SO AS FAR AS OUT DIRECTOR TODD HAYNES IS CONCERNED, calling Cate Blanchett the coolest straight woman of 2007 is an understatement. "She's just so cool she calls 'straight' completely into question," he laughs. "You can quote me on that."
Haynes caught the full force of Blanchett's mojo as she prepared to play a character modeled on Bob Dylan in Haynes's new movie I'm Not There. "I knew ill my gut physically that it was going to be startling and effective," says Haynes from his home ill Portland, Ore. "I knew she would actually look like Dylan. But it's not until you stand opposite her ill complete costume. The first time she put it all on, I went to see her ill her trailer and we both just sat there staring at each other."
We can relate. Cate Blanchett takes our breath away. She defies the categories by which we measure smaller stars. She's brilliant enough to take on Queen Elizabeth I and Bob Dylan in a single moviegoing season. She's mysterious enough to make us believe her in both roles. What can we say? She's cool.
When I meet her, Blanchett is both pleased and amused to receive The Advocate's recognition. "I heard I was going to be the coolest straight person. How kind!" she says. "There's a lot of us to choose from."
Our conversations take place in New York City, where Blanchett is doing press for both Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I'm Not There, and again by phone as she drives through Southern California's canyons on her way to guest on The Tonight Show. Lovely looking in person, she is focused, direct, friendly. Regarding her life on-camera, she communicates in a rushing flow of ideas. About her life off-camera, she gives notice that she won't be giving us juicy details.
"You make a decision when you walk onstage into this arena--the public arena--about what you're prepared to wholesale and what's not up for sale," says the actress, who is married to playwright Andrew Upton and has two children. "And the lives of the people I care about are not up for sale." Celebrity culture, she rightly observes, is "a circus. It's being led by the media. It's not being led by the 16-year-olds being chased around in cars. It's junk. I don't want to fill my mind with junk."
Pursued as she is by the press, Blanchett couldn't help but feel a kinship with the enigmatic Bob Dylan. In I'm Not There she plays Jude, the coolest, most iconic character in the film; it's her silhouette that dominates the movie poster. The character is inspired by the electric Dylan of the Don't Look Back era; the Dylan who was praised and vilified; the Dylan who was turning out a series of brilliant masterpieces like Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde; the Dylan who one-upped the Beatles with press conferences filled with sly remarks and combative answers that showed him to be John, Paul, George, and Ringo all rolled up into one.
"The questions that he kept being asked by the press!" exclaims Blanchett, who studied the complete interviews Dylan gave to the media in Stockholm, Paris, and London, thanks to footage provided by Dylan's manager. "The level of vitriol and passion with which he'd been labeled and claimed! What I really admire--not only [about] him in that period but over the course of his career thus far--is that he's constantly said, 'I'm not going to be dictated by your love or your hate of what I do.' I'm sure it doesn't mean that that level of vitriol didn't affect him. But he had to be bigger than that. It wasn't going to prevent him from continuing to experiment."
The first time she caught our eye, Cate Blanchett was floating in a lake. White undergarments clung to her body, and as she rose to the surface, she began to chat merrily away in French to the sky. Who was this lovely creature in 1997's Oscar and Lucinda?
There was a wonderful queerness to the 28-year-old Australian. With her amorphous nose and pale eyes, she didn't look like a starlet, or, for that matter, like anyone else. …