SYDNEY – It took Woody Allen to lure Australian star Cate Blanchett back to the silver screen, but her Oscar-winning turn as a disgraced New York socialite initially left the legendary director cold.
Blanchett, 44, on Sunday took home the best actress Oscar for Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” — her second Academy Award in a decade.
“I’m so very proud that ‘Blue Jasmine’ stayed in the cinemas for as long as it did,” she said as she accepted her award, adding it was especially poignant to win this year given the “extraordinary performances by women.”
The Oscar nod capped a glittering awards season for Blanchett, who won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild prize for playing the neurotic Jasmine French — her first major cinema appearance in several years.
“I’m constantly running away from acting. I have to get seduced back into it each time,” Blanchett told US magazine Entertainment Weekly ahead of the Oscars ceremony.
As she accepted her Screen Actors Guild award in January, she told the audience: “There’s something inherently theatrical and with a whiff of standup the way Woody works, and so maybe perhaps I was ready for it.”
But her success as Jasmine — a character she has likened to fellow “survivor” Blanche Dubois, played by Blanchett on stage to critical acclaim in 2009 — didn’t always seem so destined.
“First day, (Allen) said ‘It’s awful. You’re awful’,” Blanchett recently told the US news magazine programme “60 Minutes”.
Her second take was “still awful”, she added.
“Obviously, it got a bit better because…you know, people have gone to see it.”
Born and educated in Melbourne, Blanchett is the daughter of a Texas ad executive who died of a heart attack when she was 10.
Her mother battled to make ends meet, prompting Blanchett, then 14, to lie about her age so she could get a job in an old person’s home.
She graduated from Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1992 after abandoning an art history degree and, in a little over a year, won both critical and popular acclaim with a string of successes for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC).
She was the first person to win the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for best newcomer and lead actress in the same year for her role in David Mamet’s “Oleanna”, opposite “Shine” star Geoffrey Rush.
Her work in “Blue Jasmine” marked Blanchett’s fifth Oscar nomination and second win, after striking gold in 2005 playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” Martin Scorsese’s biopic about Howard Hughes.
The Australian was the victim of one of the great upsets in Academy Awards history in 1999 when Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” after an aggressive campaign by US studio Miramax, beating Blanchett’s hotly-favoured performance in “Elizabeth”.
She took an extended break from film after being appointed joint artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company in 2009, performing in a number of its productions including “Hedda Gabler” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”, both of which toured internationally.
Until recently, Blanchett shared the STC directorship with her husband of 17 years, playwright Andrew Upton, with whom she has three sons. The pair announced that Upton would go solo in 2014 so that Blanchett could once again focus on her performing career.
Though he considers her a “great film actor”, Upton believes his wife’s talents are truly in the theatre, “her passion”.
“You know I can say this because I’m her husband — but I think she is one of the greatest stage actors of our time,” he said.
The Australian has been effusive in her praise of Allen, even admitting that she had to put aside her admiration of the director to play Jasmine.
“In a way, perhaps she’s the most true because she’s the one who’s falling apart. Everyone still seems to be functioning with their delusion,” she said.
Blanchett’s race to Oscars glory was somewhat marred by the revival of decades-old sexual assault allegations levelled at Allen by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow.
On Sunday, she hailed Allen’s “extraordinary” screenplay, saying: “Thank you so much, Woody, for casting me. I’m truly appreciative.”
As for his family troubles, Blanchett said last month at an event in Santa Barbara: “It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family. I hope they find some resolution and peace.”