November 2003
The Missing: An Interview with Cate Blanchett

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

In the last few years, there have been a few actresses who have done nothing but have good roles to show their acting range and Cate Blanchett is one of them. From her early work in “Oscar and Lucinda” to her Best Actress Oscar nomination for “Elizabeth”, she continues to captivate your attention with every performance she’s given. From “Pushing Tin” to “Bandits”, Cate has shown the world that she can play just about any role. This year alone, she’s delivered two powerful performances. Most recently she played the titled character “Veronica Guerin” to critical acclaim, and now she’s coming out with another film, playing the role of a mother from the 1800s looking to find her kidnapped daughter with the help of her father, who she hasn’t seen since he left the family when she was a child. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Cate Blanchett talks about her character in “The Missing” and working along Tommy Lee Jones.


WM: Are you all business or do you have fun on the set?

CB: I love what I do. Every day is fun and I find for something like this, the more intense and broad your preparation is, the more fun you can have. It’s like anything. You want to move through the technical to the playing of it because no one wants to see anyone’s homework. No one wants to see me struggling to get a horse under control because I can’t ride it. And no one wants to see me not knowing how to deal with the psychological makeup of the character. So yeah, it was enormous fun. And it always sounds very disingenuous but this was a sublime experience for me. There were so many satisfying strands of filmmaking and from an acting perspective came together. I had a really great time.


WM: Can you switch on and off when you’re in dark character modes?

CB: It depends. I mean, some scenes are more intense than others. And I think probably from making Veronica Guerin and going back to work with a young child, your focus has to be almost more intense and you have to switch off at the end of the day because there’s a little creature who needs you. And I found that quite educational really. I mean, I have a very healthy relationship to my work and I find that if a scene is working, no matter how intense it is, you have the catharsis on screen and you can let it go. I think it’s if at the end of the day you feel like you haven’t cracked it, that’s when you go home and it’s more difficult to switch off.


WM: How is it different now being a parent and actress? Is there a change in you?

CB: My personality hasn’t changed. I think my understanding of different types of love has certainly deepened. And I’ve played a mother before, say in something like The Gift. And one doesn’t have to be a murderer to play a murderer. But I think for me, before having a child, everyone told us how things would change, things would shut down, we’d have to alter our lives. And yes, of course you do, but for me, it’s been a very expansive experience.


WM: Do you draw on your own maternal instinct to play a parent?

CB: Well, there’s many, many different types of parents as there are many different types of children. And Maggie’s own childhood is incredibly damages. The fortress that she’s built up around herself and the quality of the lioness that she brings in her protection of her family, I could definitely relate to. But for me it’s always the difference in the character that I strive to unlock because any similarity that is there is going to naturally, unconsciously exist. I don’t need to mine that stuff.


WM: Was horse back riding challenging?

CB: It was. It was exhilarating. I did get there, because I couldn’t- - I’d ridden sidesaddle in Elizabeth before, but you’ve always got someone at the end doing this to the horse, sort of controlling the horse. This was quite a different experience. Just from instantly reading the script, there was a lot of stunt riding required. And I didn’t want to be in the position where I was saying to Ron, “I can’t do that. It’s too difficult.” So I got there six weeks early and I rode out every day with the stunt guys and the wranglers. Then when Tommy Lee came, we rode out together and the girls. It was almost like silent rehearsal. We were all getting to know one another by riding out into the middle of nowhere. So I loved it.


WM: How about the guns?

CB: I found the guns more difficult, especially from a moral perspective. I never feel particularly comfortable holding a gun, but when you’re playing somebody who lived in the frontier southwest, guns are a part of their life. Anyone who lives on land has a gun. So, I shot at a rifle range quite a lot. Because obviously, we’re not shooting full loads, but you have to know what the kickback feels like. Anyone who works with guns a lot should know. It becomes an extension of their body, so I wanted to have that physical relationship to it.


WM: Speaking Spanish?

CB: I spoke Spanish in the film, but it was important to me, I worked with Ron a lot to alter Maggie’s dialogue so that even her English wasn’t grammatically correct because she couldn’t read or write. She didn’t have the guiding hand of a parent reading to her at bedtime. So it was important to me that the Spanish, I changed it with a Spanish tutor so that it wasn’t grammatically correct. It was something that she learned orally.


WM: What’s your sense of being politically incorrect making certain comments in a character?

CB: Well, it was latently there in the book and marginally there in the script and I talked to Ron a lot about that before we started shooting, that that was a strand that I wanted to emphasize. Because all racism really stems from fear and ignorance and that is something that’s part of Maggie’s makeup. And the fact that she was abandoned as a 10-year-old girl and her father went native, in some deep childish recesses of her mind; all things Native American for her bring fear and abandonment. And it’s something that she has blocked out. So I thought it would make her journey more complex if part of going on this journey to get the girls was reconciling the fact that there are other ways of thinking other than her rigid protective sense of her Christianity.


WM: How does this compare to other westerns?

CB: It’s interesting. I think definitely Tommy Lee and Ron have always been interested in the genre and when Ron first started talking to me about the film, I thought, “Oh, this is interesting.” I’ve never been drawn to the genre, but when I read the script and began talking to Ron, to me the huge departure is that in the classic western, the female characters either are nonexistent, or they’re the good-hearted prostitute or the maiden who needs to be rescued. They’re not an essential part of the narrative. They’re not riding right alongside the men. Both visually and also they don’t have the same potency as they do in The Missing. And you have three really interesting female characters who are at the center of the story and propelling the narrative forward. So to me that’s a huge massive departure. And also I think too, the psychological development of the characters is never sacrificed for the momentum of the chase, which to me enriches the genre.


WM: The girls in The Missing said you switch between accents.

CB: Well, for me, I think the more you do- - maybe when I started off I couldn’t do it. But the more you do, the more honed your muscles are. I mean, there is athleticism to being an actor, both intellectual and physical. And I think if you prepare really, really well, then you can turn on and off. And in a strange way, they might not have noticed, but my husband commented that I go into this hybrid where it’s not quite the way I speak and it’s not quite the character, but I’m not aware of it.


WM: Does Tommy Lee Jones have a gruff exterior and did you penetrate it?

CB: Oh, I broke him down. (Laughs) I have infinite respect for Tommy Lee as an actor and he is able to as a screen presence, and which I think he does in The Missing as well with such beauty, and to access such poignant vulnerability. And he was incredibly generous with me. We didn’t talk a lot off set, but sometimes the way actors connect off set is strangely reminiscent of the characters. There’s such a challenge to the dialogue and such a yearning to get inside each other’s heads between Maggie and Jones, so maybe that existed a little bit. But, you know, I think we respected one another and he is a brilliant horseman and knows a lot more about guns than I do so he was a lexicon for me.


WM: How is Ron Howard different as a director?

CB: Comparisons are pretty odious, but the experience of working with Ron was pretty close to perfect for me. Because he has complete and utter understanding of what it takes to craft- - I don’t want to say accessible film, but an exciting and engaging film that takes an audience along with it. But he never sacrifices the detailed moments, the human moments because acting is all about revealing what it means to be human. And I don't know whether that’s because he’s an actor or whether it’s just because he’s Ron, but he’s the most uncomplicated, Frank person I’ve ever met in my life and so you always know where you stand with him. And he will always go again when he can and he’ll tell you when he can’t. And so he creates these sets, and he’s not an egobound person, but everyone just wants to do everything they possibly can for him because he respects the people he’s working with and he’s very collaborative. He will never ever ask anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. And I cannot believe, he’s got a boundless reserve of energy which was really important in a film like this because the shooting conditions were really tough and there were no cover sets. We were always light dependent and the weather kept changing. He’s truly an extraordinary not only director, but a person.


WM: Was it nice to not have a typical woman’s role in The Missing?

CB: It’s interesting. I sort of, in a strange way, from reading the diaries of women who had the stoicism of which they wrote, felt like Maggie was almost like a truer approach to the quintessential frontier woman. In the sense that there was no time for that, there was no place for that sort of exhibitionism of emotion. Back then there were very few people around to hear it. They were so isolated. And you either sank or swam. And Maggie was definitely a survivor. But I mean, God, I mean, what would you do if you found your boyfriend hanging from a calf skin having been suffocated and dismembered? It would be quite horrific.


WM: Does research offer educational pleasures?

CB: Absolutely. For sure. I mean, I had never heard Chirokawa spoken for instance. And working with Native American actors and the advisors was really educational for me.


WM: Did you do any reshoots for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King?

CB: No, I haven’t even seen it. I don’t even know if I’m in it. Truly, I don’t.


WM: Any distinct memories from the third portion?

CB: No. I shot all of that in three weeks in June about 1000 years ago. They shot for- - well, elves are many thousands of years old. I mean, I’ve always, always, always wanted to work with Peter Jackson and I’d work with him again in the blink of an eye. He’s a genius. But it was a very sort of surreal experience for me because they had been shooting for so long and did shoot for so long and I was just in and out very quickly.


WM: What do you think of Peter Jackson’s Oscar chances?

CB: With or without Oscars, Peter Jackson is a genius and everyone knows it. Awards are nice, but he’s got the absolute respect of his peers and the public and I’m sure deep in his heart that makes him feel great. And with or without Oscar, he will go on to make other genius films.