Jan Welters Image by: Jan Welters
So, reluctantly, I agree to speak to her later on the phone when she’s back in Sydney, between meetings and after she has dropped her kids at school.
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What is your everyday life like?
“My daily life is a movable feast. But, generally speaking, I find retreating into domestic life incredibly calming. I like the simplicity of what some people might find mundane: school lunches, cooking, walking the dog. I have ceased running the Sydney Theatre Company [her husband, Andrew Upton, is now the sole artistic director], so it’s wonderful to do just one thing at a time.”
What are you working on, then?
“Well, I’ve just finished playing The Maids, by Jean Genet, onstage with Isabelle Huppert, and last year I made two movies: one with Terrence Malick and one with Woody Allen.”
They are both legendary directors.
“Yes! And both experiences couldn’t have been more different! Woody obviously is very interested in the tensions between the dialogue, the actors and the situation. Whereas with Terry, you don’t really know what the finished story will be. He is more about the atmosphere, the poetry within people and spiritual yearnings.”
Is it hard for you to find interesting roles?
“I’ve been very lucky to play iconic roles like Blanche DuBois, Lotte Kotte and Hedda Gabler onstage, but cinema is a different beast. You are not always able to influence the final results in the same way as you can in the theatre. So I’m not always interested in large roles onscreen. I’m more interested in making the space to keep experimenting as an actor. What’s important when you’re working on a film is that you want to work with a director who is going to collaborate with you or who is interested in what you can offer.”
What drew you to the character of Jasmine in Woody’s last film?
“Post-financial crisis, so many men and women have had their worlds shattered and they have fallen from grace. And, like Jasmine, they have had to look at themselves directly in the mirror and reinvent themselves and find out who they are without their social standing, without economic security. I think this story is very current. The unique thing about Jasmine, however, is that she has been a fantasist and has never had a firm grip on who she is or on reality.”
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You moved back to Sydney with your husband and three sons to run the Sydney Theatre Company. How was it?
“It was utterly game changing to be part of an invigorating national and international conversation about culture and its value and importance. Then, of course, there is such a vast talent pool in Australia, so it was incredibly energizing and inspiring to be able to help facilitate and curate their work.”
How was working with your husband?
“We’ve always collaborated, so it was actually easy. I don’t think either of us could have done this job with anyone else.”
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What do you find in theatre that you don’t in cinema?
“In theatre, you are directly engaged with your audience. You know whether a performance has connected with them or not, as you can feel their concentration ebbing and flowing, and that immediately influences the performances. In cinema, the only reference you have is the numbers. Success at the box office can be misleading, artistically speaking. Just because people show up, initially, doesn’t mean they necessarily leave the cinema having been thrilled by what they’ve experienced. You just don’t know how it’s played.”
Was it a risky career move to leave Hollywood and return to Australia?
“In retrospect, I think it has helped me as an actor and I’ve loved it! The thing is, there are so many incredibly talented Australians. It’s a very magnetic country.”
How do you find the balance between work and family life?
“Like for any working parents, it’s a juggle. The wheels fall off frequently! But I think with children and career, you have to fully appreciate what you have: You can’t always achieve everything and do everything in the way you’d hoped because you’re pulled in a lot of opposing directions. I’m incredibly lucky to have a supportive, engaged partner.”
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Can a woman “have it all”?
“No one, male or female, can ‘have it all.’ There just isn’t enough time. I think the concept puts an incredible pressure on people.”
You have three sons. Do you raise them differently?
“You mean differently to girls? Their gender is one thing, but their personalities are another thing entirely. I try to engage with who they are first and foremost, but, generally, we hope to raise them with a sense of humanity, compassion and giving back. It’s a very introspective, self-involved world in which we all live.
”How does it feel to have been chosen by Giorgio Armani to represent his new fragrance, Sì?
“I feel immensely privileged. Mr. Armani has created an ever-evolving, ever-expanding, all-encompassing universe. It is about the way you live your life and who you are as much as how you look. I admire him so much. For me, the fragrance is very much about saying yes to life. It’s incredibly positive about all the aspects of being a woman. I feel very honoured to represent these values.”
Are you very fashion conscious?
“I love new ideas and the restless rhythm of fashion, but I’m by no means ruled by it. My style has evolved over time, but, in the end, I think it’s probably still that same love of great tailoring. That’s why I also love Armani’s creations so much.”
Can you remember your first fashion splurge?
“My first big purchase goes back to when I was a teenager and I was coveting all those exquisitely tailored men’s suits. When I emerged from drama school with my very first paycheque, I bought an Armani suit, which I still have—and still wear! Because I think where I relate to Armani, the Armani universe really, is the timelessness of it. It’s simultaneously modern and effortless but also timeless and classic and eminently chic. I feel like I’ve always aspired to the grace, simplicity and timelessness that his designs embody.”
Do you enjoy being “Cate Blanchett” or is it something of a poisoned chalice for you?
“I’m ‘CB’ most of the time, or ‘Sweetheart’ or ‘Cate’ or ‘Mom.’ I guess I’m only ‘Cate Blanchett’ in a public remote sense or when I have to sign something official. Fame can be a fairly limiting, hollow achievement unless it’s backed up by ability and substance.”