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Martin Scorsese Discusses His 'The Aviator' Cast


Jude Law and Cate Blanchett in The Aviator

Jude Law and Cate Blanchett in "The Aviator"

© Miramax Films
Then there’s the other element, which may be many people who don’t know who she is at all. And because of that, I felt yes, let us try to do Katharine Hepburn in a film. I said, “How do you do that?” With an actress of great intelligence and courage.

We discussed levels of accent. When she came she said, “Look, I looked at some pictures of Katharine Hepburn and there’s a couple here.” And she got in a certain position sort of on her haunches, Cate Blanchett did, and she said, “I think she was like this.” Sure enough, that’s the way she’s sitting on the beach when Howard comes up and asks her to go golfing with him. That was taken from a PR still off the set. And she just had it. She had the gesture, she had the lines to be, the body lines, the look of Katharine Hepburn. The attitude, really, of Katharine Hepburn.

It was a matter of really working, ultimately, on the level of accent. And it goes two ways. One way which is that yes, it’s an accent that reminds you of Katharine Hepburn with the particular certain laughs that she has, the barrage of words that she hits Howard Hughes with in the golf scene when you first see her. But also there’s an element to Katharine Hepburn that if you don’t know Katharine Hepburn, the person created in the story and the script and by Cate Blanchett is definitely a character. She’s a Yankee. She comes from a family with a very socially progressive thought and action in life. And a very opinionated woman, right up there, right in your face and if you don’t like it, leave. That kind of thing. And that is a character. It’s a valid character and some younger people may say, “Oh, that’s interesting. She was an actress at the time. I see.“ So we were going on three levels, really, for those who knew and for those who don’t know.

There’s an element that Cate Blanchett brought to it that is quite extraordinary. I think it’s that breaking of that facade, particularly in the scene where she leaves Howard. When she finally says, “I met someone. I’ve fallen in love and so I’m leaving.” You look at her eyes and she’s waiting for him. She’s waiting for him to blow up. She doesn’t want to really do it. And then she goes, “So, there we both are. You’re not one for tears.” “No, we’re going to have to deal with this emotionally, Kate. I’m going to get angry.” You can see it in her eyes that she’s getting a little nervous and particularly when he says, “Stop acting.” She says, “I’m not acting.” And starts laughing. That’s it. Cate Blanchett’s reaction and her reading and her body language when she says, “I’m not acting,” tells it all, really. If not the real Katharine Hepburn, then the Katharine Hepburn that is the one John worked out in the script, based on this character, this person.

Ultimately what I finally did with Cate Blanchett, she was still working, and a long story short, I had her look at every Katharine Hepburn film from “A Bill of Divorcement” to 1939, “The Philadelphia Story.” But on a big screen, 35 mm, so that she’d be absorbed by the image and by the character, whoever that character is up there on the screen. So that she’d feel comfortable with the body language and if she had to improvise a word or two. And then Tim Monoch who is a wonderful dialect coach who I’ve worked with since “Age of Innocence,” he worked with her very, very closely to the point where she finally came to rehearsals, she didn’t really want to read. I said, “Should we read a scene?” “No, I’m not ready yet.” I think what she was really waiting for was being comfortable with the level of the accent. That’s when she said, “Okay, I think I can read a few pages now with Leo.” When I started to hear the accent, then I understand. In the actually scenes, I just guided her through in a way. I didn’t try to get in the middle of what she was doing. I didn’t want to mess it up and try to give her any direction.

Gwen Stefani is just literally Jean Harlow. I would have liked Gwen to be in the film more. I would have liked Jean Harlow to be more of a character. But again, that’s what’s so interesting about the script. Logan only showed you certain things and it’s what’s not that there that has the resonance in the scenes that are there. When she comes out of the car, you know what the relationship is. She’s dressed in white. She’s dressed exactly the way Jean Harlow was dressed that night and she does exactly Jean’s speech. You get a sense of what’s going on. “Come on, Slim, take a bow.” That’s what she told him. He really was holding her hand, crushing her hand during the screening.

PAGE 5: Martin Scorsese on Historical Fact vs. Movie Fiction

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