Cate Blanchett: A Quiet Noise
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Cate Blanchett: A Quiet Noise

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Three young children to raise, a nationally acclaimed theatre company to run, handpicked by the Australian Prime Minister as his arts mentor, an environmental activist and mouthpiece and, this month, gracing the silver screen as Maid Marian in Ridley Scott's version of the legend of Robin Hood, it's hard to believe Cate Blanchett ever finds time to sleep.

She's been nominated for and won numerous awards, including a coveted Oscar. The critics think she's fabulous and, for all sorts of reasons, she's gained international respect and status.

Two years after taking over the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) as artistic directors, Blanchett, together with her writer husband Andrew Upton, have been credited with turning the organisation around. "In their first two years, they have transformed the company-and the way people feel about it," STC boss Ian Darling says. Now Blanchett, 40, and Upton, 43, have agreed to extend their tenure until 2013.

And despite all her successes and acclaim, Blanchett is quite unlike her Hollywood peers, and a nightmare for the sensation-seeking tabloids. Scandals involving Blanchett are rare, if at all, with no dramatic public outbursts and, after more than 10 years of marriage, the only hint of domestic conflict is her husband's threat to divorce her if she gets cosmetic surgery!

In reality Blanchett is an unassuming, quiet and almost ethereal personality, not unlike Galadriel, the elf queen she played in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

"I'm of the opinion that it's okay to be silent, to not speak if you don't have anything to say," she says.

"Someone was talking to me about her teenage daughter, who is very creative. Now, to become a painter or a sculptor or a graphic designer is quite an isolated way to spend your life. But this girl's passion, she said to her mother, was being with her friends, and she said there's this sense that she doesn't exist without the other people there.

"It seems like people increasingly just can't be by themselves because they're so used to having an epicentre on the internet that actually exists for other people. Until someone clicks onto your Facebook page, it doesn't mean anything," she reflects.

tireless

And true to her opinion, Blanchett chooses to commit herself into action, rather than fanciful prose. She belongs to a special breed, a group of people so motivated by their passion and so enthusiastic about what they believe in, they not only live, they glow.

"The great thing about the STC is that it is to be run by artists and there's a three-month window where that artist has to go off and pursue their own individual career.

"[This is] important when you're at the head of such a broad and enormous company like that, where you have to remain individually engaged so you can regalvanise yourself so you can go off and run the company."

greening her world

Blanchett not only gets to direct serious theatre she also has time to make one big-budget movie a year and be around her family. And she has successfully married her passion for the arts with her environmental beliefs through the STC.

In 2008, when Blanchett and Upton signed contracts as artistic directors, the pair promised to make the STC "green."

And true to her word, in mid 2009 she gained an Australian government commitment of $A1.2 million through its Green Precincts Fund to assist STC in its Greening The Wharf project, which will "deliver the majority of STC's energy and water requirements from sustainable sources." A further $A2 million was raised from the family foundation of Dr Zhengrong and Vivienne Shi, in partnership with the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales for the project.

At the time of writing, some 2000 solar panels have been earmarked for installation on the roof of The Wharf, the harbour-side headquarters of STC, and which along with other energysaving measures will reduce the power STC draws from the grid by up to 70 per cent. The green commitment isn't limited to power. Its refurbished bathrooms, for example, not only incorporate 4.5- and 6-star-rated fittings to reduce water consumption, but are also compatible with a rainwater harvesting system to be installed in 2010.

earth mother

Blanchett, ambassador for the Australian Conservation Foundation's online campaign Who On Earth Cares, and patron of sustainable development charity SolarAid, gets excited when she talks about climate change and the environment.

In 2006, Blanchett, along with her two young sons and 40,000 other people, participated in Sydney's Walk Against Warming. "I think there is an opportunity in climate change. We all know the depressing facts but there is also the opportunity to re-ignite that sense of community. We are a very big, vast country and we forget that we have individual concerns in our communities, which are made up of individuals... . We are all consumers and if we change the way we consume and think in our communities, we can have an enormously powerful effect on governments that need to be lobbied and on the big polluters who need to be shamed into action. But it is grassroots action where the real opportunity in climate change lies."

Blanchett and her family live in "Bulwarra," a sandstone mansion in Sydney, built in 1877. Three years ago, she and husband Upton spent almost $A1.5 million in renovations to create an environmentally friendly home.

A massive 20,000-litre water tank, high-tech solar panelling, low-energy lighting and grey-water recycling are among the features of the Hunters Hill home.

Only natural finishes and materials such as plywood and veneers, instead of rainforest timber, have been used in the construction of new areas of the home.

But Blanchett also admits she lives "in the modern world as much as anyone else. I use a car and, in the last two years, I've been flying far more than I'm comfortable with. So it's been really important for me to offset my flights, which I do."

a different noise

Blanchett was born in Melbourne, the daughter of an Australian property developer and teacher and a Texasborn US Navy Petty Officer who later worked as an advertising executive. She graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1992 and began her career in theatre. Her first major stage role was opposite Geoffrey Rush in the 1993 David Mamet play Oleanna, for which she won the Sydney Theatre Critics' Best Newcomer Award.

While she acknowledges and appreciates her natural talent, she is also a strong believer in hard work. "Someone might have a germ of talent, but 90 per cent of it is discipline and how you practice it-what you do with it," she says. "Instinct won't carry you through the entire journey. It's really what you do in the moments between inspiration."

But while professional about her career in movies, Blanchett chooses rather not to immerse herself in "Hollywood."

"I don't exist in [Hollywood]. I observe it, but there's so much else to be thinking about. Maybe it's because I'm with someone who's not with me because of that; I'm not a trophy. He [Upton] likes the vessel, but he also wants to make sure the vessel is full. The world of film can be so noisy, but the other aspects of my life are actually the noisiest parts of my life. My best friends are a social worker and a visual artist.

"I didn't set out to get somewhere. I thought it might be nice to work. But you just have to have a very accurate internal barometer with your own finger as the dial pointing to success and failure. The film industry is so noisy you have to find little quiet places to keep experimenting-otherwise, exit stage left. But the noise doesn't interest me; the work does."And work is what Blanchett does best.

From advising the Australian government on ways to improve intellectual and creative curiosity to running a state theatre, playing Russell Crowe's love interest in Robin Hood and reducing her carbon footprint, Blanchett is all about working tirelessly and wholeheartedly- passionately-for something you believe in.

Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, Vanity Fair, life etc, Mindfood, www.marieclaire.com

Published in the May 2010 issue

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