Truth about Cate Blanchett: A chat with the top actress
The acclaimed actress tells Donal Lynch about the effect her father's death had on her life and how she views journalists
Several years ago, I worked with a New York-based TV producer, a friend of Mary Mapes, the CBS News producer Cate Blanchett plays in Truth. I asked her if, rather than barrelling back and forth in search of stories, she wouldn't prefer the cosy milieu of celebrity interviews. She looked at me with horror. "Not a chance," she said. "That would be so controlled, run by PR people and studios, you'd never get the truth."
As I watch Cate Blanchett get escorted into a hotel room for another round of junket interviews, I can't help wondering what the fearless Mary Mapes would have said if they could see her being carefully doled out in one-question portions: the minimum access for the maximum promo.
"It's frustrating for all of us," Cate agrees. "Maybe if you were going to write a 10-page feature on me we'd be talking for more than a few minutes, but then who'd read that? There is a complex set of questions that this film raises and you might like to write about those, or you might like to write about, you know, how many wrinkles Robert Redford has."
This was in reference to an earlier query by a Spanish journalist, who, to the horror of all present, asked Cate: "Do you not think Robert Redford is a bit old to play Dan Rather?"
If Hollywood's publicity machine has no idea how to deal with journalists and their preposterous questions, Hollywood itself certainly loves to portray them on screen. Two of the biggest films of the year so far have lionised hackery: Spotlight, which deals with the Boston Globe's investigation into clerical child abuse, and Truth, Cate's second outing as a journalist (the first, of course, was Veronica Guerin).
It depicts the CBS News investigation that claimed to show that George W Bush received preferential treatment in being allowed to enlist in the Texas Air National Guard, thus avoiding Vietnam.
Despite Cate's typically excellent performance and good reviews, it has been overshadowed somewhat. Spotlight easily eclipsed it as journalism movie of the year at the box office and at the Oscars, where it won the Best Picture award. Blanchett had been nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Carol.
Her role in Truth is interesting because of the parallels between Mapes's story and Cate's life. Much of the action in the film centres around the veracity of military service records in Texas. Cate's father, Robert, was a US Navy officer from Texas, who later moved to Australia, where he worked as an advertising executive and met Cate's mother June.
In Truth we are shown how the journalist's fractious relationship with her father colours her future career motivations - he never let her ask questions, so she ends up doing just that professionally.
Growing up in Australia, Cate had to deal with the loss of her father, who died from a heart attack. Her mother was left to raise three children alone.
"If you read Mary's memoir, her relationship with her father is a part of her upbringing. Any event in childhood has an enormous impact on who you are. I don't sit around referencing [her own father's death] in my life as the singular moment of grief, but I think it gave me a well-honed sense of empathy because of seeing my mother and what she went through."
In her teens she went travelling and ended up in Cairo, where she took a bit part in a movie in exchange for five Egyptian pounds. A passion wasn't quite born, exactly, but back in Australia she enrolled at drama school and decided to develop her talents. While still a student she won a reputation for herself as a formidable stage actress, until her film breakthrough, the titular role in Elizabeth, won her a Bafta and she was on her way.
Since then, she has hardly put a foot wrong, mixing arthouse work with multiplex behemoths. She won her first Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, and her second for her role in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.
Cate says she has focused on the acting process rather than the commercial outcomes. "When too many people who run creative organisations are interested in money rather than content, you have them believing things like, 'we can't cast this person because they don't have enough Instagram followers'. When I was starting out there was a sense that if an actress wore a certain dress she'd be more likely to win a role."
In her twenties, she met the Australian playwright Andrew Upton. He proposed within weeks of meeting her. They now have three sons, along with baby Edith, whom they adopted last year. Motherhood has not slowed her career. It was reported last year that, collectively, her films have made nearly a billion dollars. She is still the only foreign actress ever to do a believable Irish accent, playing Veronica Guerin, the former crime correspondent with the Sunday Independent, who was murdered in 1996.
"I didn't think about Veronica, to be honest, when playing Mary, they're quite different characters," she tells me. "They had quite different relationships with the organisations they were working for, but they were both outsiders. I had the impression Veronica operated much more as a lone wolf, whereas Mary is a collaborator. They were both women operating within a man's world and they shared a distaste for hypocrisy."
And as we get ready to wrap up she tells me her latest subject believed it was possible for 'real' journalists to do celebrity interviews too - as long as they were done the right way.
"She also said she enjoyed interviewing George Clooney. But I think she had a long-held belief that journalism is about providing a service."
Truth is in cinemas now