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Cate Blanchett

Job description: Actress

Breakthrough: As one of the world’s most in-demand actresses, Blanchett appears in no less than five high-profile films within a year, including Barry Levinson’s “Bandits,” Gillian Armstrong’s “Charlotte Gray,” Lasse Hallstrom’s “The Shipping News,” Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” and Tom Tykwer’s “Heaven.”

In the works: Becoming a mother

Cate Blanchett is such a chameleon that mere images of her can be deceiving. Even when not in character, certain photos look more like Ms Blanchett than others. She can so thoroughly lose herself in a role that her features seem to morph into something else. Frequent comparisons to Meryl Streep are not without merit. Like Streep, she relishes the challenge of wildly divergent parts and seems to transform with each film.

Although capable of carrying a movie on her shoulders, and with such sterling credentials she pull an impossible diva routine and get away with it, she’s egoless enough to blend into ensemble films like “An Ideal Husband,” “Pushing Tin” and the current “Bandits,” in which she plays a restless – and reckless – housewife who hides behind wigs and can’t decide between Bruce Willis or Billy Bob Thornton.

The weightier roles are something else entirely. In “Elizabeth,” for which she earned an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe, she played the virgin queen as if greatness could be improvised if you had the instincts. In last year’s “The Gift,” she played a widowed psychic in the Deep South with such vulnerability and strength she held fast as the film’s moral anchor.

Like that rarest of actors, she can radiate integrity and speak volumes without words. “I don’t know whether it’s strength or an inner fiber that’s there, but she has it,” says fellow Aussie Gillian Armstrong, who directed Blanchett in her first feature lead in “Oscar and Lucinda” and subsequently in the upcoming “Charlotte Gray,” a WWII drama in which Blanchett plays a special operations agent from England who becomes enmeshed in the French resistance. “She exudes intelligence because she is and that’s probably one of the hardest things for an actor to fake.”

Armstrong describes a scene in the film in which the Nazis are conducting a kangaroo court and Blanchett is simply required to hover in the background. “There’s this one close-up of her standing against the wall, watching,” says the filmmaker. “And when we looked at that, we all cried. I mean, she says nothing, but just listens and reacts. It’s not conscious; she has a gift. That’s the power of a great actress.”

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