Cate Blanchett Disappointed Her Other Oscar-Worthy Film From 2015 Hasn't Found Wider Audience (Yet)
We’re inching closer to Sunday’s 88th Annual Academy Awards, where Cate Blanchett will glam up for the red carpet and attend the ceremony as a nominee for the seventh time (having won twice, for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine). This year’s honor comes for her typically mesmerizing work in the acclaimed romance Carol, about a troubled housewife who subtly seduces a younger shopgirl (Rooney Mara) in 1950s New York.
But when we talked to Blanchett late last week, it was all about Truth. The 46-year-old Aussie was doing a little bit of extra publicity for the journalism drama’s home video release (it’s available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and on-demand), because, well, not enough people saw it in theaters.
The film, which follows CBS News producer Mary Mapes (Blanchett) and famed anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) through the rigors of so-called Rathergate in 2004, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival to good reviews and loud Oscar buzz for both actors. Critics appreciated the questions the film raised about ethics in media, and especially, the searing performance of Blanchett, stressed and disheveled as a woman watching her career unravel, with some even calling it a career-best. But there was another journalism drama by the name of Spotlight, which follows the Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, that left TIFF as the fest’s big winner. The word-of-mouth around Truth quieted by the time of its release a month later, and it brought in only $2.5 million at the box office.
The failure of Truth to connect at the cineplex made one decision easier for Oscar voters: which film Blanchett would land a nomination for (an inane Academy rule restricts actors from competing against themselves in one race). Blanchett is unabashedly proud of both releases, and here she talks about why she thinks Truth failed find a wider audience (thus far) and how Carol itself fell victim to some serious snubbing. As for fan confusion over why she’s in the Best Actress race for Carol while her co-star Mara is in Supporting, that hot topic she’s not quite ready to weigh in on.
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Truth was a real conversation starter among those who saw it — did it elicit they type of reactions you expected?
Disappointingly so, actually. There were two very interesting, different films made about journalists’ endeavors to get to the truth, one being Spotlight and one being Truth. And I think it’s really interesting in a way that it’s still more dangerous territory to analyze the unhealthy proximity of our politicians to our media organizations and to big business than it is to talk about the terrible transgressions of the Catholic Church.
I am buoyed up by the fact that you think it was a conversation starter because I think the conversation was little stymied.
Why do you think that was?
It’s not a heroic moment in recent media history. It doesn’t describe a high point for the media industry, whereas perhaps Spotlight talks about it among the triumphs. It’s more difficult, in a way, to talk about a moment of failure.
Do you think in part Truth might have gotten lost in the shadow of Spotlight?
I don’t know… They’re very, very different films. [Robert] Redford was in Truth, so you can’t but help have echoes of All the President’s Men. Spotlight very clearly had strong echoes of that in the way it was shot and the way the story unfolded. But the ambitions of the films were quite different.
I remember ages ago when I was making a film about Queen Elizabeth, there were three films set to go about the Tudors. So it’s very often in the zeitgeist there’s a kind of commonality in peoples’ desires to explore the stories that they’re wanting to explore. And I think it’s interesting that [today] we are very interested in the way our news is put together and what makes headlines and what doesn’t.
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Did the experience of playing Mary Mapes change your perspective on journalism?
I always have a healthy dose of cynicism for anything to do with the media [laughs]. I grew up in a world where you had a primary source, a secondary source, and a tertiary source, and now those things — like the film describes — are no longer relevant. That’s something I’m constantly telling my children. Is this supposition, is it gossip, is it speculation, or is it fact? And not only is it difficult for us to find out, but I think people are caring less and less whether it is.
I remember years and years ago I played Hedda Gabler and very ingrained in that play is the notion of scandal. My husband [playwright Andrew Upton] did the adaptation — this is 10 years ago that I played it — and even then he said, 'It’s really difficult to ignite peoples’ fear of scandal because now scandal is click-bait. And click-bait is success in the world of media outlets. It trumps the truth.
And I think that’s the landscape Truth deals with. It’s a difficult conversation to have but I think it’s a conversation worth having. But I’m excited that people might discover Truth on DVD because perhaps that’s a way, rather than at the cinema, that people are going to time to process it, or engage in the film that the questions that the film raises. But I hope in an animated or provocative way, it’s not an animated lecture.
CBS refused to run ads for the film, and a spokesperson for the network slammed the movie. Were you surprised by those reactions, or were they fully expected?
I was completely surprised. It was not engaging. Obviously the subject matter or the opening of the casket touched a bit of a raw nerve, I guess.
After the Oscar nominations were announced, there was much uproar over the lack of diversity in the acting categories and the fact that films like Straight Outta Compton didn’t get nominated. But there were plenty of folks upset that Carol was left out of Best Picture and Best Director [Todd Haynes], too. Do you think there’s still a reluctance to recognize gay romances among Oscar voters?
Absolutely. Absolutely. But also I think it’s the female sensibility. This is a story where you have complex women in a complex place in an extraordinarily well-directed film that was strongly embraced by critics and audiences. And happily, it’s positive.
I do think it’s really, really important to engage in the soul-searching about why Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton were sidelined. I found Idris Elba’s performance in Beasts of No Nation extraordinary. But it’s also every year — every single year — where are the female directors? Where are the women who are leading films for $200 million? Where are the females who are directing films above the budget of $10 million? It’s every year that needs to be discussed. That’s what’s going under the radar.
It’s not just me speaking because I worked so closely with him on Carol, but I think Todd Haynes’s work is exceptional. It’s not just a well-directed film, it’s exceptionally well-directed… But he doesn’t do it for [awards]. It’s a shame that the Academy didn’t recognize him, but it’s certainly not why any of us got involved in the making of Carol. It was truly a labor of love.
There’s also been a lot of confusion, especially among Carol fans, over the studio’s decision to campaign for you the Best Actress race and Rooney Mara in Best Supporting Actress when you were more like co-leads. Does that stuff matter to you guys? Do you talk about it?
Fair enough. Well, for what it’s worth I thought you should’ve been a double-nominee this year for Carol and Truth, whatever the categories.
Oh, you and my mother. I’ll tell her you said so.