Blanchett was not so easily persuaded that the something extra would work. “The script was verging on impenetrable,” she says. “It’s like an algebraic equation. You think: This makes sense in the mind of the mathematician. I knew that if you assembled it, somehow Bob Dylan would emerge, but only Todd knew how.” But she’d wanted to work with Haynes for years, ever since seeing a bootleg copy of his decidedly offbeat 1987 film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a retelling of the doomed singer’s life cast with Barbie dolls. (“It was really emotionally honest,” she says, “this Barbie doll barfing into the toilet.…”) And in the end, she couldn’t resist taking on something that seemed vaguely impossible. “It’s another crazy idea,” she says. “I just strapped those breasts down and went for it.”
Haynes became convinced that Blanchett was the right woman for the job while watching her perform in a 2006 production of Hedda Gabler at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. “I had imagined the proportions of the big hair and her thinness working, and seeing it right in front of me onstage, I thought, Oh my God, this could be startlingly accurate,” he says. And it is. Blanchett, in a wiry wig and dark glasses, not only looks eerily like the music legend but masters his nervous energy, his scrambling hand gestures, even the halting, poetic cadence of his voice. “She would take her glasses off, and she’d look even more like Dylan,” says Haynes. “There was no hiding. It was really about just revealing something inside Cate. When she’d come back at the end of the day with her normal hair, I swear the crew would look at her and go, ‘Who is that?’ We got so used to this guy.”
Still, despite Blanchett’s transporting performance, it’s unlikely that the masses will storm the multiplex for such an artsy production, one that even Blanchett concedes is “tricky.” Her other fall debut, however, is a completely different story. In October she’ll resume the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. The film, directed by Shekhar Kapur, is the sequel to Blanchett’s 1998 breakout, Elizabeth, and picks up during the time of the Spanish Armada, when England was engaged in a holy war with Philip II. Geoffrey Rush is back as her majesty’s top adviser, Walsingham, and Clive Owen plays Sir Walter Raleigh, the movie’s swashbuckling hero.
On the surface, returning to a role with which she had so much success seems a natural move. Kapur, for one, says he’s always envisioned the project as a trilogy. But doing a sequel is never without risk. Elizabeth was nominated for seven Oscars (Blanchett lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love). And there is always a danger in becoming too closely associated with any one role. After the first installment, Blanchett says, she got offered “basically the same story, just with a different character’s name on it again and again and again and again. All period stuff.” It’s understandable, then, that it took her the better part of a decade to come around to the idea of making a follow-up. “When Shekhar mentioned it to me before, I always said no. Why would I want to do that? What else is there to say?” she says. This script, however, which finds the Queen at mid-reign, single and childless, struck a chord. “I started thinking about what supposed ‘middle age’ means and the really modern concern that women have about infertility and the loss of one’s attractiveness.” And the ambitious, diverse slew of roles she’d done in the interim—not to mention the Academy Award for The Aviator and a nomination for Notes on a Scandal—have also provided ample immunity against typecasting. Even so, putting on that white makeup and slipping back into royal finery “was quite surreal and discombobulating at times,” says Blanchett. “It was that strange thing of, is there an echo in the room?”