Cate Blanchett has mastered and made a career out of the art of transforming herself. In her latest film, “Tár”, she becomes the director of a symphony orchestra in Germany. “She wouldn’t be conducting a rehearsal in English,” Blanchett told correspondent Seth Doane. “So, I have to speak German. So, it was one of those things where it wouldn’t have been authentic if she hadn’t done it.”
“Should we do this interview in German?” Done asked.
“Absolutely. We should do it in German!”
“Are you talkative at all?”
“Nope. Das is jah ganze bundesrepublic. That’s what I learned in school!”
The ambitious role is the latest in a long list. The Australian actress won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator” and won the Oscar for best actress as an unstable ex-socialite in “Blue Jasmine.” She has played a queen, an elf and Bob Dylan.
Doane asked, “You have all these different accents that you can do.”
“They all end up, if I try to replicate them later, like I’m in a call center in New Delhi. They all sound the same.”
“So you learn them for a movie and then they just go?”
“Yes. I can’t do something general. It has to be very specific, and then I forget about it.”
While the roles change, Blanchett’s approach is consistent, as she makes clear in the film “Tár” (released this week to critical acclaim). She portrays director Lydia Tár with a characteristic attention to detail, resulting in another nuanced and complex character.
Though he admits it was daunting conducting a real orchestra: “You know, I have to say, you know, Ok, I’m going to give you the downbeat and you have to follow me.”
“Learning the language of music and how to conduct, in a way, seems like it was more difficult than learning the actual language, German?” Done asked.
“I played the piano when I was a schoolgirl, I had a German schoolgirl,” Blanchett said. “I had to do a lot of preparation. But I mean, look, an audience couldn’t be less interested in the task of an actor, because it’s like, Look how hard I worked. You know, it’s like, who cares?”
“But you love homework.”
“Yes. I mean, I found it all fascinating.”
“Tár” writer-director Todd Field said he wrote the part for Blanchett and wouldn’t have made the movie if she said no. It is her first film in 15 years.
Blanchett asked Field, “Why did you only want Cate?”
Blanchett answered for him: “There was no one else available!”
It’s clear that Blanchett doesn’t always take herself as seriously as everyone else.
Field said, “I could never have imagined what she brings. I mean, she’s…”
“Unbearable, demanding, arrogant,” he intervened.
“She started working on this a year ago. She was already working on directing. She was already learning German. She was already learning to play the piano, that’s all of her, note for note. I’ve never, ever worked with anyone.” , in a play or whatever, that shows up and they know everything, everybody’s lines, every piece of scene description.”
Doane met the actor at Abbey Road Studios, made famous by The Beatles, where the London Symphony Orchestra was performing a plot for the film, completing what was established in the film. Lydia Tár’s character had been preparing to record Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which this orchestra did as part of a concept album to be released as a companion to the film.
Before shooting, Blanchett worked with director Natalie Murray Beale, who described the role of director as “a mix of skills. Sometimes you’re a leader. You’re a boss, you’re a performer. And you have to be aware of 100 people in a room, all working within a system.
Blanchett studied how to use the baton (what is called the stick technique) and learned to use the orchestra itself as a kind of instrument.
She said: “You get this incredible electrical charge. And in that space, I can understand how some people can think that they are the king or queen of the world. And it’s very important that you allow that space to be filled.” humbly again, and I think that’s what you see in the character.”
It’s a provocative film that explores current issues like #MeToo and cancel culture.
Doane asked, “Your character has this interesting mix of coming across as very powerful, but also very vulnerable.”
“Yes, we all have those dualities in us, don’t we?” Blanchett said. “And I think we spend half our lives in the midst of a confidence trick of pretending we have our stuff together when, in fact, you know, we don’t. The world and being alive is full of nuance and gray areas. And I think that’s where the film is really human and really provocative.”
“Do you doubt yourself when…”
“Yeah, right now I’m full of it!”
“Yeah, of course. Of course. I mean, that’s why, you know, I think I’m probably still working, in some way, to try to fix or fix mistakes and missteps.”
“You’ve put in some pretty spectacular performances.”
“Oh, but I’ve also done a lot of crap. For everything you do, you think, oh that was good, there are five pieces of garbage that you throw into the world. I mean, you never know what’s going to work. And besides, you never know what’s going to connect with an audience.”
Clearly, she is connected. But Blanchett, who started out on stage, says being the center of attention doesn’t come naturally. “It took me a long time to get comfortable with being looked at,” she said. “Their very uncomfortable! But even more so to feel comfortable being, quote unquote, famous.”
In her life away from the spotlight, she is married to playwright Andrew Upton and is a working mother.
Doane asked, “How are you as a father?”
“I am a Excellent mother. Ask my four children. I’m extraordinary!” she laughed.
“How do you protect that role, with celebrity and all the pressures it brings?”
“I really try not to bring my work home,” she replied.
For Blanchett, the work is a form of escape. “I’m not interested in playing myself,” she said. “I mean, I do that in my everyday life, that’s why I go to work, because I get so bored. I don’t want to play with myself.”
An exhaust that shows its remarkable capacity for transformation.
To watch a trailer for “Tár”, click on the video player below.
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Story produced by Mikaela Bufano. Editing: George Pozderec.