Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine French in Woody
Allen's latest film, "Blue Jasmine." Courtesy
Cate Blanchett & Peter Sarsgaard
On Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"
By Beverly Cohn
hat more can you say about one of the world's most gifted actresses?
We have watched Australian-born Cate Blanchett transform
herself on the big screen creating a myriad of distinctly different
characters. She's Elizabeth in "Elizabeth I,"
Lady Gertrude Chiltern in "An Ideal Husband,"
Connie Falzone in "Pushing Tin," Meredith
Logue in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," Galadriel
in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,"
Veronica Guerin in "Veronica Guerin," Tracy
in "Little Fish," Lena Brandt in "The
Good German," Sheba Hart in "Notes on a Scandal,"
(Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress)
Jude in "I'm Not There," Irina Spalko
in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,
Daisy in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,"
Marion Loxley in "Robin Hood," Marissa Wiegler
in "Hanna," and her most memorable performance as Katherine
Hepburn in "The Aviator," for which she received
an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In each
of these roles, Blanchett endows her characters with her special
brand of acting and has once again turned in a riveting performance
as Jasmine French in Woody
Allen's "Blue Jasmine," adding her character
to the long list of fabulous female roles Allen has written during
his long film career as writer and director.
Peter Sarsgaard is the love interest in "Blue
Jasmine." Courtesy photo.
Although truly the star of "Blue Jasmine,"
Blanchett is backed up with a strong supporting cast which includes
Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., Bobby
Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, and Peter Sarsgaard.
The fascinating story alludes to the Bernie Madoff scandal but
focuses on her character as his emotionally declining wife and graphically
takes us through the consequences of the rise and fall of great wealth,
power, and social status.
Actors Studio trained Peter Sarsgaard's
first role was in "Dead Man Walking," and since then
he has given solid performances in such films as "Desert Blue,"
"The Man in the Iron Mask," drew critical attention
for his role in "Boys Don't Cry," eventually earning
multiple awards including the National Society of Film Critics Award
for his role in "Shattered Glass." Other films include
"K-19: The Widowmaker," "The Salton Sea,"
"Kinsey," "An Education," "Garden
State," "Flightplan," "Knight and
Day," and "Jarhead," in which he co-starred
with his brother-in-law Jake Gyllenhaal.
Blanchett and Sarsgaard recently participated
in a non-exclusive press conference and the following has been edited
for content and continuity.
You've done an impressive cross section of characters.
Do you have a specific technique for preparing for a role?
Cate Blanchett as Jasmine struggles with her chemical
addictions. Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier
Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Blanchett: I don't have particular process. I think
the material, the director, and the other actors reveals what you need
to do. Woody was very much about it being alive. He wasn't interested
in anyone's homework. Obviously, as you were alluding to, the material
is so dense, especially with Sally (plays her sister)
and I in particular, who I think are the only two people who got the
whole script. We talked a lot about the back-story and how that can
inform the subtext. But it was a fascinating thing to play different
aspects of Jasmine. With different people, she was an entirely
L-R: Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight and Cate Blanchett
as Jasmine. Photo by Merrick Morton © 2013 Gravier
Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Sarsgaard: I had no idea what was going on. I had only
read my small part, which is completely isolated from the rest of the
story so I thought that Cate had kind of lost her mind, (Laughter)
and my job was to help her. In terms of preparing for this role, there
was very little preparation, partly because I knew so little. My wardrobe
was a very significant thing because it was one of the few things I
had before I started. I remember getting my wardrobe, which is all Ralph
Lauren. My underwear is Ralph Lauren. My socks are Ralph
Lauren. It was all Ralph Lauren, (Laughter) which
is like what my father wears so I started feeling kind of uncomfortable
in the fact that you know have to wear that clothing in a certain way
which really reminded me of my father.
How familiar were you with the Madoff debacle?
Blanchett: I followed the Madoff scandal like
everybody, but there's a whole other mini series in that fiasco and
that wasn't what Woody was basing it on so this was another story.
This is fiction and you have to play Woody's script because the
characters are so beautifully drawn.
L-R: Cate Blanchett as the tormented Jasmine and
Alec Baldwin as her "Bernie Madoff" type husband. Photo
by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions,
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Your character is suffering from a mental illness. Did
you do any special research on that?
Blanchett: Yes, but I'm no so "Method"
that I took Xanax every night. But, it's amazing things you find
on YouTube. So, yes, it was important for me to chart through
when she'd taken a Xanax, how many she'd taken, if she mixed
it with alcohol, and what the mental and physical effects would be.
Also, what I was trying to see was that sense when she was beginning
to have a panic attack and when she would break out in a sweat. So,
her physical state and her psychological state were kind of interesting
balls to try and juggle.
L-R: Director Woody Allen
sets up a shot with Cate Blanchett. Photo by Jessica
Miglio © 2013 Gravier
Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
What attracted you to the role and how much direction
did you get from Woody?
Blanchett: What did you say? (Laughter)
Sarsgaard: Character direction.
Blanchett: Character direction. Thank you. This is what
it was like working with men. (Laughter) When you get
Woody's call, you take it and you've already said yes before
you know what it is and you just hope it's a good one. Of course, his
films are never less than fascinating. I'd given up hope of ever working
with him. I thought he just wasn't interested. The minute I read the
script, I thought it was fantastic. It was impeccably structured. It's
absurd and tragic. I had heard that he was monosyllabic at best in relation
to the direction he gave actors, but I found he responded if he thought
the questions were interesting and if he didn't, he just waved me off.
(Laughter) A lot of the directing is in the script. I
would say, "How would you do it Mr. Allen?" And he
would get very Blanche Dubois like. (Laughter)
I said to him you know, you should have played this role and asked him
if he had considered that. He thought about it for a minute and said,
"no, it would have been too comic." But he was great and I
think he despised and revered Jasmine and I think he was fascinated
by her. Just think about all the extraordinary female characters he's
created with such wonderful actresses. He loves women their exuberance,
their intelligence, their fear, their phobias.
Peter Sarsgaard received
the call from Woody Allen
while expecting his wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal to give
birth to their baby. Courtesy photo.
Peter, how did you react when you got a call from
wife was very pregnant and we were waiting for the baby to come.
I got a call from my agent that he wanted to meet me. I had met Woody
once before years ago on "Everyone Says I Love You"
so I knew what the meeting was going to be like. I walked in and he
was incredibly affable actually and said he was shooting this film this
summer and that there was a part I was right for. And are you doing
anything else besides having a baby? I said, is there anything else?
(Laughter) I said no. I hadn't been planning on working.
He said it won't take very much time and that he would send the script
over to my house and the pages were sent over to my house just for my
character. I actually had trouble concentrating on the pages as I was
reading them because I was like of course I'm going to do this. I always
wanted to be in a Woody Allen film. I've been a huge fan forever.
Did Jasmine ending up on a park bench talking
to herself surprise you?
Blanchett: Yes. I found the whole story surprising and
not surprising when you think about what's happened to people financially.
If you sit in a park, you invariably will see someone mumbling to themselves
and sometimes they'll be very well heeled. I thought Jasmine
was just going to be in the Channel jacket and Woody was
happy with that. Then I thought maybe we could do something that was
a bit off so I said what if I had a shower and walked out of the house
without any make-up, which is a probably a career killer. (Laughter)
When you sit next to someone who is mentally disturbed or in the middle
of a break down, they can look, for all intents and purposes, completely
put together, but there's a vibration that comes off.
So that was your idea not to blow-dry your hair?
Blanchett: It came out of a conversation. I don't want
to say it was my idea.
Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth 1. Courtesy
Cate Blanchett as Maid Maid Marian opposite Russell
Crowe as Robin Longstride. Courtesy photo.
Cate Blanchett starred opposite Brad Pitt
in this charming film. Courtesy photo.
What did you like about your character?
Blanchett: I disagree. You don't have to like your character.
It's not forming to like them or dislike them. I think that's where
lies sentimentality and particularly with a character like Jasmine,
who a lot of what she does is unpalatable, it's your job to find out
why they are behaving they way they are. The story telling does that
and it's your job as an actor to make that subtext come to life. So
I think one can be compassionate, but you don't necessarily have to
like your character.
Sarsgaard: The only question I ever asked Woody
directly about my character was, I remember the day I proposed marriage
and I said, really like why am I? Where is this coming from and he said,
you want a wife. I went. Right. A wife. In watching the film, I realize
that the audience starts rooting for her to be with me knowing nothing
about me except that I'm wealthy. I'm like a life raft. There's no like
love thing that kicks off there. It's just that I wear clothes that
look like I'm a wealthy man. I actually have the quality of someone
who is not only wealthy, but who's like very comfortable in it and I'm
ambitious. So it made me play someone who is rather shallow. Somebody
who would ask someone to marry them just because they she looks right.
They look like a great person to stand next to. They seem reasonable
enough to get along with, you know like we get along well enough and
I like you. But there's a lot of stuff that I'm ignoring like this very
dominant flavor that's coming off of her of insanity that I'm just letting
drift away and going, but once you take your pills, it's going to be
great. (Laughter) So, as I watched the film, I do see
the way I kind of create this expectation of safe passage and then we
all realize oh, what she actually needs is money again, but that's not
really going to save her.
This is a story about the effects of loss of wealth
and status. Have you seen anyone in our profession experience this?
On being a mom and wife after a day of shooting
emotional scenes: "... You have to switch it off... But,
thats probably more a question my husband (Andrew Upton)
could answer." Courtesy photo.
Blanchett: I don't think it happens just in this profession.
I think it's happened all over America and all over the world
where peoples' sense of self is bound up in their relationship or in
their financial status and social circle and when all of that is ripped
away, which are the building blocks of our identity, so often in mid-life,
you have to look at yourself and say who the hell am I? If you don't
have financial security, and you don't have a support structure, then
madness can pretty quickly set in.
How do you re-center having some of those really
Blanchett: It was quite intense. The experience was
quite intense. There were so many lines to learn; so many situations
to unravel. But my children are there and are not interested in whether
you're playing Blanche Dubois or Jasmine French; they just want to do
their homework and have you play with them and feed them. And, I find
that a great leveler. You have to switch off. But, that's probably more
a question my husband could answer. (Laughter)