So many actresses in their early prime seem in arrested adolescence. Their coquetry and little-girl voices suggest they're campaigning for prom queen, not great film roles. Cate Blanchett is gloriously different. She's a grownup, radiating an aristocracy that has no fancy airs, just a warm, alert intelligence. Beauty helps, and height (she's 5 ft. 8 1⁄2 in.), but what's crucial is that regal poise. Onscreen her magic can ennoble those in her orbit (when she's a virgin queen in Elizabeth or the Lady of Lórien in The Lord of the Rings). Sometimes it dashes them on the rocks of malice (as in Veronica Guerin and Notes on a Scandal). Either way, as an icon or a threat, the Blanchett woman is a prize worth fighting, scheming, dying for.
From the start, acclaim came to her as easily as tabloid headlines to other young stars. Within a year of her 1992 graduation from the Australian national drama school, she was the It girl of the Sydney stage, playing Shakespeare's Ophelia and Miranda, one of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls and the accusing student in David Mamet's Oleanna. Her first lead film role, in Oscar and Lucinda, glowed not with promise but with an early, ripe achievement. Her first movie outside Australia, Elizabeth, won her an Oscar nomination.
Blanchett, 38 this month, has graced heist movies (Bandits) and angsty art films (Coffee and Cigarettes). But she's really an emissary from another, older world: the empyrean of classic movie glamour. Directors trying to capture the mature allure of old Hollywood think of her first: to play Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, a Marlene Dietrich type in The Good German, the ideal match for a grizzled archaeologist in the next Indiana Jones epic.
The actress who can do anything is now, it seems, doing everything. In films she'll play Bob Dylan (kind of) in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Queen Elizabeth again (with Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh) and the voice of Mrs. Fox in the cartoon The Fabulous Mr. Fox. She was a superb Hedda Gabler onstage and was named co-director of the Sydney Theatre Company with her husband Andrew Upton. Is there anything she can't do? Well, odds are that if some impossible acting challenge occurs to her, she'll try it.
Years from now, when cinephiles are asked to name the movies' golden age, they'll say it was when Cate Blanchett was in them.
Next Alber Elbaz