Oscar Actors: Blanchett, Cate–Woody Allen on her Work in Blue Jasmine

As is always the case, Woody Allen has assembled a stellar cast for Blue Jasmine, toplined by Cate Blanchett, who was his first choice to play Jasmine.

As of July, Cate Blanchett emerges as the first serious contender for the Best Actress Oscar. It would be her seventh Oscar nod.

Woody on Blanchett

“Cate is one of the great actresses of the world,” says Allen. “She just has that thing. There’s a tremendous amount of depth there. There’s no way to quantify it. You can get other actresses who are very good and they’ll be playing frustration and despair and they’ll weep the way Cate does, but for some reason she projects on the screen a tremendous depth that sucks you in. You just feel how deep she’s going and that’s her gift.”

Blanchett was very enthusiastic about working with Allen and the screenplay, but she also found Jasmine to be a particularly daunting role to play. A lot of the challenge for her involved the way the script cuts back and forth between the San Francisco present and the New York past. The New York sections don’t just provide the backstory for the present, they mirror and parallel what is going on. For example, as Jasmine arrives at her sister’s cramped place, the film cuts to her in an enormous empty Fifth Avenue apartment. “Because Jasmine is such an unreliable narrator, the flashbacks are there to find out what’s truly going on underneath the surface,” says Blanchett.

“In a way I wish we’d shot the New York stuff first before we’d gone to San Francisco because it was in doing that that I sort of fully understood her character.” Blanchett continues: “I did go in every day and say to myself ‘Don’t screw this up!’ ‘Can you please not screw it up today?’” On the set she discovered that Allen was willing to give her an unusually large amount of freedom. I think he really doesn’t want to get in an actor’s way,” she says, “and that’s something I had to sort of deprogram myself from because I love the suggestions that come from directors. So I just kept asking him questions and he’d answer them.

Most of my questions were about tone, because when you’re working with the director who made BANANAS and INTERIORS, you can read this script and think it’s terribly tragic and painful and there’s another way you can read it where it’s just absurd. I think he’s a master at that: people who are completely immersed in the seriousness of their own lives—which are utterly absurd.”

Blanchett: “We all to a certain degree see what we want to see in the people who we are surrounded by and certainly in ourselves. It’s very, very difficult for a human being to truly look at themselves in the mirror, to truly see who we are warts and all—and it’s very difficult to change. In the end, Jasmine is a product of all the delusion and evasion that we all have to some degree but as time has passed she’s become deluded on an epic scale.” Ironically, it is precisely through these fantasies of Jasmine’s that her true personality seeps through—it’s where her dreams and aspirations crystallize and appear in stark contrast to her actual circumstances.

As she is such a creature of privilege, one could easily take the position not to care about Jasmine. Says Allen: “So she lost her charge account to Prada, she lost her gold card, and her duplex on Fifth Avenue? That’s too bad, there’s a lot of people in America that can’t eat. But what makes her a person that you care about is that her story isn’t just about economic deprivation, it’s a tragic flaw in her character that made her the instrument of her own demise.” Allen continues: “She is someone who chose not to look too deeply at the source of her pleasure, her income, her security, and because of that paid a terrific price. To look the other way is a human flaw we all share; people do it in little ways all the time with their children, and with their husbands and wives.”

Sums-up Blanchett: “Our fantasies are always more than what we are.”