The chance to work on a film of such heightened style and panache as “The Good German” was too much for actress Cate Blanchett to pass up. And the opportunity of collaborating with an Oscar-winning director with a healthy sense of experimentation was icing on the cake.
“In the hands of Steven Soderbergh,” she says, “I would have played a spear carrier.”
In the film, Blanchett stars opposite George Clooney as Lena Brandt, a mysterious femme fatale in the vein of “Double Indemnity’s” Phyllis Dietrichson or the title character of “Mildred Pierce.” Playing a shadowy figure within the film’s vast array of equally ambiguous characters, the task demanded a very different portrayal than the type Blanchett was accustomed to.
“Lena proved to be elusive and slippery,” the actress reminisces, “and I relished the chase — the feeling she was always one step ahead of me.”
Describing the collaboration with Soderbergh as “effortless,” Blanchett still found it challenging to settle into the director’s vision of the piece. And who can blame her?
Relying on techniques utilized in the 1930s and ’40s, Soderbergh sought not only to emulate Warner Bros. staples such as “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon,” but also to tell his story in the same manner as directors Michael Curtiz and John Huston, respectively, might have created those classic films. Boom mics and fixed lenses, old-fashioned blocking and a fast-paced environment was the mandate set forth by “The Good German.”
As Blanchett tells it, “The nailing down of the style and feeling comfortable was tricky at first — a pre-Method, outward, narrative-driven, often declamatory style that had, at its center, a very modern, morally bankrupt set of characters. But as soon as I landed in L.A., Steven showed me some of the scenes they had already shot. All my film-watching, archival analyzing and reading suddenly made sense and had a context.”
Humorously describing her director as “the bee’s knees,” Blanchett certainly seems to have enjoyed the experience, her third high-profile performance of the 2006 awards season (along with “Babel” and “Notes on a Scandal”).
“Steven is so smart, keyed-in, frank and funny,” she says. “It was an absolute dream shoot.”
Favorite film of the past five years: “I know it’s not new, but I watched ‘Notorious’ many times during filming of ‘The Good German’ and never once tired of a frame of it.”
Actor who impressed you greatly after working together: Robin Weigert (“The Good German” co-star who also plays Calamity Jane in HBO’s “Deadwood”)
Next project: Blanchett is currently directing Harold Pinter’s “A Kind of Alaska” at the Sydney Theater Company.