Cate Blanchett Says ‘Truth’ is a Story of ‘Media Trauma’

Cate Blanchett is having a banner year, with “Carol,” “Cinderella” and “Truth.” She spoke with Variety about Sony Classics’ “Truth,” which writer-director James Vanderbilt based on Mary Mapes’ account of the 2004 “60 Minutes II” report. The film is less about whether the story was accurate, and more about how the news business was changed by the Internet.

What drew you to the script?

I loved the complexity and the varied perspectives. Jamie (Vanderbilt) has done the most extraordinary job as a writer. And then as a director, he was able to set aside the writing and direct the story. He was quite fearless in trimming some stuff, which many writer-directors are not. He’s done a superlative job. He is relentlessly buoyant and positive –and is searingly intelligent, and I think that comes across in the writing and the filmmaking.

How did you prepare for that big monologue?

I tried not to overprepare. Mary had been sitting on her thoughts and feelings, unable to express them. Everyone else was having a field day opinionating, analyzing, deconstructing, critiquing her as a journalist and producer. But she had been silenced until that moment, in front of the panel at Black Rock. So it all had to come out in one articulate blast. You want it to feel like it’s coming to her for the first time. We did maybe three takes. The film was made on a shoestring, and we had to move very quickly. You can fight against time constraints or you can embrace them. Every TV journalist feels the pressure-cooker of time and deadlines, which Mary certainly felt — the time pressure of making the film was sympatico with that kind of tension.

Had you worked with Robert Redford?

Never. I had the conundrum one has when meeting cultural royalty: What do I call this man? But he’s disarmingly open. The first time we met, we slipped into a relationship that felt like it was already several years old. He instills on a set a great sense of camaraderie and equality for everyone. He also raises the bar, just by his presence. Before a take, while they were setting up a shot, we would be chatting and I had a terrible deja vu. And I realized he was running lines; he’s so natural, so connected to that moment that he’s in, it seemed like a continutation of the conversation. He’s had many, many lives, and he’s influenced culture in many different ways. He’s cognizant of that fact, but it hasn’t made him affected. As an actor and a human being, he was thrilling to be around.

You’ve played real people, like Elizabeth I, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Dylan. Was this different?

Whether it’s Elizabeth or Bob Dylan, you ask the same questions as when you’re playing Mary Mapes: What part of their lives do you bring to bear on this story? So you have to know what this story is, what your function is. “Truth” is not a biopic by any stretch of the imagination. It’s about a very compressed, distilled media trauma. They were in uncharted waters; we were playing people in freefall, discovering things that we take for granted now — The Internet, the rapid-fire 24-hour news, the invisible attacks on the blogosphere, and things happening so quickly. It was only 2004, but feels like four decades ago. The Mary I met is no longer in crisis. The crisis is behind her. The invention comes from the space between getting to know her and the Mary that the story describes. In the end, I had to let it go and just play the freight train that was the story. I find the story and the toxicity of that time to be fascinating, in a horrifying way.

People who haven’t seen the movie seem to think it’s a defense of Mapes and Rather.

I’m not very interested in agitprop.  The film is about people dealing with an uncharted field. And it raises questions about democracy, the free press, the relations between lawyers and journalists. And whether people can believe what they read.

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