Blanchett feels responsibility for her characters

She shows Veronica Guerin's darker side

Movies: on screen, DVD/Video

October 23, 2003|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

TORONTO -- There's a connection between Cate Blanchett's performance as the elfish Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and her turn as crusading and martyred Irish journalist Veronica Guerin in the film of the same name. It's not obvious, Blanchett says, but it's there.

"You have a responsibility to a real person," Blanchett says. "And I wanted to get as close to the real Veronica Guerin as I could.

"But it's no more daunting than playing Galadriel, let's be honest. Fifty years of Tolkien's readers own her. And they're not taking that work that I do there lightly, either."

The preternaturally beautiful Blanchett was a natural choice for Galadriel, the pale, flinty, all-seeing queen who helps send the members of the Fellowship of the Ring on their quest. But through the years, she's been even more at home playing real people such as a British monarch in Elizabeth, a prisoner of war in Paradise Road, Veronica Guerin and even Katharine Hepburn in the Martin Scorsese -Leonardo DiCaprio Howard Hughes bio-pic, The Aviator.

"As an actor, you have to be irreverent," she says, unapologetically. "You can't just say `Here's the literal truth.' You say, `I've got an hour and a half to tell her story. What's the drama?'"

Veronica Guerin, which opened last week, follows the latter stages of the career of Guerin, a newspaper reporter who became a celebrity for challenging Dublin's powerful drug gangs and was murdered in 1996. There is still a "very real and present grief that surrounds her, her family and friends," Blanchett says. But "they wanted it to be right. They wanted it to be true, as true as a film, a work of fiction, can be.

"She's kind of the classic American Hollywood archetypal hero, fighting injustice and crime her own way," Blanchett says of Guerin.

What Blanchett fought for was for the chance to show Guerin in her less flattering moments. She rattles the cages of the powerful and anonymous drug leaders. She neglects her family. She gets cocky. And she is utterly stunned when they beat her and then shoot her in the leg. After all, she's Veronica Guerin.

"You see her colleagues, and they give her no respect at all because of the corners she cuts, because of the fluffy things she sometimes writes," Blanchett says. "When you're presenting a character who's real, you can't just present the sympathetic sides of her, because of all the shocking warts that any of us has."

The 34-year-old Australian has relished the chance to play those shocking warts in her career. Blunt, even a bit profane, she doesn't sugarcoat herself, her work or the characters she plays. She was a vile and irresponsible tramp who abandons daughter and husband in The Shipping News, a little crazy in Bandits, vengeful and murderous in Heaven.

And she's a shallow and addicted-to-fame version of herself in Coffee & Cigarettes, the new Jim Jarmusch comedy that pairs Blanchett with herself as she plays both Cate, the too-cool movie star, and her chain-smoking failure of a cousin.

"Bit of a lark, but mean and fun," she says of Coffee. "But you know, that wasn't really me," Blanchett hastens to add. "It was all scripted. I don't think I'd be nearly as interesting as the `Cate' in that movie."

How will she play Hepburn, the world-famous movie star who seemed to live one life onscreen, and another off?

"It's a really tricky thing, playing someone who existed not just in real life, but on film. Hepburn's persona on film bears very little resemblance to how she was in everyday life.

"You have to treat her as if she's a character -- Katharine Hepburn, the character. Because Hepburn and Hughes, we don't know what they said, how they were with one another. So let's pretend we do and say these lines."

Blanchett's search for the dark underbelly includes her take on Ireland, a land often portrayed on film as packed with happy, soccer-and-beer mad raconteurs traipsing from pub to pub through fields of green, green shamrocks.

"I knew nothing of the enormity of the drug problem that developed in the '80s and '90s in Dublin, basically because the government had been so focused on the IRA and the paramilitaries," Blanchett says. "The drug barons had taken advantage of that distraction. So many dramas about Ireland have this IRA or clergy background, so this struck me as something new."

She herself was new to the world of journalism, especially as the Irish practice it. Blanchett's used to the American, Australian and British press covering her every move, announcing her every pregnancy (she is expecting her second child this spring). But that was nothing like the cutthroat world of Irish reporting she discovered playing Guerin.

"It's a very conversational, very gossipy culture, a culture of storytelling," Blanchett says of Ireland. Guerin "was not just educating the public about this huge drug problem, she was entertaining readers with the characters and the storytelling.

"Veronica wasn't a typical journalist. She never had a desk. She did the job out of her car. She would take off for two or three weeks and call from Portugal, asking them to wire her some money.

"She was a war correspondent, in a way, with a very particular way of working, ways of getting people to speak to you who don't want to speak to you."

Did she nail it? Producer Jerry Bruckheimer may be biased when he calls Blanchett "brilliant," but he has the endorsements to back up that bias.

"Her best compliment was from Veronica's mom, who was in tears when she told her, `You walk like her and you talk like her,'" Bruckheimer says. "Cate made them cry."

For film events, see Page 46.

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