Cate Blanchett on how Tár tackles cancel culture and #MeToo
Speaking to James Mottram in Radio Times magazine, Cate Blanchett discusses her BAFTA-nominated performance in Tár, cancel culture and her work with the UN.
This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.
All eyes will be on Cate Blanchett this Sunday.
Already a three-time BAFTA winner – for Elizabeth, The Aviator and Blue Jasmine – the 53-year-old Australian is gunning for a fourth with her critically acclaimed performance in Tár, in which she plays a highly driven conductor who has the classical music world at her feet - until she’s accused of predatory sexual behaviour by some of her former protégées…
Lydia Tár is hardly a sympathetic figure. Did you think twice before taking on the role?
"Well, there’s two things that decide what I do and when I do it: four children, and what comes up. Recently, [the chance to work] with Adam McKay [on Don’t Look Up] and Guillermo [del Toro, on Nightmare Alley] finally came up.
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"So, of course, that was what I did. I don’t know if that’s coming from theatre, but I don’t usually think. 'Oh my gosh, look at all these lines to say,' although that did cross my mind when I read this script!"
You learnt to play the piano as a child and took refresher lessons for this role. Did you also have to learn how to conduct?
"I will say from the get-go that the film is not about conducting – that’s something that Lydia Tár does like breathing. So I knew I had to find her way of breathing. I got really obsessed with [Austrian conductor] Carlos Kleiber and his tortured, ambivalent relationship to his work.
"And obviously, [groundbreaking female Dutch conductor] Antonia Brico’s mentioned, and I went back and looked at her. And Marin Alsop and Nathalie Stutzmann, who I’m completely obsessed with… And with my Australian compatriot Simone Young."
Is this a reverse #MeToo story? A woman in a position of power who abuses it…
"No, no… I think that whole inclusion of #MeToo, and the reason the film grapples with #MeToo, is because unfortunately it’s still very relevant and present in the industry. [From the victims] there’s a lot of unexamined rage, and I think exploring that is part of the creative process.
"I’ve just been reading a book on female rage. It’s really interesting, as a woman, when you’re used to trying to work within an imperfect system – say the movie business – despite the problems, to find success. And then you realise in fact, will this system ever serve me? Or, instead, do I need to break the system apart?"
Lydia Tár is brought down by a public outcry — so is this a film about cancel culture?
"Of course [there’s] cancel culture… you could lump #MeToo in with that, but I think that’s a big generalisation. They’re two different things. Look, fundamentally, these issues are part of the world that we’re in at the moment. So, of course, themes like #MeToo and cancel culture will be tackled in a film like this.
"But they’re plot devices and textures from the real world, they’re not the only thing we’re talking about. It is, dare I say it, more existential than that."
Is it right to cancel great artists because of their personal foibles?
"If you don’t read older books that are slightly offensive, because of what they say in a historical context, then you will never grapple with the minds of the time. So therefore, we are destined to repeat that stuff. The philosopher Schopenhauer… is his work extraordinary? Absolutely. You look at Picasso. You can only imagine what went on in, outside and around his studio.
"But do you look at Guernica and say that is one of the greatest works of art ever? Yes, it’s a fact. I think it’s important to have a healthy critique."
You and your husband Andrew Upton were co-artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company for five years. Are people uncomfortable with women in positions of power?
"You have to know when and where to use that power. But as a woman, when you don’t wield your power – in the way we see men wield their power – then people think you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you think. And that happens a lot. You also see it on set, less and less so, but with female directors."
You and Andrew were executive producers on the Australian film Shayda. Is it important for Aussies to stick together?
"Yes. When Andrew and I were running the Sydney Theatre Company (2008-13), we really enjoyed producing other people’s work. It can sometimes be 'hard yakka', as they say in Australia, to forge a career in the arts. It can be a bit brutal. So if you have a chance to scaffold and support people’s career development, I find that really rewarding."
You’re also a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Should actors speak out?
"If you find yourself with a platform, you can either use it for self-aggrandisement – which I do occasionally! – or to hopefully positive ends. Certainly, it’s been life-changing for myself and my family to be involved in UNHCR."
How has it affected your family?
"Well, my husband and I don’t quarantine what we do from our children. We like to talk about it around the dinner table. Our son [Ignatius] came with us on a mission to Jordan, and just watching him play soccer with the boys in the Azraq camp… this one boy wouldn’t get up to play with him, and he said, 'Does he not want to play?'
"And I said, 'No, darling, he got shot and he still has shrapnel in his foot from when he was crossing from Syria to Jordan – he can’t walk properly.' You could see him going, 'That is so outside my experience.'"