Cate Blanchett evokes Hollywood era of old

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Days after playing an alluring English art teacher, actress Cate Blanchett adopted a German accent to transform herself into an enigmatic Second World War prostitute in a performance some liken to Marlene Dietrich.

Such transition is not unusual for the Australian actress hailed for her work ethic, intellect and cool charm emblematic of leading figures of a Hollywood era long gone.

Film professionals say Blanchett, 37, who won a best supporting actress Academy Award two years ago portraying Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator”, has a long career ahead similar to some of Hollywood’s greats.

She has three new roles touted as Oscar contenders: the already released “Babel” opposite Brad Pitt, “The Good German” co-starring George Clooney out this week and “Notes on a Scandal”, in which she plays an art teacher opposite Judi Dench due on December 27.

“She seems sort of other-worldly,” said Steven Soderbergh, director of “The Good German”, noting Blanchett’s short preparation time for the film shot in black and white in a tribute to 1940s Hollywood films including “Casablanca”.

“It seemed to appear just out of nowhere,” Soderbergh said of her performance while in New York to promote the movie. “I have never seen anything like that.”

Clooney told reporters she was “Spencer Tracy-like” for her ability to slip in and out of character on set. And Variety said Blanchett “summons shades of Dietrich, to be sure”.

But the blond Blanchett told Reuters, “I had to use my own resources and invent my own version, because what was the point of imitating Marlene Dietrich, she does it perfectly herself.”

Australian actress Cate Blanchett pauses during a news conference in Sydney November 10, 2006. Adopting a German accent to transform herself into an enigmatic Second World War prostitute in "The Good German", Blanchett's performance has been liken to Marlene Dietrich. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne


While Blanchett has yet to achieve the status of a Dietrich or Garbo, Soderbergh said her desire to play different characters would ensure a long reign in movies.

“We are eventually going to compare other people to her,” Soderbergh said in an interview with Reuters.

Blanchett said playing opposite Dench, 72, in “Notes on a Scandal” was a career highlight.

Looking at the endurance of the respected actress, Blanchett said she would be satisfied “if I can have the diversity and length of her career and half of her talent”, but viewed her own career choices as “erratic and random”.

“I’d like to say I have a five-year plan but I am not that Stalin-esque,” she said.

But just as Blanchett cemented a place opposite leading men such as Pitt and Clooney, she recently announced she will take over running the Sydney Theatre Company starting on a three-year basis with playwright husband Andrew Upton in 2008.

Blanchett doesn’t care to explain the move to those obsessed with making big-budget Hollywood films. “Popcorn films and big paycheque are not necessarily things I have done,” she said, and called the move her biggest opportunity so far.

“After the announcement people were talking about what some enormous sacrifice we were making,” said Blanchett. “I feel galvanized by it.”

After her recent theatre-directing debut with the company, she said will continue to make films through a clause in her contract that allows her to take a three month break per year.

The Melbourne-born mother of two said her return to Australia was a natural calling -- “it is home” -- after living in England where “whilst one can reference the culture, you are not culpable for it in the same way”.

As for any Oscar buzz, Blanchett doesn’t feel entitled to win nor look at her past performances. “I inevitably just see the holes,” she said. “I don’t analyse it, I don’t look backwards, I just move forwards.”