“You know what I find really refreshing?” Cate Blanchett asked. “I don’t know if you find it refreshing, but I do — that women are having dialogue with one another and they’re sharing their f— ups and their failures, and how to navigate their way through the mess of daily, domestic lives.”
Speaking to Variety at a special screening of her upcoming film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” on Monday evening at the Metrograph Theater in New York City, the Oscar winner shared what drew her to the flawed, multi-layered and complex character she portrays in the film directed by Richard Linklater (which is based on Maria Semple‘s best-selling 2012 novel).
For Blanchett, who she collaborates with is of utmost importance, even ahead of the roles she takes on. So when “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” came across her lap, she jumped at the chance to work with Linklater and Semple.
“For me, filmmaking is all about who you’re in conversation with, so to be in conversation with both of those people, the role was kind of secondary,” Blanchett said. “But, it’s such an incredible role, and so full of heart. Richard is a very soulful filmmaker, and I think that for all of Maria’s comedic relentlessness — which is so glorious — there’s a deep soul there, too.”
In “Bernadette,” Blanchett plays the titular character, a former world-class architect who gave up her career when she moved to Seattle with her tech wiz husband (Billy Crudup). Twenty years later and void of any passion in her life except for her loving relationship with her daughter (Emma Nelson), the character is an anti-social, insomniac recluse who — aside from her family — only interacts with a virtual assistant. Then Bernadette goes missing after she becomes compelled to chase after her dreams once again and rediscover herself.
“What I find really poignant about Bernadette is these crazy, absurd monologues and this relationship that she has with a virtual assistant is because she’s so isolated,” she explained. “I think that is something that people don’t often talk about in the notion of motherhood — you can be in a really happy, successful relationship, but still feel really alone.”
“She’s got a monumental professional failure that she’s just not addressing at all, and as a result, she’s turning into a menace,” Blanchett continued. “I think women talking about their failures and their fears is something really great to drive into. And it’s right for comedy and for drama.”
Linklater said he was interested in adapting Semple’s novel because of the character and, like Blanchett, the director and writer was drawn to Bernadette’s flaws. “Her utter complexity as an artist who’s lost her way for very complex reasons, I just felt a lot of humor in her and it’s a very poignant story.”
“Bernadette” hits theaters at a time when more and more female stories are being told in Hollywood and actresses are getting increased opportunities to play rich characters. The number of female-led films hit record levels in 2018 with 40 of the top 100-grossing movies featuring women in central roles.
“It’s no secret that in cinema, the ratio of complex female characters certainly isn’t 50% and the history of cinema has had a male center,” Linklater admitted. “Even the perspective of women, it’s kind of a male view of them — which begs the question, well, why did I think that I would qualify?” He adds with a laugh. “To me, it’s not a gender thing. The movie is not about that.”
Linklater collaborated enormously with Simple and Blanchett, since “Bernadette” is a “very female movie,” and he was interested in getting inside the characters in order to explore the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship. “I’ve got three daughters, I’ve got two sisters and a single mom. I grew up with a front row seat to mothers and daughters, and I always thought that was a fascinating relationship,” he shared. “And Bernadette reminded me a lot of my mom who was brilliant and troubled and struggled.”
“Also, it’s kind of a self portrait because if I wasn’t able to make a film for 20 years, I would be as anti-social and weird as Cate is [while] portraying Bernadette,” he continued. As for Blanchett’s performance, Linklater raved about his star, who he likened to the “star player” that he was fortunate to coach. “To portray a genius, you need a genius, and we’re in short supply of actual geniuses. I use that term not lightly,” he said. “It was amazing to have that front-row seat to Cate’s creativity and her process, which is hard to talk about, but it’s easy to talk about her work ethic. It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a reason she’s Cate Blanchett.'”
Asked if he believes there is more pressure for a female-led character film to perform well at the box office, Linklater says Hollywood is often quick to jump to conclusions.
“Unfortunately, everyone is looking for trends and what the American audience likes. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, a film about this failed, so it’s out the window for all time.’ No! You never know. It’s a bit of a roulette game. I don’t think anyone can ever put their finger on [what’s going to be a hit]. They often say, ‘The public wants to see this or that,’ but I don’t think people know until they actually see it,” Linklater concluded. “The deck is definitely stacked these days against this type of movie at every level for sure, so I just feel blessed that Annapurna gave us the try. We’re all very grateful for that, so we hope that people will champion it.”
“Where’d You Go Bernadette?” is in theaters on Aug. 16.