We’re celebrating the Oscar-winning actress’ birthday by recalling her stories about working with Tommy Lee Jones and Ron Howard in the 2003 western.
On this date in 1969, Cate Blanchett was born in Ivanhoe, Victoria, Australia. To celebrate the occasion, we went back into our archives for an interview we did with the Oscar-winning actress at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival after the world premiere of director Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin, the biographical drama in which she played the eponymous Irish journalist — and shortly before the release of The Missing, director Ron Howard’s gritty western, in which she co-starred with Tommy Lee Jones.
Cowboys & Indians: We’ve already seen you play Elizabeth, queen of England, and Galadriel, queen of the elves. But now we're going to see you as… a cowgirl?
Cate Blanchett: [Laughs] Not quite. I mean, no, you won’t see me in a cowboy hat and chaps. I have just finished making a movie directed by Ron Howard, called The Missing, in which Tommy Lee Jones plays my father. It’s set in the Southwest, during the 1880s. And I get to ride a horse, which is fantastic. But it's basically a father-daughter story.
C&I: How so?
Blanchett: There’s a renegade band of ex-Cavalrymen, and they’ve started stealing young girls to sell them into slavery across the border in Mexico. And my daughter gets taken, so Tommy Lee and I have to go and find her.
C&I: So let me guess: Normally, he’s the last guy on earth you’d want to ride with.
Blanchett: Right. Like I say, the core of the film is the relationship between the estranged father and daughter. Tommy Lee’s character left my character when she was 10 years old, and she subsequently had, like, the worst life. And he returns to make amends. But she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him until her daughter goes missing. And they’re forced together because of circumstances.
C&I: Is this the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream? I mean, did you want to be a western hero when you were a child?
Blanchett: Actually, I wanted to work in the visual arts, maybe be a gallery curator. Or an architect. But I haven’t been given a chance to play an architect yet.
C&I: But you have been given the chance to star in a western. Were you surprised when you were approached to do something so unlike your previous movies?
Blanchett: A bit. But what I love about my work is, there’s a lot of chance and fate in it. And when someone offers me something that I haven’t done before, I think it’s fantastic. Because there’s an exhilaration — and a fear of failure — when you just have to learn a new skill and create a new persona. I have absolutely no interest in what people expect me to do. I think the only way to engage an audience to be engaged yourself. If you put too much forethought and maneuvering and planning into it, it takes the chance out of it. It takes the fun out of it.
C&I: I would imagine you didn’t have a lot of fun on Veronica Guerin, the true story of the Irish newspaper reporter who was killed by the drug dealers she tried to expose.
Blanchett: Well, we did have a few laughs, joking between takes. That’s the only way to keep your spirits up while you’re telling such a serious story.
C&I: Was it difficult to prepare for your role? Did you feel a special responsibility toward the real Veronica?
Blanchett: Certainly. On the other hand, because she did live — well, her life, it’s there for the taking. She gave a lot of radio and television interviews, so I was able to hear her voice. Whenever I create a character, even a fictional character, it's always great to be able to base their voice on a real person’s, so it becomes very specific. But it’s not a cabaret act. You don’t want to go see a film to see somebody’s homework. I think you want to be told a story. And hopefully, while telling this story, I captured the spirit of a woman without ever having met her.
C&I: Did you enjoy playing a reporter?
Blanchett: It was interesting to be on the other side of the interviewing process for a change, for sure. But I have some sort of vague, Victorian sense that asking probing questions of people is sort of impolite. I could never do it myself.
C&I: OK, let me ask you a polite, softball question. What is Ron Howard really like?
Blanchett: Thanks to him, I had the most sublime experience on The Missing. I’d met Ron before, and I knew he was a really generous, uncomplicated, great human being. But as a director, he is so clear, and so workmanlike — and, really, so tough. And all of that together made me really love working with him.
C&I: And how was it working with Tommy Lee Jones?
Blanchett: Really rewarding. He is such a fine actor. And also, he was so passionate about the project, because it’s such a wonderful character for him. Of course, I don’t think he particularly likes the press. So I didn't tell him I played Veronica Guerin. Maybe that’s why we got along.
C&I: What do you think might have happened if Veronica had ever interviewed Tommy Lee?
Blanchett: She would have had him in the palm of her hand.
The Missing — which holds a place of honor on our list of Great 21st Century Westerns — is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime, You Tube, Google Play and other platforms.