Cate Blanchett Loses Her Cool in ‘Babel’
By Pauline M. Millard
Cate Blanchett must have a secret, and it’s one a lot of Hollywood actresses would probably like to know. How does she manage to consistently get good, dramatic parts while picking up awards and accolades along the way? She’s played Queen Elizabeth in “Elizabeth,” a perky society girl in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” The Queen of the Elves in “Lord of the Rings” as well as a tough, Irish journalist in “Veronica Guerin.” She even earned an Oscar in 2005 for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator.”
Her latest role in “Babel,” is another heavy-hitter. The 38-year-old
Australian-born actress traveled to Morocco, worked with director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu, and starred opposite Brad Pitt.
In “Babel,” Blanchett plays a woman named Susan who gets caught in the middle of a gun accident in Morocco as two young boys try out a hunting rifle that was left behind by a tourist. The accident sets off a chain of events in three different countries which interlocks four families. It’s the third film in Inarittu’s trilogy which also includes 2000’s “Amores Perros.” and 2003’s “21 Grams.”
Blanchett recently told the movie studio that she “fell completely into the rabbit hole of Alejandro’s vision of the film.” She said she realized, however, that she would soon have to prepare a lot to step into the complexities of the relationship with Richard, Susan’s husband who is played by Pitt. In the end, she says it was her tremendous faith in director Inarittu that helped her through challenging scenes.
“He was unbelievably generous with his experiences and was painstaking in helping Brad and I to construct a back story,” she said.
Working with Brad Pitt was a nice perk as well. “Brad was tireless,” she said. “The poor thing had to lug me full-tilt uphill on a rocky track for hours on end.”
For Inarittu, there was no question that Blanchett would be part of his cast. “The audience has to care about Susan, and Cate is someone who creates such empathy, who so clearly reveals her soul and her interior life,” he told the studio. “I relied on her to sustain the gravity of the story.”
Inarittu filmed in Morocco, Mexico and Tokyo using professional and non-
professional actors. Morocco, where Blanchett’s scenes were filmed, was a logistical challenge. The rural village of Taguenzalt had just had electricity installed and most of the locals had never scene a movie camera before. The villagers were mostly pastoral nomads and farmers who could trace their Berber ancestors back more than 3,000 years. On the set, people spoke Arabic, Berber, French, English, Italian and Spanish, creating its own sort of Babel.
“What you see in the film is very much what it was like,” Blanchett said. “A myriad of languages, hot dusty and remote.”
Jon Kilk, one of the producers of “Babel” told the Resident that one of the reasons the production crew, including Inarittu, decided to go with Blanchett was because of how physically taxing the role would be, and they needed someone who could handle it. Blanchett was on her back for hours in the hot, Moroccan sun all while covered in blood and sweat. “It’s one thing to deal with all the physical pain of the role,” Kilk said. “It’s another thing to hold that emotion the way she did.”
Kilk said Blanchett was also chosen for her ability to provide depth to the character she portrayed.
“One of my favorite scenes in the film is the reconciliation scene between Cate and Brad Pitt at the hospital,” he said. “It’s so strong and so intense that Cate was really the only one who could do it.”
Others seem to feel the same way, as Blanchett’s plate is full in terms of upcoming projects. Next year she will appear as a young version of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” She will also film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” again co-starring with Brad Pitt.
The Making Of "Babel"
Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu has said that making “Babel” was unlike making any other film he had ever done, even though he’s worked with ensemble casts before.
“The making of “Babel” was itself a kind of Babel,” he recently told the movie studio. “We essentially made four different movies, trying to really penetrate four different cultures without using an outsider’s point of view.” The title, Inarittu said, comes from the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which has been a way of explaining how humanity was divided into so many cultures and languages. According to the story, humans decided to build a tower that would reach all the way to heaven. When they started to get close, God became angry at their hubris and made each person speak a different language, thereby halting their ability to communicate with each other.
Inarittu said that although he started making a film about the differences between human beings, about things that separate us such as physical barriers and language, he said he realized along the way that the film was more about what join us as humans: love and pain. “What makes a Japanese and a Moroccan happy can be very different, but that which makes us miserable is the same for everybody,” he said.—Pauline M. Millard