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August 25, 1999


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Hail The Queen!

Cate Blanchett Cate Blanchett was stunningly beautiful, both at the press conference and, later, as she sat down with for an interview.

Dressed for the former in an exquisitely embroidered churidar-kurta, she fielded questions with considerable ease and floored her inquisitors with warm smiles.

Later, with, she was more serious. White trousers and a pink knit blouse added to her cool and calm look, as she placing her room keys on the floor before settling down comfortably for the interview.

And this is what she had to say about playing queen, about working with the director of Bandit Queen, about India...

If you would like to watch and hear the interview, please click on the audio-visual link! For those who don't, we have provided a transcript of the entire interview for your reading pleasure.

When you were chosen to play the role of Elizabeth, how did you react? What did you know about Shekhar [Kapur, the director] and his background?

I had seen Bandit Queen and I thought playing Elizabeth would be an ego trip for any actress. But I thought it wasn't me offering anything new that I haven't seen in historical dramas on women in Elizabethan times. But when Shekhar started to speak of his vision, I got very excited by the prospect. And I was surprised to be asked. He had seen a film called Oscar And Lucinda I think, and it's great when the director has seen some of your work and asks you to do something completely different. That was really exciting.

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth You said what interested you was Shekhar's interpretation. Did his colonial background also play a part in it?

I think it's probably specific to Shekhar, as much as it is with his national heritage. I think he is very interested in the death of someone spirited, so I found that he was interested in the metaphysical journey which he was interested in far more than historical accuracy. I think that is a little interpretatious, and any country are like the English, are very particular in the way their history is represented to them, particularly Elizabeth because she is quintessentially English.

But what I think is particularly interesting about the story is that it would have perhaps been myth if someone else had directed it. It is such a vibrant, volatile... Like language was such a sexual tool. And I think that when the English look on their history, they look on it in a much more demure contained way. While I think the Elizabethan age was a passionate and vibrant age, which I think Shekhar has brought out -- the danger, this life and death thing...

Since you mentioned the violence, the vibrancy, do you think Bollywood history and background influenced Shekhar in any way?

I can't say specifically, because I have never worked with Shekhar in India, but he had a very particular way of working. He worked at his pace, which I kinda liked. He didn't take decisions quickly. He would make half a decision and would get everyone to go in one direction and then turn everything on its head and go in a different direction. Which I think is great because, then, you have to think on your feet and that means that everyone is on their toes ready to go. I think that creates a different kind of electricity between the actors and the crew.

How does it feel to be a queen? Not just Elizabeth, but any queen?

You can't act like one to begin with. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by actors like Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush and Lord Attenborough and they gave me so much and they endowed me with their... Not only what I love about the idea of looking at the film, where she begins and where she ends is so different, where the power actually shifts, so I had to earn the right to be queen, which I had to do actually by acting in the film because nobody knew who I was and which I hope I did. *smiles*

Joseph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth So how has Elizabeth affected your career?

I don't know, none of us thought that it would be, well you put your head down and work and hope for the best, I didn't expect it to be as far reaching and successful as it has been which is fantastic because you do it so that people will go and see it. So now I'm working in different areas in different countries which is exciting because earlier I was mainly working in the theatre in Australia and a few films not many, so I'm expecting to work more elsewhere.

Were you disappointed that the Oscar went to Gwyneth Paltrow?

No, no, not at all, it's so strange, I was in the middle of a rehearsal for a play and I know when you say that it often sounds disingenous. But I think Shakespeare in Love was a much more, in the best sense of the word, a more accessible film than Elizabeth. They had completely different aims, and it is unfortunate that, in relation to your question, set in the same time, that invites comparison.

Joe was in both, Geoffrey Rush was in both. But they were completely different performances. I was nominated along with Meryl Streep, Emily Watson, Fernanda Montenegro and Gwyneth and that is something that is forgotten. But no, no, I won the Golden Globe. I was excited. I was happy.

Were you startled that Elizabeth won only one Oscar?

No, No, I think it was, we were all thrilled, but didn't necessarily expect it to take off in America. It also did well in England where I frankly was more surprised to win the BAFTA award in England, than I was surprised to be nominated for the Oscars because I expected the British to be more reticent about the film. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about these awards to be perfectly frank.

What is like working day to day with Shekhar? What is he like as a human being, as a director?

He takes his time and once you have earned his trust he lets the actors go and he watches. If I could characterise one aspect or encapsulate his way of working, he listens very acutely and watches very acutely and he knows when to come in and when to come out. We wrestled with each other a lot, it wasn't a very polite way of working, and I think when you work very politely, you produce only one layer of work. There was often a tension which ended up in helping in what went up on screen.

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth You said you got the role after he saw Oscar and Lucinda, you said he really pushed you to do the role and he was your biggest champion. What did that feel like? What do you think really got him about you?

I don't know, it's really an impossible question for me to answer. But it's really fantastic when someone has that much confidence in you. And at the end of the day I'd rather the director has confidence in me than the producers because the producers are worried about selling their film whereas the director has faith in you as an actor, and because I had Shekhar's faith I felt I could strive into the first day of shooting, into the first day of rehearsals with him behind me and that was the most important thing to me.

Once you had the role, how did you react to it?

I was speaking to Shekhar on the phone, we hadn't met, and actually that is what I really loved, he actually cast me before we had the meeting which was really great. I did a screen test and then I knew pretty much the result, they didn't keep me waiting around, because sometimes when you screen test you keep on waiting for ages... it's torture, it's like pulling teeth, 'are you gonna get it or not?'

I was relieved and then I just went straight into it, there was no time, I was excited, it was en enormous challenge, I had to be at the helm of this big ship and that was my job and I got on with it, very boring answer, but true.

Was it smooth sailing on the ship?

No...god no, not at all, it was constantly changing, Shekhar was telling me about making films in India -- the script isn't there, and the script wasn't there! It was constantly changing, we were constantly evolving. He was constantly working and devising with the actors, we used to have midnight meetings to try and work out what we're gonna do the next day. But that's exciting and we had assembled an amazing group of people.

Eric Fellner, Remi Adefarasin as cinematographer, Alex Byrne, John Myrhe and finally getting Jill Bullcrock who is our national pride for editing. She is an absolute brilliant editor. But it meant that he was working with people who he could really push and test and rely on and so you often felt that it was less of a set and you were working in a sweatshop because you had people working round the clock but hey were doing it because they were passionate about what Shekhar was doing on screen.

Cate Blanchett at the press conference Every actor brought their own research, their own homework to this film. What did you bring with you to the sets?

Because Elizabeth is such a controversial figure, is she a man, did she have love children how many lovers did she have at all? That was open to conjecture. No one actually knows because she was like any monarch... her deepest secrets are rarely revealed. That was interesting but what I primarily did was I went back and read her letters particularly her early letters of her teenage years when she was incarcerated.

There is such a sense and combination of terror and terrible loneliness, but such an enormous sense of self, she was very prepossessed, she at an early age of 13, those letters were so knowing. She was a politician, she was born a politician I think. So I think going back to a primary source was very important to me to uncover a direct connection with her than a blurred connection with the story as how they saw her.

Any memorable anecdotes during the making of the film?

Well, there was a scene in the beginning of the film and a lot of lines directly came from what we read and we put them in, nothing in particular that I can remember... I remember on the very first day at the sets Shekhar gave me this book and said you do the research. I know the film I wanna make, but you fill in the gaps.

He gave me this book which was given to him, printed in 1920 I think called The sayings of Queen Elizabeth. And that book became my Bible, and whenever there was a problem I tore another page in the book and picked a quote that she had apparently said and that would come into the film. So a very smart move on Shekhar's part, it also made very good bedside reading.

What is your fave part of the making of the film?

It was a little bit like running a marathon for me and I remember the last day. The last scene we shot was the interrogation scene where the cameras were roaming around and she is fighting for her life and I remember walking out of the sets and it was literally a feeling like crossing the line and going like this *stretching her hands in the air breaking an imaginary ribbon*

But I also remember the very first take when she is pronounced queen on the mound and given the ring. Both I and Shekhar knew that one take was right while everyone wanted to go again and making that connection we knew we were on the same wavelength.

We'll just read out something that you have said

Oh no I'd probably changed my mind

You have said that Shekhar Kapur likes to work in 'a mood of heightened chaos... that the film was incredibly intense, that there was a lot of instability around.' What does it mean? Can you actually picturise it for us?

There were a few scenes where he would say I don't know what I'm doing. There was one scene where he wanted me to improvise Elizabeth in parliament and I didn't want to improvise and I was frustrated but he said just trust me. He'll put the camera on me and shoot three, four times, but I was so frustrated. I didn't know what to say and how to do it, and at the end of the day I told him you can't use it Shekhar, that was inappropriate and not right. But he was right, he juxtaposed the shot with her seen on the throne, those two images juxtaposed against each other told exactly what he wanted to say. I was what am I doing... so that was one of those moments, there were some moments that were very intense, but there were moments of intense exhilaration.

One last question, there was you, Shekhar Kapur, Geoffrey Rush, from the colonies. What was the equation with British actors like Sir Richard Attenborough and Joseph Fiennes?

Dicky... Lord Attenborough... he is such a generous man.... everyone was incredibly generous with the way they worked and everyone came from completely different acting backgrounds as well. But what was interesting was that the English actors were actually cross cast, like Christopher Eccelstone was playing a nobleman and he usually plays working class characters. Cathy Burke usually plays at the EastEnd playing Mary Tudor. So everyone was asked to do things that they hadn't done before and that was very exciting.

So what's on your plate now?

I have just finished doing a play in London and then I'm doing a film with Sally Porter called The Man Who Cried and then I don't know. team: Savera R Someshwar, Suparn Verma, Sharmila Taliculam and Rajesh Karkera.

Cate Blanchett's photographs in India: Jewella C Miranda

Video coverage: TV18

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