In it, Blanchett plays Jasmine, a socialite in breakdown, a modern Blanche DuBois (a role Blanchett played a few years ago on stage, the “detritus” of which she says stays with her), distraught and destroyed by the betrayal of her Bernie Madoff-like financier husband (Alec Baldwin). On Jasmine’s stomping ground, the Upper East Side, Blanchett bent her ear to the neighborhood’s accents of affluence.
“I drank way too much wine sitting in restaurants by myself,” says Blanchett, today sitting in a midtown office in a sleeveless emerald green top and skirt.
The polished refinement, though, is only a small element — a surface that cracks — to Blanchett’s enormously layered performance in “Blue Jasmine.” Her Jasmine is, as she says, “a fragile, combustible cocktail of rage and guilt and fear.” Penniless in San Francisco, where she’s forced to stay at the working class home of her sister (Sally Hawkins), Jasmine is a vodka-swilling, Xanax-popping mess of self-loathing, denial and panic — a woman in free fall who can’t bear to face herself in the mirror.
Like many of the 44-year-old actress’ best performances, including her Oscar-nominated turn as Elizabeth I in 1998’s “Elizabeth,” Jasmine is a mix of ruthlessness (she’s brutal to those she considers inferior) and quaking vulnerability. The performance has been called a lock for an Academy Award nomination, which would be her sixth.
While Woody Allen is known for giving his actors wide berth, that such a powerhouse performance comes in a late film of his — a period mostly defined by lightness and international settings — comes as a staggering surprise. Though Blanchett immediately committed after a brief phone call from Allen, she, too, wondered which direction the film might go.
“The challenge was one of tone, particularly when I began to hear what the casting was like,” she says, noting that comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. ended up giving unexpected, natural performances. “I did think: Is this more in the line of ‘Bananas’ or ‘Interiors’? Which way is it going to swing? He did say to me three weeks in, ‘You know, this is a serious movie.’”
Allen had proclaimed his interest to work with Blanchett at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. She was the obvious choice, he says, for the part he had written based on a ruined New York family his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, told him about.
“I needed a great actress and when you think of great actresses in the world, Cate comes into mind immediately,” Allen said in an e-mail from France, where he’s shooting his next film. “Cate is one of those people that are great, she was great before she met me and she will be great after. I really have very little to say to her.”
Blanchett knew not to expect a lot of feedback from Allen, “so I wanted to come in with enough to offer,” she says. Of the details of her character, she says: “None of this was discussed or seemed to be of interest to Woody.”
“I’m not particularly needy as an actor,” says Blanchett. “I’m not doing it because I want to be told that I’m good.”