Q&A: Cate Blanchett Sniffs ‘Blue Jasmine’ – and Oscar

Thelma Adams
The Reel Breakdown

Between performing in "The Maids," and dining with her three sons, Cate Blanchett, 44, could be mistaken for another multi-tasking mother, struggling to juggle career and family. But in Blanchett's case, the load also includes the burdens of being an early Oscar frontrunner - again - this time for playing the title character of Woody Allen's latest, "Blue Jasmine."

In this film, Blanchett plays a New York socialite forced to move in with sister in San Francisco after her shyster husband's financial empire collapses. Blanchett's character is a tragicomic cross between Blanche Dubois from "A Streetcar Named Desire," a character she played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2009; the wife of Bernie Madoff; and yet another fluttery, neurotic chip off the Allen mold.

How much of Jasmine really is Blanche? I sat there waiting for Bobby Cannavale’s character to rip off this T-Shirt and ravage her. (He never does.)

"Streetcar" was a while ago, there was never any discussion with Woody about that at all. Obviously, there are parallels in the set-up. Jasmine is a grand character and she’s deluded. Also, the fact that Jasmine has difficulty navigating the fine line between reality and fantasy, the world is too horrifying and her social shame, that’s something that she and Blanche share. But the way this story unfolds is very contemporary. It has the rhythm and tone of a Woody film. To try to overlay one character over the other would be futile.

Jasmine is so thin-skinned and emotionally porous; did you take the character home with you?

My children were in town with me and they weren’t interested in meeting Jasmine at the dinner table. You have to shed one thing and move on. When the character is so well-drawn and her set of experiences is so entirely different form your own, the leap is easier. Still, there is a certain feeling and texture that overhangs. I love San Francisco as a city, but I was psychologically ready to go to New York for happier days.

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There's already Oscar buzz for your performance: do you take that in stride?

Oscar? That's nice but there are a lot of movies coming out. My focus has been the production of "The Maids" in Australia. Not long after I talk to you I’m going to get in my pajamas and see my children.

You have three sons with your husband, the playwright and director Andrew Upton. Do you try to shelter your children from your career, or immerse them in your world?

We don't quarantine them from what we do. Andrew and I run a theater company. They're backstage. It's a fun place, full of play and adventure. They also see the hard work that goes into the production department and see the commitment. They watch the set being bumped in. They see the hard work behind the outward glitz of it all. They don't see just the product, they see the process. I think that's interesting and they enjoy it.

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Did that carry over to the set of "Blue Jasmine?"

You look at all of Woody’s films: there’s a chemistry about the ensemble. The kids see it's never just one person. Everybody has to be on, including the cinematographer and the focus puller. It's a communal focus.

Even though it's an ensemble, this is a movie, like "Annie Hall," with a woman's name in the title. It revolves around your character and her complexities.

Jasmine's like so many women who’ve fallen from grace. Hopefully I’ve presented her warts and all. Hopefully, in the end, her naiveté and how deluded she is humanizes her. There's no malice, there’s just an incredible amount of pain, damage and delusion. Still, it's not all heavy. Just look at the sister’s names: Ginger and Jasmine sound like a Thai restaurant.