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Cate Blanchett

The Missing & Veronica Guerin

She was “not particularly enamored” of Westerns and no horsewoman, but Cate Blanchett dared to star in “The Missing.”

“To dare,” she says, is “the only way to be as an actor. You have to have a healthy lack of sense of consequence. You can’t plan for the result, you can only have the experience and hope that the audience comes along with you.”

“The Missing” appealed to her because “female characters were so much at the center of the narrative, and metaphorically as well as literally riding alongside the men. As well as the physical challenges there was the challenge to subtly and unsentimentally, I suppose, render seismic emotional shifts in characters who didn’t have the language to articulate their feelings.”

Blanchett rode sidesaddle in Tudor England for her Oscar-nominated role in 1998’s “Elizabeth,” but that wasn’t particularly useful when it came to prepping for “The Missing’s” high-desert gallops.

Before she started work on the Western, she rode every day for six weeks with wranglers. She learned not to bounce around in the saddle, but also got a feel for “the isolated desert spaces.” That added to her sense of Westerners’ “relationship to the land,” which she had gleaned from reading the diaries of pioneer women and studying blurry old photos.

A stunt double was used only in a couple of aerial shots, filmed by a second unit when she was busy doing other scenes.

The amount of effort the 33-year-old actress, trained at Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art, put into the physicality of Maggie Gilkeson was important, says director Ron Howard, because “the character expresses as little as she possibly can with words … Cate managed to infuse so much into outwardly very simple restrained moments and really give them the kind of range of expressiveness and depth that exceeded what I even thought was possible.”

Howard describes Blanchett’s work ethic as “rigorous,” in the best sense. “When you say someone is great to work with, I think everyone always imagines that they do as they are told — that’s never what I mean, and that’s not the case with Cate. She is fully engaged in the creative process, but it’s just utterly and consistently constructive, without neurosis or any discernable unhealthy ego.”

Beyond “The Missing,” and her cameo role as the etherial pointy-eared Galadriel, queen of the elves, in “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” Blanchett also played the title role of the gutsy Irish journalist in Touchstone’s “Veronica Guerin,” also released this year. Her authentic perf already has earned her a Golden Globe drama nom for actress. It also could cut into her chances for noms or wins for Sony’s “The Missing.”

But that’s not stuff Blanchett, pregnant with her second child, worries about. “Look, it’s been a great year,” she says. “You’ve got to be a strolling player. That’s what it’s all about. It’s the risk of it.”

She’s wasting no time getting right back into the saddle for upcoming pics, including Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic.” And she’s just completed another “cosmic dare”: playing Katharine Hepburn, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes, in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator.”

Coming attractions: “The Aviator” and “The Life Aquatic”

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