CATE BLANCHETT, THEATRE BOSS

Since 2008 Cate Blanchett has been running a theatre in Sydney with her husband, Andrew Upton. Now she is returning to Europe in an Australian production of a German play. She and Upton talk to Jo Lennan

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2012

Sydney, mid-November. A slice of harbour shows through the window of the converted wharf, but no one is admiring the view. Within this office, the pressing question is whether to banish two yapping puppies, a black Labrador and a mix-breed blonde.

“Maybe it’s punishment,” says Cate Blanchett. Her tone is dry, her garb unassuming, and she is wearing horn-rimmed glasses. There’s no trace of celebrity gloss, but Blanchett is striking without it—five foot eight, and slender. Turning to her husband, the playwright Andrew Upton, she speaks above the din the dogs are making. “You got Dorothy when I went into ‘Uncle Vanya’ rehearsal last year, and then Fletcher arrived as soon as we started ‘Gross und Klein’.”

“That’s it,” Upton says. To those who know him—not the public at large, but people in theatre circles—his defining feature is his impish grin. Today, however, he has a more sober air. “It’s a way of stopping you doing plays,” he says, deadpan.

We’re in the office the two of them share as joint artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company. If you’ve seen Blanchett on fewer screens of late, this is the reason why. Alongside raising a young family—three sons, aged between ten and three—the job has been Blanchett’s and Upton’s life since late 2007, when they moved from Britain to take it on. 

In the end the puppies are led out by a personal assistant, and we get down to business. This is the largest theatre company in Australia: it has a turnover of A$30m (around £20m), stages over 1,000 performances a year and gets 300,000 people through its doors. 

Quite a few actors have made the jump to running a theatre, from Shakespeare and Molière to John Malkovich and Kevin Spacey. Blanchett’s and Upton’s predecessor, Robyn Nevin, had long been a fixture on Australian stages. But unlike her, Blanchett leapt into management from the heights of a prolific career in Hollywood. It was a dramatic shift, possibly unprecedented for a female star who is also a young parent: Kevin Spacey doesn’t have three small sons to deal with. She hasn’t cut back on acting: while her film credits have thinned out, she has been busy on stage in Sydney, Washington and New York. This afternoon, she has a day to go till the opening of her latest play.

“It’s going to be something,” she says. You would know the voice; it has a distinctive timbre, deep and airy at the same time. As she talks she moves about, re-tying her platinum hair, or shifting to sit on the floor when lunch is set on a coffee table. This brings me to one revision: her outfit is not entirely unassuming. As she folds her feet beneath her, she exposes a pair of glitter-encrusted brogues.

In person, she is engaging, earnest, unmistakably smart. The room is cluttered, with a Newell Harry artwork on the wall that says, “No point being king shit of turd island”. Below, on a low green couch, Upton follows keenly as his wife gives an answer, and sometimes interjects. At times they sound like characters in a play: something sparse and modern.

“When you say it’s going to be something,” Upton says, “you mean it’s not going to be nothing.”

“Yes,” says Blanchett. “That’s what I mean.”

Picture: Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton at the wharf where they run the Sydney Theatre Company. Photograph by Steve Forrest

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