Like every other actor, Cate Blanchett dreamt about working with Woody Allen for years and waited longingly for his phone call. The Oscar-winning actress had almost given up when 2 years ago the phone finally rang. “Woody was on the phone, and so our first conversation went for about two and a half minutes, where he told me he had a script and would I read it,” she laughs, when I meet her at The Four Season Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Allen wanted to cast her in Blue Jasmine, which tells the story of a self-centered, New York high society wife, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who moves to live with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, after losing everything when her Madoff-style husband (Alec Baldwin) is indicted for defrauding his investors.
Blanchett tried to quiz Allen about the reason behind thinking of her, suggesting that he may have seen her at the theatre playing Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire, which was produced by The Sydney Theatre Company, which she currently runs. Allen told her that he had never heard of it and ended the conversation.
Of course, thrilled Blanchett read the script straight away and called him back. This time the conversation was even shorter, only 45 seconds. “He said, ‘Great. That’s Great. You want to do it. I’ll see you in San Francisco’,” she recalls, shaking her head.
Blanchett is one of Hollywood’s most respected and revered talents. Her exceptional performances have earned her Oscar-nominations for playing Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Sheba Hart in Notes on a Scandal and Bob Dylan in I’m Not There and winning one for playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. Hence, she was not hesitant in making character suggestions to the iconic director.
“The thing about Jasmine is that you learn that she’s already had a breakdown,” she says. “When I spoke to Woody about seeing a lot of people in the streets seemingly well put together but babbling and so I said well, why doesn’t Jasmine have a shower at the end? So even though she’s walking down the streets in a Chanel jacket there’s something off, so I didn’t want to wear anything.”
Indeed, Jasmine has been stripped of everything: the money, the husband, the friends and could hardly bond with her own sister. But her tragedy actually stems from the crumbling of her material life from the glitz and the glamour of Upper East side New York to a grim existence of a run-down neighbourhood in San Francisco, where her sister lives contently. Her sister is happy because her expectations are as modest at the cramped apartment she inhabits.
Blanchett’s ideas were embraced by the iconic director, who is notorious for giving little direction to his actors. In fact, when I visited the film set last year in San Francisco, I saw little interaction between Allen and the actors, when they were shooting a scene at a restaurant. Shielding himself from the scorching sun, he watched the monitors in the protective shade of a large umbrella while the the actors argued at a safe distance in an emotional scene.
The Australian actress, however, insists that she received some incisive directions from him. “I had heard that Woody was monosyllabic on set and I actually found him really funny and warm and available,” she says. “He’ll tell you what he doesn’t like but he expects you to do something. You often had to ask him and if he didn’t find the question particularly interesting he’d go back to his Blackberry,” she laughs.
Although she often needs to discuss her character, Blanchett didn’t wait for Allen to tell her how to portray it. She believes that it’s the job of the actor to figure out her character and bring out on the screen. “You have to make offers so that it can be a conversation and offers with other actors because I could go home and craft a scene and I’m going to say it like this and I’m going to do it like this and do this gesture on this line, but if the other actor does something different then you respond differently and obviously you respond within the framework of your character’s physiology and physical life but so it has to be appropriate to the character but you have to be alive to what happens in the moment,” she says.
During her acting career, Blanchett has exhibited an uncanny ability to transform herself completely in the characters that she inhabited. Interestingly though, in spite of the dearth of direction from Allen, her portrayal of Jasmine possesses the hallmarks of the director’s neurosis, which we often see in his characters. Blanchett insists that she was not even aware of that. “When you work with Woody Allen 97% of his direction is in the script and his word choices are so particular and he has such a particular rhythm to his writing that you have to rise to that. You don’t pull it down to you own rhythm.”
Having religiously watched all Allen’s movies, Blanchett has always been a “drooling fan” of the veteran director, and working with him made her even a bigger fan. “He is the most voracious director I‘ve ever worked with,” she enthuses. “He’s is just so full of ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s so full of possibility as Woody.”
Considering the fact that many of the actors who have worked on Allen’s movies ended up collecting Oscars, the 44-year-old actress could potentially take the trophy home again at next year’s academy awards.