Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett has earned a reputation for challenging roles — from screen legend Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator” to the iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.”
In her latest film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the 39-year-old Australian star portrays a dancer at several stages of life as her character, named Daisy, ages more than 80 years on screen.
She spoke to Reuters about her penchant for taking risks as a performer and the experiences she drew on for her work in the film, which co-stars Brad Pitt and earned five Golden Globe nominations.
Q. You seem to go out of your way to tackle tough, demanding roles. Have you always been an adrenaline junkie?
A. “I guess I must be. I trained to work in the theater, which is the ultimate adrenaline-junkie job. You go out every night and risk having egg on your face in front of 400 to 800 people. ... It’s taken me a long time to get used to being watched by the camera. And I think that the more I do, the less self-conscious I’ve gotten.
“Every job I take, I think, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to lose.’ And I think the more you do, the more important it is to say that, because you can think somehow that you’re protecting your position and your reputation, and that way lies really minuscule choices. But I’ve also been lucky that people have asked me to do the bizarre and the unusual.“
Q. You’re not a dancer by trade, but is it true that you had some childhood dance instruction?
A. “Yeah, I studied ballet, but also in drama school the most powerful training for me was the movement training. And look, if I had my way over again, I’d be a Butoh dancer (contemporary dance form originating in Japan), or I’d desperately try and finagle my way into working with (modern dance choreographer) ‘Pina’ Bausch. So, (in “Benjamin Button”) I worked with Michelle Johnston, who was the choreographer.“
Q. You obviously poured a great deal of yourself and your craft into the portrayal of an elderly character, so what experiences shaped your performance?
A. “I was very fortunate to grow up in a household with three generations, you know, my mother and my grandmother, and my grandmother had a huge influence on me, and I was around her as she got frailer and frailer.
“My first job (at age 14) was in an old-folks home. ... The cook would have prepared the meal, and I had to dish it all up and take it around to the guys, have little chat with them ... and I’d have to clean it up after them and put everything away. I did that five days a week for a couple years, and it was the most amazing job. ... My father died when I was 10, and even though as a child you somehow assimilate that loss, I think it was obviously much harder for my mother, it still must affect you in some way. It must frame your sense of life and death.”
Q. Has playing an older person forced you to reflect on aging and death?
A. “A role provides you with an opportunity to look at the seething mass of humanity in a different way, and certainly, I ... really focused on what it means to get older. ... Everyone ages in a really different way. Some people rage, rage against the dying of the light, and some people embrace it. And people age according to how their lives have been physically. And so I really had to think about the fact that Daisy was a dancer and so how would she age? And how would she treat her aging? I thought, well, she’ll always wear makeup, and she won’t let her hair go, and that her injuries will come back to haunt her later in life, hence the stick (a cane), and I have a slight limp. A limp and a stick often help a character sink in.”
Q. This is your second film with Brad Pitt after co-starring with him in “Babel.” Is there anything noteworthy about working with him that the moviegoer might be interested in knowing?
A. “He is unbelievably committed to what he does. ... In both films, there’s been a sense that he’s asked really difficult questions of the film before he’s committed, and he sort of tends to be, I suppose from the outside, a little bit reticent to jump in. But that’s only because he wants to know if he’s going to commit 100 percent, he wants to know that the film’s going to be as committed as he is. And so I really admire him for that. He’s really tireless.”