On the prettiest beach in Malibu, sprawled atop a sand dune built especially for her W photo shoot, Cate Blanchett is doing that thing she’s known for: shape-shifting in front of the camera. One minute she’s Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity; the next she’s Helena Christensen from that steamy Chris Isaak video. Blink and Bo Derek from 10 might emerge, sans the cornrows, of course. But after six hours of posing, when she steps down from her trailer as none other than herself—a chic wisp in an embroidered black cotton dress and a pair of mod, bauble-bedecked patent-leather sandals—the 38-year-old actress insists that all that morphing was entirely unintentional. “I was compleeeetely zoning out,” she says, her voice a low purr, her accent somewhere between England and Oz. “I mean, I was practically asleep for a while there. God, it was soooo relaxing.”
Basking on the beach for an afternoon, tasked with nothing more than looking pretty, is not something Blanchett gets to do very often, so one has to forgive her for taking peace where she can find it. The woman keeps herself quite busy. In the coming months, for example, she’ll have two films in theaters; finish work on two more; direct a play in Sydney; headline a performance-art festival in New York; and take over, along with her husband, Andrew Upton, the running of the biggest theater company in Australia. She has two sons under six. She’s done 33 films in just over a decade.
The mile-long résumé, to hear Blanchett tell it, is largely a result of her inability to turn down a challenge. “I used to constantly play that Truth, Dare, Kiss or Promise game as a child,” she says, now in a car (a chauffeur-driven Toyota Prius, per her request) crawling along the Pacific Coast Highway to a sushi place in Beverly Hills. “I guess I’ve never outgrown it. If somebody challenges me to do something, I say okay. I say okay very quickly.”
“It’s another crazy idea,” says blanchett of playing bob dylan. “I just strapped those breasts down and went for it.”
Such was the personality quirk that led her to accept a role in Todd Haynes’s hotly anticipated Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. Trippy, impressionistic and not the least bit linear, the movie (out in limited release in November) tells Dylan’s story through seven characters, each representing a different aspect of his musical journey. Richard Gere, for instance, plays Billy, a wizened fugitive in the Old West meant to suggest Dylan’s outlaw phase. Marcus Carl Franklin, a 14-year-old African-American actor, plays Woody, the embodiment of Dylan’s folk-music roots. Blanchett is the only actress in the bunch, and her character—a wild-haired, skinny male folksinger who alienates his fans when he plugs in his guitar—is perhaps the most recognizably Dylan, both narratively and visually. It’s for that reason that Haynes decided to cast a woman in the role. “The radical strangeness of how Dylan looked was something that we had all gotten used to, so the shock value had gone away,” says Haynes. “The best way to reinvigorate that was to do something extra.”