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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Cate Blanchett - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
The term Meteoric is often used to describe the career paths of film actors. It's usually inaccurate, ignoring a plethora of dodgy TV shows and unwatchable B-movies made while the subject gradually and painfully learned their craft. With Cate Blanchett, though, Meteoric is absolutely on the nail. Within a mere two years of her feature debut, she had become one of the most sought-after actresses in the world. More importantly perhaps, she is already one of the most compelling, convincing and adaptable players of the last 30 years, matching the celestial standards set by the holy trinity of Streep, Pfeiffer and Lange.
She was born Catherine Elise Blanchett on the 14th of May, 1969, at the Jessie McPherson Hospital in Melbourne (popularly known as the Jessie Mac, now - like so many hospitals - a vacant lot). Her father, Bob, was a Texan and ex-US Navy man who'd met Cate's mother, a teacher named June, and moved into advertising in Melbourne. There were two siblings: older brother Bob, now in computers, and younger sister Genevieve, a theatre designer. Cate claims there's some French ancestry in there somewhere, one antecedent being Louis Bleriot, the first aviator to fly across the English Channel. Or La Manche, depending on how you look at it.
As a kid, Cate recalls herself as "part extrovert, part wallflower". The extrovert part was fuelled early when, at a friend's birthday party at age 6, she was hugely impressed by a magician and began to dream of life as a performer. Her parents encouraged her, particularly in the field of music. She has an abiding love of classical music, even now guesting regularly on ABC Classic FM radio in Sydney, both playing and discussing.
The biggest event of her young life was a terribly sad one, her father dying of a heart attack when she was just 10. "The day dad died", she said in Joan Sauer's Brothers And Sisters "I was playing the piano and he walked past the window and I waved goodbye . . . and he died. After that I thought I would have to kiss everybody goodbye before I left the house. It was like I had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'd just be going down the street to get some milk, and I'd do it. If I had to come back in the house because I'd forgotten something, I'd have to go through the whole ritual again". At the hospital, she was left in a room with one of her dad's co-workers who told the kids "This is going to be a very, very hard time for your mother. You have to be very, very good". Cate believes that this "framed my whole relationship with the family". Crucially, it also made her a perfectionist.
So, dreaming of living in a haunted house, so she might meet her father again, young Cate was raised by the brave and resourceful June, and began to pursue drama. Attending Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College, she became the school drama captain, appearing in many shows, including The Odyssey Of Runyon Jones, and even directing her fellow students in a production of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? From here, she moved on to Melbourne University to study Fine Arts and Economics, but left to travel, hoping to gain experience before deciding upon a career.
Visiting England, she was forced to leave when her visa expired, and she moved on to Egypt. Here she was spotted by a fellow-guest in her cheap hotel and asked to appear as an extra in an Egyptian boxing movie. She didn't enjoy it but she needed the money. Acting, it seemed, was not something she could escape. Coming to realise that actors have the power to genuinely move people, she chose to take to the boards.
Returning to Melbourne, she enrolled at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. She was an outstanding student, quickly rising to prominence. In her final year (she graduated in 1992), she starred in a production of Sophocles' Electra and made one very important fan. Her drama teacher and director, Lindy Davies, was then sharing a house with another actor, Geoffrey Rush, and urged him to come see this "astonishing young woman". He did, she was, and he didn't forget.
After NIDA, Cate joined the Sydney Theatre Company for a production of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, then moved on to play bride Felice Bauer in Timothy Daly's Kafka Dances. Her spectacular work was noted immediately as she won the Best Newcomer of 1993 Award from the Sydney Theatre Critics Circle. Keen to challenge herself in a wide variety of roles, she next played Carol in David Mamet's controversial and demanding Oleanna, where a university professor is accused of sexual harassment by a student. Initially believing the play to be "a misogynist piece of crap", she did it because it made her so angry - moving people was, after all, what she wanted to do. It worked. Cate was named Best Actress, becoming the first to ever win Best Newcomer and Best Actress in the same year.
In the meantime, there were screen roles too. After a couple of TV appearances, she took on Heartland. Here the mysterious death of an Aborigine girl in a small coastal town brought bigotry into the spotlight. As divorcee Beth Ashton, conducting an affairwith an Aborigine Liaison Officer (played by Ernie Dingo), Cate stirred up all manner of controversy. But she was wildly acclaimed for her performance, and Heartland was described as ABC's "most significant production to date". Next came another well-received role, in the shortlived series Bordertown, set in a 1950's migrant camp peopled by European immigrants.
Despite this TV success, Cate continued onstage. Having starred with her in Oleanna, Geoffrey Rush made her his Ophelia in a production of Hamlet by his Belvoir Street Theatre Company - another critically lauded effort. Then, always stretching herself into crazily different characters, she was Helen in Sweet Phoebe, Miranda in The Tempest, and Rose in The Blind Giant Is Dancing. Next came a short feature film, Parklands, where a woman returns home after the death of her ex-cop father and discovers, through his diaries and the testimony of others, that he may have been corrupt - throwing all her memories into painful disarray. The role of Rosie was exceptionally demanding and emotionally fraught and writer and director Kathryn Millard, who'd worked on the script for five years, thought Cate the only one to play it.
Now came the movies, and a series of roles that catapulted Cate to stardom. She made her debut in Paradise Road, directed by Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy) and starring Glenn Close and Frances McDormand, as one of a group of women imprisoned by the Japanese in Sumatra in WW2. Then came the strange, comic Thank God He Met Lizzie, where a fellow marries Cate then wanders round his wedding reception dreaming about the time he spent with his ex, played by Frances O'Connor (star of AI, and another Australian success story). The director, Cherie Nowlan, had had her eye on Cate for some time, having spotted her in Kafka Dances. "I couldn't stop looking at her," Nowlan later recalled. "She'd covered her face in white pancake makeup, but I could see that underneath she was very beautiful. It was a performance from a pretty original, unusual actor. And, like everyone else, I thought 'This girl will go off - it's just a matter of time'."
She was right. Not only did Cate's efforts win her awards from the Australian Film Critics Circle and the Australian Film Institute, but she now stepped up a gear. Director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Little Women) wanted Cate to star alongside Ralph Fiennes in her production of Peter Carey's classic novel Oscar and Lucinda, but the producers weren't keen. With Fiennes playing a renegade priest, questioning his faith and transporting a glass church into the Outback, the film would be expensive and they believed a name (read American) actress was needed. Thankfully, by showing them Cate's performance in Paradise Road, Armstrong won them over, and Cate became Lucinda Leplastrier, the Australian heiress trying to liberate women from a male-dominated society.
Lucinda was an apt role for Blanchett. Sensitive and respectful (and raised by her mother), she's keenly interested in equality for women, doing much work for women's (and children's) causes. In 1999, she would perform in a charity performance of The Vagina Monologues at the Old Vic, alongside Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore, Melanie Griffith and Gillian Anderson. She'd also appear in The Man Who Cried, directed by Sally Potter, of Orlando fame, and would work again with Armstrong, in Charlotte Gray.
But first she would play one of the world's most intimidating "strong" women, taking the lead in Elizabeth. Shaving her forehead for just the right look, she was simply superb as the Virgin Queen, somehow managing to portray her both as an innocent young girl and as a stern and ruthless monarch. She also completed a notable double by playing the lover of Ralph Fiennes brother, Joseph (as Dudley). The film was a roaring success. Cate was Oscar-nominated - though she was outrageously pipped by Gwyneth Paltrow - and won both a BAFTA and Golden Globe, her friend and co-star Geoffrey Rush also picking up a BAFTA as ER's Chief Assassin.
Rush had an interesting point to make about what Cate did next. Refusing to take big starring roles, she instead joined a series of excellent ensembles, prompting Rush to say "It suggests that she's laying down a long-term plan to be an actress, not a star". First came Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, where she played the beleaguered wife of Jeremy Northam. Then there was Pushing Tin, where Cate was radically different again. Playing the wife of hot-headed air traffic controller John Cusack, she got herself up in tight pants, gold bracelets and big hair - more Dolly Parton than Elizabeth I - even sporting a special bra for that big-breasted look. After this came The Talented Mr Ripley. Director Anthony Minghella really wanted her for the part of a girl who falls for Matt Damon's sinister lead (literally a copycat killer), but thought she'd refuse a part so small. Liking the script, she took it anyway and, once she had, Minghella extended the role to make better use of her.
The parts just got weirder and wilder. In The Man Who Cried she was a Russian cabaret dancer, and engaged in her first serious onscreen love scene. Unusually (of course), this was with John Turturro. In The Gift, written by her Pushing Tin co-star Billy Bob Thornton, she was sweet psychic Annie Wilson, drawn into a murder case and taking an almighty punch from redneck nut-job Keanu Reeves. Then she starred alongside Thornton once again, as Kate Wheeler, a girl kidnapped by bank robbers Billy Bob and Bruce Willis - and winning both their hearts - in the comedy thriller Bandits.
Her home life was peachy too. In 1997, while playing Nina in Chekov's The Seagull, she met screenwriter and continuity editor Andrew Upton (he'd actually worked on one of her productions before - Thank God He Met Lizzie). It nearly never started. "He thought I was aloof," she later said "and I thought he was arrogant. But once he kissed me, that was that. It just shows how wrong you can be . . . I was, and am, swept away". Later, she would say she'd also been impressed by his passion for the Russian novelist Turgenev. The pair married, in the Blue Mountains National Park of New South Wales, just before Cate left to film Elizabeth. She missed him sorely, director Shekhar Kapur noting that Upton was "very, very stabilising" for her, lending her the confidence she needed to perform. In summer 1999, after appearing on the London stage as the frustrated and unstable Susan Traherne in David Hare's Plenty, she played a soused housewife in Andrew's short Bangers. Andrew would move on to translate and adapt Cyrano de Bergerac for the Sydney Theatre Company, set design courtesy of Genevieve Blanchett. He and Cate would live for a while in a beachside apartment in Sydney (usually rented out while they travelled for work), then move to north London, and then down to the south coast, taking a place on Hove seafront. By this time Cate would have given birth to a son, Dashiell, named after the crime writer Hammett.
After Bandits, she would enjoy her biggest ever hit (actually, anyone's biggest ever hit) when she appeared as the elf queen Galadriel in Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy. She was perfect for the role with her pale, luminous beauty yet this was probably her least challenging part. Tougher was Charlotte Gray, an adaptation of Sebastian Faulks bestseller where she played a young Scot who joins the French resistance to save her RAF boyfriend who's been shot down over France. It was a tight movie, but strangely passionless. The passion, it seems, was saved for nights off, Blanchett conceiving Dashiell during filming (not literally while she was being filmed, you understand, though that would surely have made for a popular DVD extra).
At $27 million, Charlotte Gray was the most expensive British film ever made. But, making just $3 million in the UK and only $700,000 in the States, it was a painful failure. Blanchett, though, had delivered another sterling performance and remained untainted by the disaster. She moved on to The Shipping News, based on another bestseller, this time by E. Annie Proulx. Here she'd appear as Petal Bear, as the name suggests a bohemian star-child, who engages in a one-night stand with Kevin Spacey and, falling pregnant, is consequently trapped in unhappy conformity. For Spacey, though, it's love and, when Petal is killed in an accident, he takes the child off to Newfoundland to find a new life among such kicking thespians as Judi Dench and Julianne Moore.
Cate remained in classy company with Heaven, directed by Tom "Run Lola Run" Tykwer from a Kieslowski script - after his Decalog and Three Colours, Kieslowski had intended to film a trilogy comprising Heaven, Purgatory and Hell but unfortunately died before he could really begin. Heaven saw Blanchett as an English teacher in Turin who sees her husband and several students destroyed by drugs. Identifying the drug baron behind this chaos, she seeks revenge by planting a bomb in his office, only to kill four innocents. The grief, rage and horror she exhibited were awesome and it was no wonder that Giovanni Ribisi's police translator (Ribisi having earlier played her doomed patient in The Gift) should fall for her and try to help her escape.
2003 would see her battling drug-lords again, in Veronica Guerin, with Cate as the titular Irish journalist who embarks on a campaign against Dublin's major dealers. Directed by Joel Schumacher, the film opened with Guerin's assassination (the real-life Guerin was shot dead in 1996) and then retraced her path to this sorry point. Once again, Cate delivered the goods, portraying Guerin not as some spotless do-gooder but as a real woman - fighting the good fight but still stubborn, egocentric and carried away by her own fame.
This would be followed by another low-budget art piece in Coffee And Cigarettes, a series of vignettes Jim Jarmusch had begun filming back in 1986, which mostly involved characters discussing the likes of movies, art, Paris and alternative medicine over a brew and a snout. Cate would appear in a double role, as a svelte actress and her own gawky, trailer-trash cousin. Other episodes would star Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi and Jarmusch favourite Tom Waits.
Such was her kudos, though, that she could not stay away from big productions for too long. Next up was The Missing, where director Ron Howard made an attempt at a classic Western. Here Cate played frontier rancher and devout Christian Maggie Gilkeson, who's bringing up two daughters on the high plains of New Mexico in the late 1800s. When the ex who deserted her (Tommy Lee Jones) shows up looking for forgiveness, she kicks him out, but turns to him once again when one of the kids is kidnapped by Indians, their cruel intention being to sell her as a whore in Mexico. So Blanchett, Jones and the younger child must give chase.
Though well-filmed and performed, it was hardly believable stuff - a woman and child and drunk outwitting a gang of cut-throat renegades schooled in outback life. Audiences reacted well but The Missing suffered somewhat beside Open Range, Kevin Costner's return to Western form. Blanchett moved on to The Life Aquatic, directed by Wes Anderson, on a high after the success of The Royal Tenenbaums. This was the tale of a Jacques Cousteau-style documentary maker (Bill Murray again) who enjoys a series of wild adventures with his formerly estranged son (Owen Wilson), tracking down a rare shark who killed his crew-mate. Cate would play a pregnant journalist onboard to research a profile on Murray, and would become the object of both Murray and Wilson's affections. For her pregnancy scenes she was fitted with a prosthetic belly. After fainting one day, she would discover that she actually was pregnant with her second child. The news would cause her to drop out of Mike Nichols' production of Patrick Marber's hit play Closer. The child, Roman Robert, would be born in April 2004.
No matter, there was still more to come. Blanchett would next be seen in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, a biopic of Howard Hughes, leading from his time as a budding film director through to his wacky post-WW2 heyday. Stepping in for Nicole Kidman who was contracted to a remake of The Stepford Wives, Cate would face the challenge of delivering a believable Katherine Hepburn (one of Hughes' belles), with Kate Beckinsale taking on Ava Gardner and rock singer Gwen Stefani trying Jean Harlow. Clearly the glamorous, cultured, forceful and massively idiosyncratic Hepburn was the tougher task, and Blanchett did a magnificent job, showing Hepburn as both girlish and mannered, artistic and business-minded, strict and loving. One of the movie's finest scenes involves her breaking up with Leonardo DiCaprio's Hughes, delivering a clearly practised speech with strained bonhomie. Told by Hughes to stop acting, she immediately deflates, recognising his anger and pain but socially conditioned to over-ride any unpleasantness with smart repartee. Deservedly, Cate would find herself Oscar-nominated for the second time. This time she'd win, as Best Supporting Actress.
Off-screen, she'd concentrate on her family, moving from Islington down to the Kemp Town area of Brighton. 2003 would see her modelling clothes for Donna Karan, and the following year she'd become the face of the SK-II skincare range. Having been very vocal about the way women are tricked and cajoled into buying cosmetics, she was quick to point out that the Japanese creams she was endorsing were very different from most seemingly similar products.
Following this, she would return to Australia to film Little Fish, playing a recovering junkie in Sydney's Little Saigon area. Attempting to keep on the straight and narrow by starting her own business, her chances are severely reduced by the presence of her brother and ex-boyfriend, both of whom are dedicated to a life of crime. Her co-stars would include Sam Neill and Hugo Weaving, Weaving having appeared alongside her in The Blind Giant Is Dancing, The Lord Of the Rings and a 2004 run of Hedda Gabler for the Sydney Theatre Company, where she'd performed brilliantly as the titular heroine, a dangerous, insecure and powerful wrecking-ball. Along with Little Fish, 2005 would see the release of Stories Of Lost Souls. One segment, directed by Andrew Upton and filmed back in 1999, would be called Bangers and see Cate cooking sausages and mash for her mother, talking to her mum and cat about her life, and gradually slipping into breakdown.
2006 would be an extraordinary year, even by Blanchett's exalted standards, all three of her films being Oscar-nominated. First would come Babel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's searing analysis of humans under pressure. Its several stories would lead us all over the world, Blanchett and Brad Pitt appearing as tourists in Morocco, trying to get over the loss of a baby, with Blanchett being shot by shepherd kids and spending much of the movie writhing in agony. Next would come The Good German, Steven Soderbergh's black and white attempt to make a movie in the style of the 1940s (or, more accurately, to make a 1940s film). Here George Clooney would return to a bombed-out Berlin to cover a political conference and seek out the lover he lost in the war. This is Blanchett, now a prostitute seeing soldier Toby Maguire. Desperate and hugely glamorous, she leads Clooney into a web of murder and deceit as the city witnesses the genesis of the Cold War. The movie looked fantastic - dark, moody and beautifully lit - but was considered a failure.
The critics were far kinder to Blanchett's final film of 2006, Notes On A Scandal. Here she'd play a pottery teacher, married to older man Bill Nighy, who slips into an affair with a 15-year-old pupil. Matters are then massively complicated by Judi Dench, a spinster and fellow teacher fixated on Blanchett, who uses her discovery of the affair to terrible effect. Both Blanchett and Dench would find themselves Oscar-nominated for their efforts. In the meantime, having successfully taken the Sydney Theatre Company's treatment of Hedda Gabler to Brooklyn, New York, Blanchett and Upton would move their family back to Australia and continue their theatrical careers at the Sydney Theatre Company. December would see them put on a double-header, Upton directing David Mamet's one-act Reunion and Blanchett's making her directorial debut with Pinter's one-act A Kind Of Alaska where a woman would wake up from a 30-year coma. A brilliant set design would see water literally closing in around the main protagonist.
It would now be announced that Upton and Blanchett would take over the STC as artistic directors from January, 2008. The appointment caused a major furore, actor Colin Moody (who'd earlier appeared alongside Blanchett in Sweet Phoebe) going so far as to quit the STC, believing that the couple had got the job due to their celebrity rather than experience or proven directorial talent. Blanchett would win the critics over, though, in December, 2007, when directing the controversial Blackbird, by Scottish playwright David Harrower, where a young woman reappears in the life of a middle-aged man who had a sexual relationship with her when she was underage. Upton, too, would gain kudos when Philip Seymour Hoffman came on board to direct his play Riflemind. Blanchett and Upton would then duly take over the STC, Blanchett using her connections to score extra sponsorship from Armani. Their first productions would be David Hare's The Vertical Hour and a vivid Indian adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Blanchett was clearly at the peak of her powers. 2007 had been another exceptional year onscreen. She'd begun it with a pop-up cameo in the Brit comedy Hot Fuzz, playing the bemasked ex-girlfriend of Simon Pegg's rigorous cop. Then had come Todd Haynes' extraordinary I'm Not There, a film using several characters to represent differerent aspects of Bob Dylan's personality throughout his life and career. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Richard Gere would also play the singer, but Blanchett would stand out when representing him at the peak of his Sixties' fame, provocative, surly and sharp-tongued with a curly mop and shades. She'd win a Golden Globe for her performance, and be Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actress. Only Linda Hunt had before been nominated for playing a man.
Amazingly, she'd also be Oscar-nominated for her other release of 2007, the long-anticipated follow-up to Elizabeth, titled The Golden Age. Action-packed and rather cavalier in its approach to history, the film would see her threatened on all sides, facing the Spanish Armada, the challenge of Samantha Morton's Mary Stuart and her feelings for Clive Owen's swashbuckling Walter Raleigh. Her rage when he impregnates lady in waiting Abbie Cornish was something to behold. Only ten others actors had ever been nominated in both Academy Award categories before, Blanchett joining the esteemed likes of Sigourney Weaver (1988), Jessica Lange (1982), Holly Hunter (1993), Julianne Moore (2002) and Al Pacino (1992). She'd furthermore be only the fifth actor to be nominated twice for playing the same character in two different films, the others being Bing Crosby, Peter O'Toole, Paul Newman and, again, Pacino.
2008 would be testing. Aside from her work at the STC, she'd deliver a eulogy at the Perth funeral of her friend and former co-star Heath Ledger. She'd also give birth to a third child. Onscreen she'd hit new blockbusting heights with the long-awaited Indiana Jones sequel, The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, playing Irina Spalko, a Russian agent with a severe black bob and very sharp dagger, who menaces Harrison Ford's aging Indie. She'd also rejoin Babel co-star Brad Pitt in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, David Fincher's take on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story wherein a child is born as an old man and progressively grows younger.
The challenges and the glorious success will surely continue. Cate Blanchett has got her act together big-time. She doesn't like to talk about acting in terms of work, as she feels that destroys the feeling you need to have to do it well. And she refuses outright to play the star game. When told she'd been voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful Women In The World she said "Oh, good. I can rest easy then". She can only get bigger.