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Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Cate Blanchett interview

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CATE Blanchett talks about revisiting the role of Elizabeth in The Golden Age, how she tackled the ageing process and the challenge of wearing armour…

Did you have any concerns about revisiting this role 10 years on?
Cate Blanchett: I’ve reprised roles in the theatre, which is somehow more accepted, and where one can automatically go deeper and further into the role. With a role like Hedda Gabler, which is incredibly complicated, you often feel that you haven’t even scratched the surface the first time around, so you relish the opportunity to do it again, particularly with an ensemble of actors and the company we assembled. But when you do that in films you somehow have to make some attempt to uncross people’s arms and you have to justify why you’re doing it. But to me there was never any hesitation, and when we began talking about it my questions concerned the story and the context because the character is infinitely fascinating – I think that goes without saying.

Her reign was so dense and so long that you had to ask: “Well, what’s the entry point?” The bookends of the first film were so absolute that the beginning [of this one] was a bit of a Chinese puzzle. When we began to talk about the invasion of the Spanish Armada at that point in history she was in her 50s and when we left off the last one I was in my 20s, so I needed to age in order to be a more mature presence on screen – without even uttering a word I needed to have a greater sense of history and maturity about me in order to offer something different to the role.

How did you go about getting older? Was it through the voice or something else?
Cate Blanchett: Shekhar [Kapur, director] is not so much interested in the literal chronology of history as he is interested in the moment of the winds changing and what that meant on a mystic level. It wasn’t so much about the fact that Elizabeth was 52 and a half. You know that there’s a dream-like quality to the time period in which you’re playing her. This film has an enormous, epic, mystic backdrop but what Shekhar subliminally demands of his actors is that they ground it in a reality. It’s like the helium balloons but there’s a lead weighting them down. For me, on a small, prosaic, domestic level this was a woman confronting the ageing process but also confronting her past. It seemed to me that she was moving through to a point of acceptance in the film and part of that is accepting where you’ve been, who you are, how old you are and the choices that you’ve made in order to move forward.

I suppose it’s debatable whether Elizabeth actually wore armour. But how did it feel being in your armour on your white stallion? Was it an empowering sensation?
Cate Blanchett: Oh, it’s utterly debatable, of course. We talked about trying to create an image that would somehow, to an audience, create the sense of awe, wonder and shock that the troops must have felt that their monarch – and a female monarch – went to the frontline of battle and was prepared to lay down her life. This speech is so well known and has been done in virtually every version of the events of Elizabeth’s life… so because the film is a lot about a woman looking back at her youth, turning out a young lady in waiting and vicariously living through her, we found a lot of pre-Raphaelite images of Joan of Arc and thought: “Dare we?” And then thought “yeah”!

But it’s a terrifying thing, isn’t it? That we’re growing up with a very illiterate bunch of children who have somehow been taught that film is fact when, in fact, it’s invention. Hopefully, an historical film will inspire people to go and read about the history but in the end it is a work of fiction and selection. As for the armour itself, no it wasn’t particularly comfortable. Shekhar decided that he wanted the horse to be restless, so it was a challenge. Also, the winds were against me and I was addressing the troops all day but it was an absolutely glorious position in the world. The vista was stunning.

You’ve done several biographical parts, so what draws you to them? Is it ever daunting to play someone like Elizabeth when so many people have played her already?
Cate Blanchett: No, it’s very comforting actually, to know that you’re sitting in a long legacy of actresses who’ve played the role. I’m absolutely all for absorbing all of those influences, so you understand the pedigree of the part as much as you understand the figure in history… because you are playing the part. You don’t say: “Gosh, I want to play Peter Sellers…” because you can sort of do that in your own bathroom.

The interesting thing is that this director has imagined that I could possibly do this and I’m in conversation with the director and, ultimately, in dialogue with the script. No matter how much research you do, or invention you do, whether it’s a character from a novel, a completely invented character or someone who actually existed, it’s a work of faction. By the very fact you only have an hour and a half or two hours to tell a story, you’re telescoping events and it is, in the end, a work of imagination.

You’ve been quoted as saying that your husband was kind of put off by your appearance as Bob Dylan for I’m Not There. What was his reaction to seeing you as an ageing woman?
Cate Blanchett: My husband wasn’t put off by it – he thought it was hilarious to see me dressed as Dylan! He didn’t particularly want to kiss me with stubble all over my face – it felt a bit odd! But I think he’s used to it [the make-up process].

And it was fantastic to be able to have my kids on set. Dash, my eldest son, who’s not quite five, was into knights and his godmother had given him a plastic Marks & Spencer knights’ outfit and [first assistant director] Tommy Gormley said that he could stand to protect me during the scene where Clive [Owen] is talking about the immensity of sitting on the throne. I’m actually looking through an archway at my son standing in his knights’ costume protecting me! [Laughs]

b>Read our review of The Golden Age