Cate Blanchett turns in a poignant performance as the brilliant, erratic title character in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 best-seller Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which centers on a once-celebrated architect who checks out of a stifling domestic life. The film, in select theaters this Friday, costars Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, and more, and rigorously explores the nuances of motherhood and fulfillment. EW spoke with Blanchett about Bernadette’s odyssey of self-discovery.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been quite a long journey, from when you filmed the movie to it coming out.
CATE BLANCHETT: Yeah. And I read the book like everybody and loved it, years and years ago. Hoping it was going to be made. Sometimes things take time, the right time. And this is the right time. I was a fan of the book. It’s hilarious in a relentless kind of way. I love Maria’s writing. For me, it’s always the elements — I was drawn to this mash-up of two unlikely creative bedfellows, in Richard Linklater and Maria. In a way it’s a Richard Linklater movie of a Maria Semple novel. It’s quite a curious entity!
How do you see those distinctions?
Well, it still retained the fact that you’ve got a woman at the center who’s really feeling a seismic gap between who she thinks she was and having to face who she actually is — in order to really move on to who she still might possibly be. I think it still retains that. Have you read the novel?
Yes, I have.
It is relentless, right? And because it’s an epistolary novel, it’s a wonderful thing, but a bugger to adapt. It’s all written from a very particular perspective. What Bernadette is masking is grief and melancholy — a sense of loss, an inability to deal with her creative failure. In a movie, you get to get inside that. Hopefully we’ve created something that is strange and absurd and still has the absurdity of the novel, but also gets to what the book is deliberately pushing away, which is having to look at yourself. It’s not always funny. And [another] challenge of adapting it for the screen is [that] the central character disappears. All of those things that you can hold off and don’t question in a novel, when you see them, you ask different questions of the film. It’s a tricky thing, to balance the disappearance but then actually seeing Bernadette’s journey.
How did you and Richard Linklater conceive the character together?
Well, Rick likes to talk. That was the great thing: just sitting, chewing the fat with him. That’s the way he works. It’s the relationship with the director, and the vision for the director’s material, that in the end makes something become a film. Otherwise you just go and read the book. It was working to his rhythms. My job, I guess, was trying to bring as much of the Bernadette as I could from the book to that. But it was a lot of talking. As freewheeling and often laconic as his films are, he’s quite meticulous about making sure the actors really own the language and own the scenes.
You have these long monologues where Bernadette is giving notes to her “virtual assistant.” The tone is very tricky there.
Yeah, it is. Like we all do when we talk to people on the internet, we’re actually just talking to ourselves. It’s a sense of isolation. Whether you’re in a creative field or not, you can relate to that sense that your life is being outsourced to other people. You’ve also then got the real, present relationship that she’s avoiding, which is her relationship with her husband and ultimately her relationship with her neighbors, and the place in which she lives.
And then of course she goes to Antarctica. It’s moving to watch her really find herself again there. What was the experience like for you?
She literally goes to the farthest reaches of the earth in order to find herself! I’m so obsessed with the Antarctic. If I’m honest, I thought, “Oh, God, I finally get to go!” And then Rick said, “Well, you know, it might have to be greenscreen because of the budget.” I went, “Oh, sh—.” I was very disappointed. But then of course, the quality of the light and the experience of being there. We went to Greenland and got caught in, I don’t know, a Category 20,000 hurricane? [Laughs] We were living the dream! That was an extraordinary part of the shoot. It was fantastic. And the ship reeked of vomit. That’s a very intimate experience to have with your fellow castmates! [Laughs]
What else did you love about working on this particular project?
Everything with Kristen Wiig, of course, I adored. All of the stuff with Billy; I’d worked with him years and years ago on a film, so it was really great to work together again. In the end, it was maybe like Bernadette: all of the stuff that we shot on the ice. The house itself was a character too. The production design was so fantastic. All of the set decoration and just talking to the art department about this house, which was an extension of Bernadette herself.
Was there something about Bernadette that stuck to you after you finished filming?
I think there’s a little bit of Bernadette in everybody. We’re all pretending to be one thing when we’re actually something else. We’re always running from some part of our past that we think we’ve dealt with. Normally it rears its ugly head at 4 a.m. And the sense of who you want to be as a parent, the failures and the grief of your children moving onto another stage of their lives, where you can’t keep them in that special wonderful place, but you also can’t let them go. She’s holding onto so much by her fingernails. I really related to that stuff, as a mother.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is such a beloved summer book now. What’s your beach read recommendation?
I’m from Australia, where we have no seasons. [Laughs] I don’t know if it’s a summer read, but I’ve been reading a lot of Maggie Nelson. I’ve been delving into her poetry. I did a play recently at the National; I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t read her before, and so I consumed all of her stuff.