Cate blanchett asks julia roberts if enough is enough gas in back and chest

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Cate Blanchett does not play nice. Her performances almost always hinge on the unhinged. Although she is nothing if not regal gas monkey monster truck driver—audiences will forever remember her as Queen Elizabeth I, a part that earned her the first of her seven Oscar nominations—Blanchett has never backed away from malice and mania, or what she describes as the “King Lear end of the spectrum.” The 49-year-old Australian actress has stalked down the darker corridors of human complexity by inhabiting a sexually repressed housewife in Carol, a shrill and martini-drowned socialite in Blue Jasmine, and, most recently, an agoraphobic architect in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the Maria Semple novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, out later this year. And yet, from a hotel room near London’s National Theatre, where she has been taking the stage in a production of When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Blanchett wonders whether enough is enough. From across the ocean, at home in Los Angeles, Julia Roberts helps her grapple with the answer.

BLANCHETT: You are a good friend. I’ve just had a half-bottle of red after a rather challenging day of rehearsal for a play I’m doing at the National Theatre [ When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other]. As you get older, acting just gets more and more humiliating. When I was younger, I would wonder why the older actors I admired kept talking about static electricity sound effect quitting. Now I realize it’s because they want to maintain a connection to the last shreds of their sanity. As I get older, I ask myself if I still want to submit myself to the shamanistic end of this profession and go completely into madness. It’s the King Lear end of the spectrum of what we do, right? So I’m on the proverbial couch thinking, “Do I want to go that direction, or do I actually want to live a life?”

BLANCHETT: At the moment I’m thinking, “Where do the radical ideas actually exist?” I gravitate toward museums and galleries but often they tend to speak predominantly to audiences that have time to go into that quietude. There are such large sections of our communities that don’t have the time because they’re working two or three jobs. But what I love electricity experiments for preschoolers about those things is that they get to deal with abstract ideas. We get so used to these narrative structures, but there are certain ideas that don’t fit into that slot, so I’m finding my work with visual artists or choreographers more gas stoichiometry practice sheet rewarding at the moment than the cookie-cutter projects.

BLANCHETT: No, but it really is. I have to go onstage in my underwear yet again, and I’m thinking, “Why? Why don’t I just feed the chickens and read Proust?” It’s on my bookshelf staring at me right now. All these volumes I have purchased and not yet read. Why have I not picked those up? Why am I still bothering to make movies? Why do you make movies?

ROBERTS: I think the first time that Danny [Moder, Roberts’s husband] and I worked together after we were married was the first time that I suddenly thought, “Oh my gosh, what I do for a living is so silly. I’m calling myself a different name. I’m wearing somebody else’s clothes. And I’m basically playing pretend on a huge electricity facts ks2 scale.” I had never been so self-conscious until I was suddenly doing it in front of my husband, thinking, “What must he think?”

BLANCHETT: When you’re so inside a richly lived life, you suddenly think, “Do I need to pretend to live inside these other experiences?” When you have a richly lived experience, you can empathetically extrapolate out from there. That’s what women like Rachel Cusk and Maggie Nelson do in their writing. And that’s where I found Bernadette. I recognized something very deeply about a creative life that shuts down.

BLANCHETT: It was this Machiavellian vegetarian plan that I had for my kids, that they would form this deep connection with the piglets, which were very cute and smelled kind of like smelly people. And then I would tell them that if we eat sausages, they’re coming from these pigs. The kids were just totally fine with that and I was horrified. My plan to turn my family vegetarian was a monumental failure grade 9 electricity formulas.

BLANCHETT: When I feel like it’s a pre-masticated version of something I’ve already done? Like a margarine commercial, where the agency thinks, “This worked before, so, hey, let’s do it again!” After I played Queen Elizabeth, I got offered myriad roles that were basically the same story with a different gas and electric nyc costume. There was no potential for discovering anything new. There’s no risk.

BLANCHETT: We worked together years ago on a film in France called Charlotte Gray. He’s so open and egoless. As we all know, that is rare in a male actor. How many times have you and I said, “That’s a great role—I’m not the lead, but the male lead is a great actor and I’d really love to be a part of this project”? Invert that, and you don’t have a lot of men who would come to the party in the same way for a woman. Billy is one of those guys who says yes. It’s rare that you get an actor of his caliber who is prepared to play the so-called “husband role.” The best thing for me about this post–[Harvey] Weinstein era is the opportunity to learn from it. We can change the structure, to have horizontal conversations rather than hierarchical ones. That’s a matriarchy. I think the opportunity here is to reinvent the power structure so that it is genuinely more inclusive. It’s not about competition—it’s about collaboration.

BLANCHETT: I wish I were interviewing you. It feels a little like a veil has been lifted, and we’re talking to one another in a muscular way about stuff that we’ve had to deal with. We can all pretend that we live in a community, but we actually live in a capitalist environment and gas company our worth is being measured in dollars. It’s a really boring conversation to have because when you talk about the creative industry, it’s always seen as, “Well, you’re famous. You’ve got the opportunity to do this electricity tower vector, and now you’re being greedy to talk about money.” But you’re not. You’re talking about really practical things such as residuals, producing credits, insurance. In the end, you’re actually talking about status. And status opens doors, whether you’re in the banking sector or the film industry or whatever. They’re not attractive conversations. They’re not conversations that women are traditionally meant to have because we’re expected to be more demure, but there are certainly robust “masculine” compensations that are had by our male counterparts, so why shouldn’t we be a part of that dialogue?