Cate Blanchett on Ocean's Eight, Thor: Ragnarok, and playing Lucille Ball
Cate Blanchett has recently had what she describes as a very low-key time in her life. “I took a big chunk of time off to be with my family — we adopted our little girl — and it’s been a lovely, quiet year,” she says. We’re guessing that’s going to change because Blanchett is about to become very, very busy indeed.
She recently arrived in New York City to begin work on Ocean’s Eight (alongside Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina), and from there will go directly into her Broadway debut starring alongside Richard Roxburgh in The Present, directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn). And that’s all before she gets to work on Where’d You Go, Bernadette, adapted from the 2012 best-selling and beloved Maria Semple novel with Richard Linklater directing, or to get her chance to play the great Lucille Ball in an authorized film — produced by Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. — about Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Oh, and somewhere in there, she found time to shoot Thor: Ragnarok. We caught up with the two-time Oscar winner to discuss it all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You are playing the bad guy in Thor, right?
CATE BLANCHETT: Yes, You get to a certain age and you don’t play the hero anymore. [Laughs] You play villains. Villains and drunks.
Co-star Mark Ruffalo has described your character, Hela, as “the worst of the worst.”
Did he say that? Well, he’s the greenest of the green! I didn’t get to work so much with Mark, unfortunately. But I did get to work with Chris [Hemsworth] and talk about delightful! He’s just absolutely fabulous. The whole thing was just a riot and fantastic fun. Did you see [director] Taika Waititi’s film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople? Or, What We Do in the Shadows? He’s just got such a sure hand. He’s wonderful — I’d eat him for breakfast if I could. He’s absolutely delicious. And he’s irreverent which is great because Marvel, at its best, has its tongue firmly in its cheek.
Chris Hemsworth is actually sort of a giant in person. It’s not just movie magic!
He is a big guy! But, you know, you get on the Avengers/Marvel bandwagon — they’re making so many of these behemoths at once — he doesn’t have any time to sort of get chubby. I do love Chris in these movies — he has that really playful side of him that he gets to truck out.
So you’re now in New York to start work on Ocean’s Eight, which we’re all very excited about.
I’m excited too. It’s going to be its own thing. [Producer] Steven Soderbergh will be all over it but [director] Gary Ross has been behind the scenes for all the previous ones and understands that universe. So this an interesting side step.
There’s not too much known about the plot of this film except that it involves a heist and the Met Gala. You’ve attended that gala in real life.
Yes, I chaired it with Nicolas Ghesquière and François-Henri Pinault in 2007. So I know it from that angle but this is an entirely different thing. It’s like giving a kid a camera on Christmas day and suddenly seeing things from their perspectives. The whole thing, the way it’s put together, it’s really smart and fun.
What can you tell us about your character?
Uh….I’m not sure. [Laughs] I probably shouldn’t go into too much detail but I play a long-time cohort. It feels fun. I must admit, I get excited about who is making it and who is in it, and then I want to be surprised by it.
It’s so great to have this powerhouse ensemble of women onscreen together.
Yes. There’s this really entrenched and lazy thinking that says there’s a certain demographic who watches films a certain way and that narratives have to reveal themselves — men should be at the core and women should be an objectified part of that process. It’s really deeply uncreative. It doesn’t produce anything interesting for men or women. It’s time to stop talking about these films as “female” projects, and just call them good and interesting projects, full stop.
And you basically go straight from filming into your play, The Present, right?
I think I finish on the Saturday and I’m in rehearsal on a Monday. [Laughs] We did this show last year in Sydney and we’re transferring it over here which is great. It’s from an almost broken fragment of a work of Chekhov’s that Andrew Upton [Blanchett’s husband] adapted.
It seems crazy that after all this time on stage, this is your Broadway debut.
We’ve come to New York a few times before — to BAM and Lincoln Center. It’s difficult because we were running the company [From 2008 to 2013, Blanchett and her husband Andrew Upton were co-CEOs and artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company] and had children and schools so it wasn’t possible to do a long run. Now that we’ve left the company, it’s a much more achievable. It’s exciting. It’s a whole different audience. And I’m really happy that the entire original cast is coming. And John Crowley is directing! We’ve been trying to work with him ever since we came through the door — he directed Brooklyn, which is so utterly heartbreaking. He’s great.
And then next year you’ll start on Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
And finally, I want to know what’s going on with the Lucy and Desi Arnaz project you are attached to.
Lucie Arnaz has been incredibly, unbelievably generous. We met a few years ago and started talking about this and now Aaron Sorkin is in advanced talks to adapt her mother and father’s story. It’s incredible. I mean, you want to talk about astonishing women who have made a lasting impact? You walk onto a film set and you’ve got the female bathrooms called “Lucy” and the male bathrooms called “Desi.” [Laughs] She was the first female studio head, for goodness sake, and a mother and she broke all the rules and changed comedy and was this incredible actress. And then you’ve got this amazing love story between these two people. He’s Cuban and he’s younger than her.
I don’t think I realized he was younger.
Of course, we won’t be casting anyone younger than me. [Laughs] But really, it’s so great and Lucie Arnaz has been so amazing to give us the authorized version of her story. It’s an incredible act of trust.
I take it that I Love Lucy made it to Australia?
Oh god, yes. I think she was watched around the globe. I’ve watched them all. But of course, it’s one thing to watch as a fan and then it’s another to think about how to delve in. There’s so much there and it’s so rich. But it’s a lot to try and think about inhabiting that genius!
So when do you think you’ll be able to get it going?
As soon as possible! I’ve read a lot of films — and made a few — that have ended up being biopics. In the end, this has to be so much more than that. The directorial vision of it will be absolutely vital. It’s terrifying. But like all good things, it’s equally terrifying and exciting.