Cate Blanchett on Choosing a Play: “The character I’m to play is almost always the last point of entry for me”

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When you aren’t seeing Cate Blanchett on screen in movies like Blue Jasmine or The Hobbit she usually isn’t taking a well-deserved break. Not only is she devoted to her three children, but Blanchett is a leading player of the Sydney Theatre Company, which has put on productions in short runs all over the world. This year the Sydney Theatre Company is taking its production of The Maids to the Lincoln Center Festival at New York City Center from August 6 through 16. In the production of the Jean Genet play adapted by Blanchett’s husband Andrew Upton, Blanchett stars alongside Isabelle Huppert as maids who are sisters who feud with their employer. In an interview with The New York Observer, Blanchett spoke about how she developed the approach to the material with Huppert and how they came to the unique aspects of the production.

One interesting aspect of the play is that although the Australian Blanchett and French Huppert play sisters despite having very different accents. Blanchett admits that the disparity was intentional. She explains, “It’s an elliptical, labyrinthine play, and we’re exploring the ellipsis in the play, so we’re sisters in an abstract sense. That’s just the outer surface of the play, there to be played with. We talked at one point about swapping roles. We also talked about whether, at a certain point, we might fall into French. We played around with those things and with those concepts, but ultimately we decided not to pursue them. It’s a bit like throwing mud on the wall and seeing what sticks. Those ideas didn’t stick.”

She points out that that “throwing mud on the wall” approach helps her find what feels right with material with the cast. She says, “When I pick a play, the point of intersection is usually the people who are to be in the room. The character I’m to play is almost always the last point of entry for me. I’ve some addiction to the adrenaline of entering the rehearsal room and not having a clue how the character or the play will unfold. Certainly, that’s true of The Maids.”

Blanchett believes that The Maids is a play that works well with that approach. She says, “There’s an elasticity to this play that is ripe for reconfiguration. Theater is a very elastic medium—very porous. It’s a bastard form, capable of having a lot thrown at it. That’s what happens in rehearsal.”

Though seeing Blanchett on stage in New York will likely be a hot ticket, Blanchett says that a Broadway run of The Maids isn’t in the cards because of her commitments to her family in Australia. She reveals, “It’s not that I wouldn’t want to,” she admitted. “It’s just that even a limited run, which Broadway would require, would not be possible.”

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