Just a month after portraying Veronica Guerin, “Lord of the Rings” trilogy star Cate Blanchett returns to the big screen opposite Tommy Lee Jones in the Ron Howard-directed suspense thriller The Missing. In the film, Blanchett plays Maggie Gilkeson, a young woman raising her two daughters in an isolated and lawless wilderness. When her oldest daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by a psychopathic killer with mystical powers, she is forced to re-unite with her long estranged father (Jones) to rescue her.
Although the film’s subject was of a dark nature, Blanchett said there was still plenty of fun to have on the set. “I love what I do. Everyday is fun. I find for something like this, the more intense and broad your preparation is, the more fun you can have,” she says. “It’s like anything, you want to move through the technical to the playing of it. No one wants to see anyone’s homework. No one wants to see me struggling to get a horse under control because I can’t ride it. And no one wants to see me not knowing how to deal with the psychological makeup of the character. Yeah, it was enormous fun. It was so many satisfying strands of filmmaking, from an acting perspective came together. I had a really great time.” The movie called for some intense scenes, though she was usually able to turn off the character when heading home. “I have a very healthy relationship to my work, and I find that if a scene is working, no matter how intense, you have the catharsis on screen and you can let it go. At the end of the day if you feel like you haven’t cracked it, that’s when you go home and it’s more difficult to switch off.”
Blanchett is a parent herself, which helped in preparing for the role. “There’s many, many different types of parents as there are many different types of children, and Maggie’s own childhood is incredibly damaged. The fortress that she’s built up around herself and the quality of the lioness that she brings in the protection of her family, I could definitely relate to. But for me it’s always the difference in the character that I strive to unlock because any similarity that is there is going to naturally unconsciously exist. I don’t need to mine that stuff.”
She did a lot of the horseback riding herself. “It was exhilarating. I did get there because I’d ridden side saddle in ‘Elizabeth’ before, but you’ve always got someone at the end doing this to the horse, sort of controlling the horse.” But this was different, she added, which became apparent when she first read the script. “There’s a lot of stunt riding required and I didn’t want to be in the position where I was saying to Ron, ‘I can’t do that, it’s too difficult.’ So I got there six weeks early and I rode out every day with the stunt guys and the wranglers. And then when Tommy Lee came we rode out together, and the girls, and it was a really, it was almost like silent rehearsal. We’re all getting to know one another by riding out into the middle of nowhere. So I loved it.”
Working with the guns, on the other hand, was a different story. “I found the guns more difficult. I suppose from a moral perspective I never feel particularly comfortable about holding a gun. But when you’re playing someone who lived in the frontier south west, guns are a part of their life, anyone who lives on the land. So yeah, I shot on a rifle range quite a lot too. Obviously we’re not shooting full loads, but you have to know what the kick-back feels like, and anyone who works with guns a lot, it becomes an extension of their body so I wanted to have that physical relationship to it.”
Blanchett speaks some Spanish in the film as well. “I worked with Ron a lot to altar Maggie’s dialogue so that even her English wasn’t grammatically correct because she couldn’t read or write. She didn’t have the guiding hand of a parent reading to her at bedtime. So it was important to me that the Spanish, I changed it with the Spanish tutor so that it wasn’t grammatically correct. It was something that she’d learned orally.”
She said Tommy Lee Jones and Ron Howard have always been interested in the Western genre, but this film is a little different from the norm. “I’d never been drawn to the genre. When I read the script and began talking to Ron, for me the huge departure is that in the classic Western, the female characters are either non-existent or the good-hearted prostitute or the maiden who needs to be rescued. They’re not an essential part of the narrative. They’re not riding right alongside the men. Both visually and also, they don’t have the same potency as they do in ‘The Missing’. And you have three really interesting female characters who are at the center of the story propelling the narrative forward. So for me that’s a huge, massive departure. And also I think too, the psychological development of the characters is never sacrificed for the momentum of the chase, which I think to me enriches the genre.”
Blanchett’s next film is The Life Aquatic, from director Wes Anderson. The film, starring Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Owen Wilson, follows the experiences of an oceanographer and his crew on a series of wild deep-sea adventures, including the search for a shark. “It’s been a really great year for me in the sense of working with Ron, then working with Marty and now working with Wes who are all completely different filmmakers. It’s been a smorgasbord of a year for me.”
While she won’t say much about her role in the film, she does give away this bit considering the fact that she’s three months pregnant in real life. “The great irony is that my character is pregnant. And when I was having the prosthetic belly fitted in Wes’ film, I fainted. And I thought that’s really odd. Then I thought I had gastro, and then I found out I was pregnant. It was a very weird experience, because I don’t know if any of you have had a body cast fitted. I recommend it. You have to take your clothes off, so you’re naked. So I did take my clothes off. And they cover you in plaster of Paris on the front and the back and it’s quite restricted. A lot of people did it for Lord of the Rings, from here to wherever, and you can’t breathe a lot, so I fainted and I must have smashed the cast. They put all of this black plastic around me so I woke up, and if you’ve fainted you don’t know where you are for the first sort of few minutes. I woke up in black plastic, covered in plaster, naked, I thought this is the end.”
She will also be doing a play and film in Australia. “My husband had done a new adaptation of ‘Hedda Garbler’ and I’m playing Hedda at the XTC next year. I’m [also] involved in making an Australian film with an extraordinary director. I don’t know if you saw a film called ‘The Boys,’ Rowan Woods, so that’s at the end of next year.”
Blanchett can be seen December, 2004 as Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s Aviator, starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. “You panic because I’m trying to represent somebody in the same medium in which they were iconic, in which the audience rightly feels they have a sense of ownership over her. But it’s for Martin Scorsese, the film is extraordinary, it’s an enormous challenge. I think there’s a sense that if you see something that is insurmountable, I’m likely to charge head long towards it and give it a go. That’s all you can do. Obviously the technical preparation has to be really solid, but at the end of the day I’m an actor in a film, which Marty kept saying, ‘you’re playing a character named Katherine Hepburn’. I’m not up there doing my cabaret impersonation of her, that would be grotesque. You have to be part of the film and you have to say Marty what do you want. And of course part of that job is to go as close towards her physical, vocal mannerisms, but we all know her as the creature, as she called herself, her screen persona, because she was desperately, desperately private. So to unlock that private person there’s a lot of poetic license I think.”
Next month, the highly-anticipated The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King hits theaters, in which Cate returns as Galadriel. “I shot all of that in three weeks in June about a thousand years ago. They shot for, well elves are many thousands of years old so it’s probably not that far from the truth. I’d always, always, always wanted to work with Peter Jackson and I’d work with him again in the blink of an eye. I think he’s a genius. But it was a very sort of surreal experience for me because they had been shooting for so long and I was just in and out very quickly.”
And what about the Oscar chances for the final installment? “With or without Oscars, Peter Jackson is a genius and everybody knows it. Awards are nice, but he’s got the absolute respect of his peers in the public. I’m sure deep in his heart that makes him feel great. With or without Oscar, he will go on to make other genius films.”
Watch Cate Blanchett in The Missing, opening in theaters on November 26.