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Notes On A Scandal - Cate Blanchett interview

Notes On A Scandal

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CATE Blanchett discusses the challenges of filming Notes On A Scandal and some of its more controversial elements, such as her character’s decision to have sex with a minor.

She also discusses her plans to return to Australia to become artistic director of a theatre.

Q. Novelist Zoe Heller asked Patrick Marber to “do some work” on your character, Sheba, in his screenplay so that she appeared stronger. Do you agree that she’s different on-screen from how she appears in the book?
A: Well, there’s a sort of plaintive quality to her in the novel which could be a bit annoying really, on screen. But I think film is so much more of a literal medium, what you see is what you get. I think it was important to give Sheba her own voice, to liberate her from Barbara’s writing.

Q. You’ve been quoted as saying this was one of the most difficult characters you’ve had to connect with? Was the issue of seducing a minor [your pupil] tough to deal with and did it give you any pause for thought?
A: I’m not interested in playing characters who see the world through my prism. I think the journey of understanding any character is to see how they tick and how they differ from you. Probably the hardest thing was to liberate her from my own morality.

I was quite shocked at the tone I took and the judgements I had of the relationship that she embarked on, you know, sex with a minor. But it’s the stuff of great drama.

Q. What about the filming of the scenes themselves?
A. It was a complete veneer, I’m glad it was dark because I completely blushed my way through the whole thing.

Q. Andrew Simpson is obviously an inexperienced actor. How did you work with him?
A. Maybe this is my morality coming in again but it was important to me that the actor was above the age of consent. Although really, what’s the difference between 15 and 16? It’s the law, yeah, but he’s very mature. It wasn’t really until the end of shooting that I sort of gasped. He wrote me this handwritten letter that made me want to weep, about what the film had meant to him. It was then that I thought he was so young. You just tend to treat all the actors like normal actors once they’re there. But it [the shoot] was a very welcoming environment and Richard [Eyre, the director] made us very at ease.

Q. What about your fight scene with Dame Judi? Was extra care taken not to damage one of our most valuable assets?
A: [Laughs] She was wearing this strange Ninja Turtle back pad that gave her a bit of a hump, which we had to hide. Both of us were dreading the scene to be honest, because it’s about finding the pitch of a scene like that. The stakes and the expression of those stakes are so high, but also it’s absurd, the things that they’re saying to one another. I think what Patrick [Marber, screenwriter] had written gave the scene a buoyancy which was actually, in the end, quite fun to play. But we did down a bottle of champagne after we’d finished it!

Q. How difficult was it to arrive at that scene emotionally?
A. It’s an interesting and fascinating journey to play, someone who’s quite fey, gossamer and coy in the beginning, who then ends up being thrust out of a basement flat, screaming in her pyjamas, dressed as Siouxsie and the Banshees and going after the paparazzi. That scene had to get Sheba to the place where that would be a logical, the only place to go.

Q. Some of the mannerisms you give Sheba are wonderful. Do you people watch as a means to helping create a character such as this?
A: I don’t know. As an actor I suppose you’re constantly observing. I don’t sit in restaurants making notes, I don’t live my life in order to then feed it into my work. But I guess by osmosis you observe these things. And I think when you have a character as richly drawn, I suppose then there are subconscious, mental notes that you’ve made. She’s a type of woman, yet I don’t think that she’s a cliché.

Q. Has winning an Oscar changed your career in terms of the offers you receive? Are you starting to see your name on different lists?
A: I haven’t seen the lists but I hope so. I think probably winning these things can be a bit of a curse depending on who you are and how you think. But I haven’t been on a journey to get anywhere in particular, so that hasn’t changed. And my criteria for choosing projects hasn’t changed.

Perhaps being a parent has changed it more in that you ask yourself how long you’ll be away from home. My eldest child is approaching school age so that becomes more important. They’re less portable.

Q. Is is true that you might be leaving our shores for a theatrical role in Australia? And does that mean you’re leaving the film industry for now?
A: I think you’re peripatetic when you work in this industry. My husband and I are assuming the role of co-artistic directors at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008. But as long as the film industry will have me, I will have it. If Martin Scorsese calls tomorrow… But becoming artistic directors is an enormous responsibility and not one that we take lightly. Our first programmed season will be 2009.

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