Cate Blanchett Takes Her Rightful Place In The Lesbian Hall Of Fame
As seen in our Spring issue!
She has won two Oscars and has another 149 wins and almost 200 nominations to her name.
As perhaps the greatest film star of her generation, she’s an actor so versatile that she can play an albino Italian immigrant, an elf queen, the bisexual actor Katharine Hepburn, and a man— Bob Dylan. As a trained theater actor she is also adept at interpreting Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Ibsen. And on top of all the mainstream critical acclaim, Cate Blanchett has taken her rightful place in the pantheon of lesbian screen goddesses through her unwavering dedication to the strength and individuality of women everywhere, including those who are marginalized and queer. From the outset of her career, Blanchett has played strong, determined, and unique women: Elizabeth I, Charlotte Gray, Galadriel, Veronica Guerin, Hepburn, and Lady Marion Loxley—to name just a few. Even when she plays a completely vulnerable and unhinged mess, like Jasmine French in Blue Jasmine, she walks off with an Oscar. Blanchett makes a damn good villain, too: Marissa Wiegler in Hanna, the wicked stepmother in Cinderella, and Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. She can also handle playing 13 characters in one film, as she did in the indie film Manifesto. As we go to press, she is attached to play the comic genius Lucille Ball in an upcoming biopic (script by Aaron Sorkin); in addition she has four films in post-production and one she is currently filming. Blanchett may be approaching 50, but she’s not slowing down—and each of the challenging roles she now takes on is a victory for aging women. When asked by Stephen Colbert why Ocean’s Eight was thus named, her witty riposte was, “There’s only eight women working in Hollywood,” alluding both to the widespread sexism in the industry and to the aging out of female stars—a cruelty she seems determined to defy.
Blanchett has proven herself to be delightfully outspoken on and off the red carpet. When the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted in Hollywood, she released an official statement to the film industry’s news magazine, Variety: “Any man in a position of power or authority who thinks it’s his prerogative to threaten, intimidate or sexually assault any woman he encounters or works alongside needs to be called to account. It is never easy for a woman to come forward in such situations and I wholeheartedly support those who have.” When the Weinstein sexual molestation scandal spread into the fashion industry, Blanchett went even further, telling assembled guests at the InStyle Awards in Los Angeles, where she was accepting an award, “For me, the true icons of style are always those women who’ve been utterly themselves without apology, whose physical presence and their aesthetic is really integrated in a non-self-conscious way, into part of who they are, and women who know that how they look is not all of who they are, but just an extension of that. It’s about women who feel free to wear what they want when they want and how they want to wear it. We all like looking sexy, but it doesn’t mean we want to fuck you.”
In an industry where actresses are supposed to trade on their looks, pay their dues, and play nice, or else, Blanchett always seems to remain true to herself: feisty, witty, sharp-tongued, and quintessentially Aussie. And of course she herself is a style icon, exploring many different looks, but always in ways that suit and please her. She’s nobody’s dummy. She balances feminine couture with androgynous tailored outfits such as the one she wore to Comic-Con International: San Diego on July 22, 2017, where she was promoting Thor: Ragnarok. Wearing her blonde hair relatively short, to neck level, and looking chic in a black-and-white checked slouch suit by the NYC label Monse, Blanchett lapped up the attention and credited fans with helping her create the powerful, sexy look of her archvillainess character, Hela, goddess of death.
One of the main reasons Blanchett has landed on every lesbian’s map was her role in the film Carol. Since the release of the Oscar-nominated drama, adapted by Phyllis Nagy from the Patricia Highsmith novel, fans and shippers have gone wild for the Carol-Therese romance—and fantasized a Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara romance offscreen, too. Just check out the numerous Instagram and YouTube channels tracking the two and editing their admiration for each other into coupledom. Of Carol, Blanchett told us in New York that she found the script to be beautifully written, giving her “wonderful stuff to play with.” Blanchett described Carol as “a deeply private person who keeps her sexuality to herself and lives in a quiet hell because she’s not able to express herself.” But when she meets Therese, who is “flung out of space,” the wheels of romance turn and sexual longing simmers to create what Mara describes as Therese’s “obsessive pursuit of Carol” and “a love story between two humans.” Nevertheless, Blanchett knew that playing a closeted lesbian who, in 1950s America, becomes involved with a much younger woman was taking a risk. “I like the unknown factor when it comes to choosing a role or a project,” Blanchett said. “I usually rely on my instinct in the sense that if I know right away how I can interpret a character I’ll usually turn it down, because I find it too predictable, or I feel like I’ve been there before. That’s why I agreed to play Bob Dylan [in Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There] or the part of Carol. Not only is there some risk involved, but there’s also this excitement that comes from exploring new territory, and I love to surprise myself. If I started to think about the potential downside, if things don’t work out as well as I hoped they might, I would probably be so terrified that I wouldn’t take those risks. But I don’t know any other way of working.
“It’s something very visceral with me. Whenever I play a character, I need to make it mine. The process involved in that also still terrifies me, but it’s the only way I know. It was the same thing when I met my husband Andrew. We had known each other only three weeks when he asked me to marry him. But I said yes because I knew it was the right thing.” Twenty years later they’re still together. “We both believe in destiny and the kind of adventure that comes from a decision taken very quickly.”
Instinct, and Blanchett’s habit of speaking off the cuff, may also have led to a coming-out misfire, which happened when she allegedly told a Variety reporter that she had experienced relationships with women “many times.” The reporter maintains that he quoted Blanchett accurately. Blanchett followed up and told the press that the part where she clarified the relationships as “not sexual” was edited out of the article. And lesbians everywhere heaved a sigh of disappointment. Oh, well. But then Blanchett turned up at New York LGBTQ bar The Stonewall Inn last March, and lip-synched lesbian singer Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” for an adoring audience of fags and dykes. Little wonder that lesbian fans are charmed but confused.
Certainly for the Cate-and-Rooney shippers, and lesbian fandom in general, the couple chemistry between Mara and Blanchett is palpable, not baseless. The pair demonstrate a physical closeness whenever they appear in public together—Blanchett’s playful grab at Mara’s breast, a touch of the leg, hand-holding on the red carpet, and many penetrating glances between them. Blanchett’s protective arm encircling Mara, and Mara often looking down in shyness or stealing a look at her co-star. Hands even disappear from view whenever they are photographed together, such as at the 2017 Paris Fashion Week’s Givenchy show. Mara practically evangelized Blanchett when presenting her with an award at the 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, describing herself as “an awestruck super-fan” who first saw her in the film Elizabeth when she was 13 years of age. “I can remember the feeling that washed over me,” says Mara, who went on to say, dry- mouthed with nervousness, that she’s followed Blanchett’s career ever since, never publicly disclosing her admiration for her virtues but keeping them close to her as “private little treasures” that she visited for inspiration.
In return, Blanchett has described herself and Mara as “kindred spirits” with an “unspoken understanding” between them. There’s a sense that these two enjoy playing it up for the fans, yes, but that they do truly relish the connection between them. Blanchett again appears with Mara in the new Terrence Malick film, Weightless. And while Blanchett mentions her husband and three sons in just about every interview she does, the person largely responsible for her success this past decade is her super-agent Hylda Queally, who also manages Kate Winslet, Mar ion Cotillard, Lupita Nyong’o, Michelle Williams, and Jessica Chastain.
One of the many things that make Blanchett such a pleasure to watch is her thorough femaleness—a display of the feminine self as absolute. Self-sufficient. It’s never moored to her love for the male lead. Her embodiment of Marvel Comics’ Hela, a gothic goddess of death who manages to crush Thor’s hammer with one hand, is a feast for t he eyes as well as a feminist statement. She is the first female Marvel screen villain. “Let’s face it: as a woman, these opportunities have not in the past come up very frequently,” Blanchett says. “I’ve seen so many of the Marvel franchises, particularly being the mother of four...and I think there’s a revolution happening from within Marvel.
“It was fun doing the action scenes, and part of the benefit of being in the superhe ro universe is that you have to get very fit. I did a lot of action scenes and [Afro-Brazilian martial arts form] capoeira stuff, which is part of how Hela manifests all these weapons out of her hands.”
As much as Blanchett has become a feminist icon for other actresses, she too has had role models of her own. “Gena Rowlands is someone who has had a big influence on me. I loved her work in the films she did with her husband, John Cassavetes, especially A Woman Under the Influence. I saw her as kind of a model for the kind of career I wanted to have. I also thought she was incredible in Gloria [directed by Cassavetes], and her way of creating a character really made a deep impression on me. I learnt so much from watching and studying her work.”
And Blanchett cites her own matrilineal connections as lifelong inspirations for her. “My mother and grandmother have been my inspirations in terms of their sense of self-respect and independence. And that was reflected in how they dressed and that had a big impact on me. I remember whenever I’ve been to Italy, for example, I’ve noticed how well women dress in cities like Rome. It seems that elegance and good taste run in their DNA.”
When she’s not working and being gorgeous, she fine-tunes her acting skills through observing ordinary people. “I like watching other people shop when I go to the supermarket. Also, when I take my children to the park to play, when I’m sitting down, I’ll find myself analyzing what other people are doing or what they might be thinking about. All those things feed into your actor’s mentality and how you’re in the habit of thinking about human behavior and psychology. That’s a huge part of your process as an actor.”
Blanchett scores points for her aversion to social media, stating rather astutely that it “can be huge source of rivalry and jealousy amongst friends, and when you’re taking selfies it’s a way of seeing how much people like you. Social media can be a great way to communicate and connect with other people, but I think selfies and Twitter are often used in an exhibitionist way, which isn’t healthy, particularly for younger people.”
And on the subject of being older and wiser, Blanchett, who will turn 50 in May 2019, accepts aging as part of life. “Getting older happens to all of us, and there are many advantages that come with age. I feel much more comfortable in my skin today than I ever have before. I am much more confident and secure in who I am than when I was in my 20s. I would never want to go through those years again. I enjoyed my 30s a great deal and now, in my 40s, I feel my life has become even better. I would rather approach getting older with a lot of curiosity and a sense of adventure. Even though you might like to fight it, there’s not much point!”
Can women have it all? Blanchett prides herself on taking care of her children and her career at the same time. Known for having high professional standards, does she also put pressure on herself to be the perfect mom? “No, because there’s no such thing. I don’t believe in the notion that a woman, much less a man, can have it all. Women have become more independent in terms of wanting to pursue their careers in society and enjoying the same kinds of opportunities as men. I think the entire notion puts too much pressure on men and women, especially in the case of single parents. Life always involves myriad compromises, and you try to provide the best possible life for your children while pursuing your own goals in life. I was more worried when I went back to work after my first child, but then I saw that it wasn’t so hard to organize things, after all. You discover that you enjoy being busy and figuring out ways to balance everything.
“I think it’s important to set an example and show how the two can work together quite well,” she says, in spite of admitting that looking after four children while pursuing her career can be “a marvelous form of chaos... I think there’s this idea that I’ve got it all figured out. Believe me, it couldn’t be further from that. One slip-up and it’s a big old disaster,” she laughs.
And as for the kids being intimidated by a superstar mom? “They couldn’t give a rats about what I do. It is of absolutely little importance to them.” The newest addition to the family is a little girl, Edith, who Blanchett adopted and who she often takes on promotional trips with her. Meanwhile, we look forward to whatever Blanchett does next, especially the heist film Ocean’s Eight, the all-female spin-off of Ocean’s Eleven, set for release in June this year. Blanchett joins an ensemble female cast including her Carol co-star Sarah Paulson. “It’s a dream-team cast,” she says. “We have Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, and it’s great to be able to work with women like that.”