She’s been working steadily for two decades and has spent most of that time at the very top of her industry, having gained worldwide fame and acclaim. Yet, during an interview conducted on a sun-bathed terrace at the Splendido resort in Portofino, Italy, Cate Blanchett seems as utterly open to whatever the future might bring as any ingenue. A guest of Swiss watchmaker IWC, she’s here for a photo shoot with longtime collaborator Peter Lindbergh—the results of which will debut during this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach—and feeling particularly settled. “I’m quite enjoying the freedom of thinking, ‘What’s next?’ ” she says. “I’m liking that sense of not knowing what’s coming.” Which makes a certain kind of sense: Having won every major acting award available to those working in English-language cinema (multiple times), the 45-year-old Australian actress has nothing left to prove.
That doesn’t mean that Blanchett is resting on her laurels. To the contrary, she’s had a remarkably busy year. She began 2014 by winning the Oscar, the Golden Globe and the BAFTA (among others) for her portrayal of the suddenly destitute, increasingly unhinged title character of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, and then returned to the stage to star opposite Isabelle Huppert in an acclaimed, limited-run New York City revival of Jean Genet’s The Maids. In between, she appeared in a couple of movies, including The Monuments Men, and shot a few more; not bad, considering that, as she says, “I emerged from Blue Jasmine thinking that it was the end of my career.”
Truly? “I knew that people would want to see it irrespective of whether I was hopeless or extraordinary, because it was a Woody Allen film. And I knew that the writing was good, that he would make an interesting film, and that he would survive.” Nevertheless, she admits, “You never know. Even if you put all of the right components together, sometimes it doesn’t lift off. You can’t legislate for it. There is no formula.”
Maybe not, but Blanchett’s current project is as close as Hollywood comes to a sure thing: This month, she reprises her role as the elven ruler Galadriel in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. She insists that her approach is the same whether she’s working on a would-be blockbuster or an artier indie (like the pair of movies she’s made with director Terrence Malick, at least one of which is expected in theaters next year). “Your attitude doesn’t change when you’re working on a big film,” she says. Especially, she adds, in the case of the half-dozen J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations she’s appeared in, all directed by her fellow antipodean Peter Jackson. “There is no bloat on the set of The Hobbit; no unnecessary 17-member entourages,” she says. “Peter has an enormous crew, but everyone is working, and you really feel like you’re on the set of an independent film because he’s got the same hunger that a young, independent filmmaker has. And he carries that into every minute, even though he’s working across three stages, shooting three different films at once.”
Blanchett says that she has considered directing a movie, although she’d like to wait until her three sons—who range in age from 6 to 13—are a little older. “It does take up a lot of your time, so that would be quite complex for me at the moment,” she says. She is, however, genuinely bothered by the difficulties faced by female directors in Hollywood. “I think that women have to get a bit pissed off, to reactivate themselves,” she says. “I feel like we’ve given away a lot, or let a lot of ground go without consciously realizing it, and it’s time to claim it back. And it’s very important for [the industry] to have access to directors of different interests.”
She did her part, certainly, in the six years that she served alongside her husband, Andrew Upton, as the co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company (a position that Upton, an accomplished writer and director, continues to hold on his own). “It was something that we were very, very conscious of when we took on the role,” she explains. “And, as a result, Andrew’s lineup for the next year is primarily female directors, not as an equal opportunity thing but because they are out there, and they are good.”
Still, Blanchett does seem to be relishing the extra time that she’s enjoyed since relinquishing the position a while back. “It was wonderful,” she says, “but I’m feeling quite free of responsibility.” There’s that idea again, of freedom. She has a few more movies at various stages of readiness, including a live action version of Cinderella and a Todd Haynes–directed period piece called Carol (both due out next year), but beyond that, she’s looking to tick off a bucket list that includes working with Ang Lee, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Martin Scorsese, again. There’s always a hunger, in Hollywood, for the next big thing, but clearly, it’s good to be a veteran.
Blanchett, in a GIORGIO ARMANI shirt and CHLOÉ jacket, wears a Portofino Midsize Automatic timepiece, featuring a 37-millimeter stainless-steel case, $11,500, IWC, iwc.com.