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THE ENVELOPE

Cate, on Cate

She's disappeared into all sorts of roles lately. And on she goes, remaking herself.

January 10, 2007|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

New York — CATE BLANCHETT considered her venti decaf nonfat latte. "Things are so big in America," she said. Four young studio publicists had squabbled over who would have to fetch this mega coffee for her. "What should I do with this? Hit someone over the head?" Her New York press day in December for "Notes on a Scandal" could have been worse. "I don't have cancer," she said when proffered pity. But she was locked in an ugly suite on the 12th floor of the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, when she'd rather have spent that time with her two young children.

She sat by a light in the dark room. Dressed in warm, strong colors, with the wide, rust-brown net of her stockings and her complicated necklace, her eyes dark that day, she looked like a beautiful pale octopus all clutched around herself.

The actress had spent February and March in New York, doing a vicious Hedda Gabler at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The academy had also shown her 2005 Aussie film "Little Fish," so Blanchett and her film and stage costar Hugo Weaving -- that's Elrond and Agent Smith to Americans -- did a little public chat in the movie theater one night.

Blanchett, clad in a black cape, and her playwright husband, Andrew Upton, had spoken in praise of the egalitarianism of Australian film sets -- "Everyone mucks in!" -- and in praise of theater. In film, she said with a little dismissal, "You need to be switched on and switched off." Theater, to her, was "energy production, really." So the balance was already swinging toward the theater and Sydney. This November, Blanchett, 37, announced she and Upton were taking full-time day jobs at the Sydney Theatre Company.

The next stage of her career

"I'D seen it coming for quite a while," said playwright Patrick Marber, a friend who also wrote the screenplay for "Notes on a Scandal." "But they actually told us the day before it was announced. It wasn't a surprise. I knew that they both enjoyed working at the Sydney Theatre Company a lot over the years. And I had the sense they were both looking for an artistic home."

The theater system, poisonous to a young audience with its hundred-plus dollar tickets, has tried to save itself by spewing out musical after awful musical. ("Yeah, it's global," Blanchett said -- tremors and shudders on the West End, Broadway and everywhere else.) It is maybe a sign of the times that 2006's biggest credit for one of the current generation's leading American playwrights is as an executive producer on an ABC dramedy. (That being said, Marber pointed out that he had a play that was doing "wonderfully well.") Still, so many straddle that thin, uncomfortable fence between the often unprofitable theater and the often frustrating studio system. Who can afford to jump?

Beginning in January 2008, Blanchett and Upton will sign on for three years as artistic co-directors of the Sydney company. "I hope it's going to be more than three years!" Blanchett said. "If one is to achieve anything, it'll have to be longer than three years." Indeed, the company, in its 27 years, has only had three previous artistic directors.

The company's directors are encouraged to pursue their own work three months of the year. Does this mean that Blanchett might film only once a year?

"Gosh, every actress should be so lucky, to find one great role a year," she said. "And whilst I might not take that every year, there's also two of us doing the job. And it will depend on where the company's at that year, and if anything comes up. But as long as the film industry will have me, then I'll have it."

This year and last, the film industry has had her fully. Her lithe, Golden-Globe-nominated sinner in "Notes on a Scandal" makes her fifth nomination -- her first was a win for 1998's "Elizabeth." There was her smoky German enigma in "The Good German" and her lost, injured American in "Babel," a film that garnered seven Golden Globe nominations. She is filming with David Fincher and, in late 2007, will bring what is expected to be a wallop: a return to the bodices of Queen Elizabeth I in "The Golden Age."

Had she consulted others -- agents, managers, the like -- in deciding about Sydney? "No, it was only amongst ourselves," she said, meaning her husband. "We're really galvanized by it," she said. "I think as an actor you can find -- particularly, you know, an actor who's been dallying in filmmaking -- you sort of work piecemeal.

"You can become very isolated in it," she said of jetting from set to set. She would leave that night for London. "You simply go from job to job to job and you have to find meaning in retrospect. Whereas there's something in being part of a company, an ensemble, that allows the development of not only you as an individual but you as a group of people -- that actually flows through the direction of the work, and hopefully, your own work becomes deeper and the company's work becomes richer."

Noted for good manners

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