Cate Blanchett keeps it real

Actress discusses returning to Elizabeth role

“YOU KNOW, I’d just have soon done this at a diner!”

That’s Cate Blanchett, screen royalty — literally and figuratively — laughing about the exquisite over-attentions of the Four Seasons Hotel staff and the intricate foods presented to her. Tall, trim and elegant, in shades of cream and caramel, she does seem, after only a moment or two, the kind of girl who wouldn’t mind diner-style mac and cheese. And she is nothing like her most famous screen roles. The high-strung nervous energy that she channels in her best acting is absent in person. She is charmingly relaxed, casual and curious — she asks questions!

The first time I clapped eyes on Blanchett she was in Cannes, with Rupert Everett, talking up “An Ideal Husband.” I was struck then by her flawless, poreless, porcelain complexion. Flash forward 10 years. We are talking up her new one, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” This is director Shekhar Kapur’s sequel to his “Elizabeth” which also starred Cate. She looks exactly the same, her skin still unblemished, airbrushed. “Listen,” I said, “before we talk about anything else, how do you manage that complexion?” “Simple. I don’t do sun.” It works! Hoist those parasols, girls.

SO, WHAT drew Cate again to Queen Elizabeth I? “You mean aside from working with Shekhar and Geoffrey Rush again?” (Rush reprises his role as Elizabeth’s adviser, Francis Walsingham, and Clive Owen is also on hand as the ambitious Sir Walter Raleigh. He is definitely eye-candy in a ruffled shirt.) Cate says, “I was intrigued by Shekhar’s point of view; to show Elizabeth’s struggle with her self-created image, the icon, the Virgin Queen. “In this one, her isolation is all-enveloping. And it’s the trap, too, of all truly powerful or famous women. What man is their equal? What man will rise above the inevitable role of consort? Shekhar made this a movie about her options, her sense of destiny. And you do get a sense of the inevitable iniquity of her relationships with men — who do you trust? In the end, no-one, really. She has only herself and her duty to her country.” Did she approach this film with a complete point of view? “Well, I’m not one to go, ‘Oh, this movie is about this or that’ because that’s what the story is, I can’t synopsize, I … have to be there, you know?”

I told Cate the opulent cinematography was almost surreal, hallucinatory. She laughed, “How funny! That’s what my husband said! In a way, it’s almost as if she has dreamt it, it’s all from her perspective, or, the way Shekhar shot it, a lot of eye-of-God angles. Elizabeth was in her mid-fifties in the time period we cover. And I thought a lot about that, she’s probably menopausal, more volatile than ever. You know, she was never an especially beautiful woman, no matter who painted her. But the perception of her beauty and her fertility were important diplomatic tools. And to be on the brink — or frankly, beyond the brink — of losing it, had to be a taxing thing. She was placed in a dangerous political position. So, I see her mood swings as physical manifestations of her aging, and also completely rational, in terms of her reign, her future as Queen.”

But in “The Golden Age” Cate doesn’t look much different than she did in the first film, when Elizabeth was young and fresh. She conveys mature, brittle weariness, but she acts it out, she is not helped by prosthetics. ” I never watch the rushes. And I admit I was little surprised at how I looked when I saw the movie. I knew we weren’t going overboard with makeup or anything, but I do wish I’d been shot more harshly, I expected that, actually.”

“Well,” I said to her, “it’s not quite realistic, but if you accept the film’s concept as Elizabeth’s point of view: I’m still young, beautiful, wanted, capable of bearing children — then it works. Whatever she decided long before about giving herself over to any man, she still had to see in herself the possibilities she rejected, to survive.”

“Oh!” said Cate Blanchett, after giving my theory a thoughtful moment, “that idea does work!” And then she laughed, “Whatever she thought, look at the marital role model she had in her father. There was hardly anything to attract her to the idea of marriage. And not marrying assured her longevity in a time when life span was notoriously short. She didn’t die in childbirth, she didn’t contract syphilis — probably because she never actually had a complete sexual encounter. There was a lot to be said for celibacy in the 16th century!”

EVER SINCE Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie made a not-so-secret appearance at the opening night of the new off-Broadway show, “Jump,” tickets have been selling with a bounce. The couple, now living in New York, took their children to see the martial arts comedy-spectacle from Korea. They sat quietly in the back two rows with a group of kids who were laughing through the entire performance. When they tried to make a discreet exit from the Union Square Theater, the customary swarm of cameras caught them. They escaped and immediately called from their car to offer thanks and send their congratulations to the talented Korean cast. This, of course, made headlines all over South Korea. Not since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton stopped theater traffic twice during their tempestuous marriages, have we seen a true power couple like this. (Everything stopped in Times Square when Burton did “Hamlet” in 1964 and Miz Liz picked him up after every show and then when he and Elizabeth did “Private Lives” in 1983.)