for which she won her first Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress. “It’s a huge responsibility to take on an icon IN THE MEDIUM for which they are famous for.” While Hepburn was alive when Blanchett was cast, she passed away before filming began, news Blanchett learned from a newspaper in the airport as she was flying to begin shooting.
When Scorsese offered her the role of Hepburn, Blanchett said “I got the knee sweats.” She admitted she also had a panic attack, wondering how she was going to pull it off.
Blanchett cites Ron Howard’s film The Missing (2003) as one of her most favorite experiences ever making a film. She loved shooting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with memories of her young child playing in the snow, and she loved working with Tommy Lee Jones.
Working with Judi Dench and Bill Nighy on Notes on a Scandal (2006) was the prime reason she took the role. She called out Nighy, encouraging the audience to see his latest film, Living, for which he is nominated for Best Actor this year.
As for Dench, Blanchett calls her “fantastic and wicked,” relaying how she would encourage Blanchett to “just go for it.”
The night’s biggest laugh came following a clip from Notes on a Scandal, in which Blanchett’s character is angrily screaming at Dench’s character, and violently throws her up against a cabinet at the end of the scene. After the clip ended, Blanchett sat in silence, with a sheepish look on her face, then looked out at the audience and reminded them, “She’d been REALLY mean to my character, just so you know.”
Blanchett was prepping to play Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There (2007) while she was filming Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). She noted how she’d be sitting in her corset during lunch, poring over Dylan concert footage, which was surreal. She also had to lose a lot of weight to play Dylan, so she kept getting thinner and thinner during the shoot of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, something she says you can notice if you go back and watch the film.
She literally finished shooting Elizabeth: The Golden Age on a Friday and started filming I’m Not There the following Monday.
On playing Dylan, Blanchett noted, “I was never more liberated.” Playing a man, she noted, “I could launch myself into it because I would never look like him.”
On her small role in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Babel (2006), she said it’s not the size of the role, but the vision of the film that drew her in.
In 2008, Blanchett took another hiatus from Hollywood to return to Australia, where she and her husband, Andrew Upton, became Artistic Directors of the Sydney Theatre Company. “It was a life-changing decision.” She said they were getting pulled back to Australia, which she calls “a magical place.”
The production of Streetcar Named Desire, which was produced by her theatre company and directed by Liv Ullmann, was an international sensation, and her performance as Blanche DuBois drew universal acclaim. Blanchett acknowledges that what was most exciting about her first role back in Hollywood, in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013), was the echo of Blanche in her role of Jasmine in the film, as Blanche was “viscerally inside me,” which excited her. Even though Allen “wouldn’t talk about Streetcar at all,” she felt the many parallels in the characters.
When asked about the ending of Carol (2015), Blanchett warmly admits, “it’s a lesson in ambiguity.” She added, “we knew it had to be incredibly full of possibility. The road wasn’t going to be easy, but it was open.”
Asked about what made her accept the role of controversial anti-feminist political figure Phyllis Schlafly in the television series Mrs. America (2020), Blanchett admitted, “I have such eclectic taste.” She also stood up for her choice of playing a character with decidedly opposite beliefs than her own, noting “I find it tragic that women are being divided along political lines that are often drawn, generationally, by men.” She wants instead to find the points of connection. She wants the characters to be seen, warts and all.
She was lucky to have finished her role in Nightmare Alley (2021) right before the pandemic. She wasn’t as lucky with Don’t Look Up (2021), which was shot right in the middle of it. “Do your own makeup, bring your own wig.”
About her current film, TÁR, she calls it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, noting writer/director Field came in “guns blazing.” She notes his films are so deeply human, he puts you “in a state of cohesive being, then pulls the rug out from under you.”
She claims she was “absolutely terrified” to attempt to conduct a real orchestra. But then a friend told her to just plant herself and work from her core, which she says is what she does with acting, it calmed her nerves a bit. But she found her best trick for finding her way to conducting was to put on her tightest pair of jeans for rehearsal, which she now calls her “Tár jeans,” which forced her to suck in her gut and stand up straighter.
About her character in TÁR, Lydia, she acknowledges “her greatest performance is herself.” Because she’s a woman in a male-dominated field, “she had to manufacture herself in order to make the space and access to create the music she loves.”
Blanchett notes the film is “a fairy tale” because there are no women currently conducting any major symphonies in the world.
As for all the speculation about what the film is about and its message, Blanchett notes, “there is no right or wrong way to see the film.”
When Field came on stage to present Blanchett with her award, he gave a moving, heartfelt tribute to Blanchett which caused her to be visibly moved, even bringing her to tears as he cited her humanitarian and activist work that she does on behalf of climate change and bringing attention to genocide, in addition to being one of the best actors on the planet. “How lucky we are to be living in a time when Cate Blanchett walks the earth for a common good.”
Upon accepting the award, Blanchett thanked Field, saying she has been “profoundly changed” by TÁR, which “consumed me whole and spit me out, and I have no idea where I am now.”
Blanchett begged the audience to remember, when watching a film, to not ask whether you like it or not, but to try to see what they are trying to do with it, which is the most important thing.
Watch the complete event below.
Photos: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF