It was the children, for the most part, who led Blanchett back to Australia, where the family recently bought a house near Sydney and where Dashiell, who in the past had studied at Montessori nurseries wherever Blanchett happened to be filming, is now enrolled in what she calls “a proper school.” “He’s five now,” she says. “He needs to be settled, and I need to respect that.” And after a decade of peripatetic moviemaking, Blanchett will soon be doing some settling down of her own. In January she and Upton will take over as co–artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company—a gig that’s as close to a steady nine-to-five as someone like Blanchett is likely to find. Not that she plans to take it easy. The three-year appointment entails overseeing three stages, a company of 12 actors, a large education arm and more than a dozen productions a year. “It’s hugely demanding and an enormous stretch,” says Blanchett, who’ll direct David Harrower’s West End smash Blackbird for the company in December and hopes to tread the boards herself in the future.
Though it might seem a professional departure to those unfamiliar with her background, stepping onto the stage is actually a return to her roots. After growing up in Melbourne—the daughter of an Australian mother and an American ad executive father who died when Blanchett was just 10—she attended drama school at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art and worked quite steadily on the stage for a time, becoming, in 1993, the first person to win Sydney Theatre Critics awards for best newcomer and best actress in the same year. “There were five years there of very solid repertory theater and ensemble work,” says Rush, who, before working with Blanchett on Elizabeth, starred opposite the actress in a 1993 Sydney Theatre Company production of Oleanna. “Once that gets hardwired into you as a young actor, it becomes a talisman that you want to touch base with.”
Blanchett’s deal with the company will allow her to devote about three months annually to outside projects, but her current frenetic pace of three or four movies a year will no longer be an option. “And good-O is what I say to that!” she nearly shouts, explaining that—perhaps because she has such a hard time turning down anything she perceives as a challenge—she looks forward to having some externally imposed limits. “In the past it’s always just been whatever’s come up, and then one thing leads to another. Now I’m going to have to plan things, to say, ‘This is the window I have, and if it fits in, great, and if it doesn’t, oh well.’”
More children are also part of the larger plan. She’d like a couple more, and sooner rather than later. “We’re not going to wait forever,” Blanchett says, downing a rather large vitamin pill before tucking in to a plate of crispy eggplant. “God, I’d love it to be now. I’d love it to be next week.” But before a return to diapers and 3 a.m. feedings, she’ll try to cram in a bit more work. She was just in Hawaii with the kids, filming the fourth installment of Indiana Jones, which she refers to only half jokingly as “the ultrasecret, secret project, the one that cannot be discussed.” And she has two or three more weeks of shooting left on David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, in which she stars opposite Brad Pitt. In October she’ll be in New York working with artist Francesco Vezzoli on his latest project, a faux opening night of a play that will never be launched. The performance will turn the entire rotunda of the Guggenheim into a theater, and Blanchett—a contemporary-art enthusiast who counts Gerhard Richter and Bill Viola as favorites—will deliver a monologue by Pirandello. “I needed somebody who had a very iconic presence but at the same time a very specific acting capability,” says Vezzoli. “And Cate is pretty much the one.”