Notes on a Scandal: Cate Blanchett

This voice inside me was going, why shouldnt you be bad Why shouldnt you transgressBlanchett’s Sheba Hart

While Barbara Covett secretly hopes for a life-long friendship with Sheba Hart, Sheba unwittingly seals the deal by following her own precarious desires betraying her loving, older husband and family by diving headlong into an affair with one of her own teenaged students. With Shebas scandalous behavior and her frantic need to keep it a secret, Barbara gains the upper hand–or so she thinks.

The delicate nature of Shebas encounters with both Barbara and the schoolboy Steven called for an actress of consummate skill, so it immediately made sense to the filmmakers to pair Judi Dench with Cate Blanchett Blanchett having garnered an Oscar nomination starring in the title role of ELIZABETH most recently won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress with a spirited turn as screen legend Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorseses THE AVIATOR. But as with Dench, the role of Sheba would take Blanchett far from those more regal performances.

Casting Blanchett

Patrick Marber had always envisioned Cate Blanchett as Sheba. When I was writing the screenplay, I became even more certain that she had to play Sheba, says Marber. Friends for many years, he knew she would be perfect for the role. I know Cate socially and were pals, but Ive never worked with her before. And I couldnt be more thrilled with her performance. I think shes really raw in a way that I think will shock people.

Zo Heller found Blanchetts casting eerily close to what she had always imagined Sheba to be like as a person. Cate is as damn near an incarnation of what I had in my head as you could get, she says. So it was like having a dream and then seeing it acted out before you.

Page-turner book

From her first encounter with Hellers book, Blanchett herself was compelled. Its an absolute page-turner, she says. Its all told from Barbaras perspective so the challenge for Patrick Marber as the screenwriter and for me as an actor was to liberate Sheba from Barbaras point of view for the film, to make her live and breathe in her own right. Ultimately, on the screen, I think the two women hold up a mirror to one another.

Marber actually turned and adapted the novel into its own creature, which is often I think the trick to making an adaptation work, says Blanchett. Ive been involved in several adaptations where theyve almost been too slavish to the form that the novel has taken and you really need to liberate yourself from that in order to make the film live and breathe in its own right.

Going Deep Inside a Transgressor

Blanchett was excited to get a chance to explore Sheba from several angles, none of them easy or simple. Cinematically, I think to spend time with someone who transgresses a moral boundary like Sheba does, you have to go deep inside who that woman is, she explains. There are a number of things in the novel that really struck me and I hope Ive brought them to the film. Shebas a young woman who has married an older man, who feels she has sort of whittled away her youth and has found herself feeling hopelessly without accomplishment or any sense of larger meaning. Shes ready to change her life and, in a strange way, her opening act of rebellion is this relationship with a 15 year-old boy. You could say shes trying to recapture her lost youth. It seems shes unable to function in the grown-up world and part of her journey is accepting that she is a product of her own choices.

The irony of Sheba, Blanchett notes, is that Barbara enviously believes her to be entirely privileged and happy. From Barbaras perspective, Sheba has the gift of being in a loving marriage and being surrounded by people who adore her but Sheba feels just as profoundly, deeply lost and isolated, she observes.

Hardest Connection

Yet for all her understanding of how Sheba ends up in her scandal-ridden position, Blanchett still found it a serious challenge to embody the characters unlawful desires. Its really been the hardest journey of connection Ive ever had with a character, she admits, because I could understand having a relationship with a much older man but I look at a 15 year-old boy and all I see is a child. But I think Sheba herself is surprised by it. Shes not someone who has targeted a child. Rather, I think she would say in the beginning that this is a great love but part of her journey is to be boldly and frighteningly revealing to her inner self.

Collision Course

Indeed, Blanchett believes that Sheba was already on a collision course with radical change in her life even before Barbara began playing her dangerous games. I feel if Sheba had ended the affair when she told Barbara she had, she would still have done something else to upset her life, the actress says. People who are hidden from themselves will create all kinds of circumstances to expose themselves. I think Sheba gives herself an intellectual excuse for the attraction. She idealizes the notion of taking a working class boy and introducing him to art and life. But, of course, in the end, attraction to another person is a deeply subconscious thing that cant be simply explained.

In working with Richard Eyre and the films artistic crew, Blanchett was taken with their consistently careful approach. I dont think you can deal with this kind of subject matter without a touch of humor and irony and visual warmth, and they brought all of that, she remarks. Ive always seen the story as being a distinctive portrait of loneliness and thats definitely the way Richard has shepherded the film. Hes been incredibly focused on the actors and created the best possible environment to deliver a performance.

Eyre, in turn, was delighted with Blanchetts embracing of Sheba both light and dark. Remarks the director: Cate comes to the set prepared for all eventualities, and is therefore able to be truly spontaneous. She has a tremendously deep knowledge of each scene, and contributes a great deal in details and big ideas. As Sheba, she is able to portray a woman who is unguarded to the point of self destruction, and I admired Cates courage as well as her skill in doing that so beautifully.

 

Eyre was especially moved by Blanchetts delicate dance of attraction and fear with Steven as played by young Andrew Simpson. I think those scenes between them are very, very powerful and wholly plausible because not only have you got two good actors but youve got the generosity of Cate with a much younger actor, and her brilliance at handling awkwardness and her ability to make sure that it comes off as intimate and true without being romanticized, says Eyre.

He adds: Im weary of superlatives, but in the case of Cate and Judi, it would be indecent not to apply them because they are both such extraordinarily skillful actors.