It has been more than a week since Cate Blanchett won the Golden Globe best actress award. The trophy sits in her hotel room, surrounded by a mass of withered flowers – mementoes of an evening about which she can recall very little.
“Unfortunately my category came up rather late in the evening so I was a couple of sheets to the wind,” she says with a laugh. “Once your name is read out it’s a high like no other so I can’t remember a lot. I hope I didn’t do too many things I’ll regret.
“The Globe is in the hotel room and my sons made a little shrine for it with all the flowers that I have been receiving for the past week that are now dead.”
She won the award – along with another this week from the Screen Actors Guild – for her portrayal of Jasmine, an ex-New York socialite teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, a role which has made her odds-on favourite to win her second Oscar.
The 44-year-old actress refuses to take awards too seriously, although she allows: “Look, when you are proud of something you have done and you have made a film you feel has merit and it’s found an audience, and is critically well received, that’s a pretty pleasurable place to be. I mean, you don’t want it to end up gathering dust at the bottom of someone’s DVD collection.”
We’re meeting, however, not to talk about Blue Jasmine but to discuss her most recent role in George Clooney’s Second World War tale The Monuments Men, based on the true story of how a group of museum directors, curators and art historians became soldiers to recover priceless works of art looted by the Germans.
Blanchett, in a role which could hardly be more different from Jasmine, portrays the real-life character of Rose Valland (her name has been changed in the movie), an art historian and member of the French Resistance who, while working at Paris’s Jeu de Paume museum, secretly recorded details of the art plundered from France by the Nazis and where and to whom it was shipped.
Clooney, who is co-writer, producer and director of the movie as well one of its stars, flew to Sydney for one night to persuade Blanchett, who was appearing in a play, to take the role of the prim, stern-looking Valland.
Although she works sparingly in film, preferring to be a full-time mother to her three sons, aged 12, 9 and 5, Blanchett was drawn to the story by her background in art, having studied art history and economics at the University of Melbourne and, with her husband Andrew Upton, being an art collector in a small way.
“I knew a lot about the works of art but I didn’t know much about this particular pocket of the history of the war,” she says. “What George and his producing partner Grant Heslov have done is used so much iconography of the war – the vats full of glasses and shoes and gold fillings, all those things that we know are the horrors of the holocaust – to open the door to the history of the Second World War in a particular way. It follows a group of men and a woman who are fighting for something that is infinitely more noble and greater than themselves. That was something I was very interested in being a part of.
“I was very struck by the courage and conviction and fortitude of Rose Valland, who performed incredible, quite lonely acts of heroism.”
It is the second time she has worked with Clooney, having previously co-starred with him in 2006 in The Good German. “My husband said, ‘What is it with you and George and the Second World War?’”
As well as Clooney, The Monuments Men reunited her with Matt Damon, with whom she had previously worked 15 years before in The Talented Mr Ripley.
“We talked a lot about the intervening years, during which I have been raising three sons and he has been raising three daughters,” she says, adding with a laugh: “There are several arranged marriages waiting to be put into action.”
Her roles in Blue Jasmine and The Monuments Men mark a return to movies following an extended break during which, since portraying Maid Marion in Robin Hood in 2010, she has only made what were essentially cameo appearances in Hanna and The Hobbit trilogy, preferring to concentrate instead on her work with the Sydney Theatre Company of which she and her husband are co-artistic directors.
“Yes, it was a long sojourn from the film industry, but it wasn’t a sacrifice because I am enormously proud of the work I did with the Sydney Theatre Company and I hope I have grown a lot as an actress as a result,” she says.
Blanchett still has the Terrence Malick movie Knight of Cups, which she finished 18 months ago, awaiting release. To allow her to spend more time with her husband and sons, she is cutting down even more on her acting and looking instead for roles behind the camera.
“I have three boys so I take things on a case-by-case basis. There are a couple of things I am interested in directing, and there’s a novel that I am trying to bring to the screen, so we’ll see if that comes to pass,” she says. “I also have something in development with HBO at the moment which I’m hoping to do with Julie Delpy, whom I greatly admire, so hopefully that will come to fruition. But these things take time.”
When we talk she is awaiting the arrival of her husband from Australia and they are planning a family holiday before their sons have to go back to school and she takes her Golden Globe home.
Then she will be returning to Los Angeles in March for more interviews, photographs and red-carpet appearances prior to the Oscars, where most critics believe she will be collecting another gold statuette.
Although she normally prefers to stay away from Hollywood and the limelight, for these few months Cate Blanchett is unabashedly savouring the accolades coming her way.
“It’s a joy and I’m enjoying it immensely,” she confesses. “Probably disproportionately and indecently so.”