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Cate Blanchett Talks About "The Good German"

Blanchett Stars with George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh's "The Good German"


Cate Blanchett Talks About

Cate Blanchett stars in "The Good German"

© Warner Bros Pictures
Cate Blanchett plays the role of Lena Brandt, the wife of a German soldier, former lover of American war correspondent Jake Geismer (George Clooney) and current girlfriend of Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire), in the black and white noir, The Good German. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film is based on the Joseph Kanon novel of the same name.

Watching Blanchett as Lena in The Good German is like stepping back in time to the Hollywood of the 1940s. Blanchett’s portrayal of a femme fatale willing to do practically anything to stay alive evokes memories of classic film beauty Marlene Dietrich. In fact, Blanchett studied Ingrid Bergman and other stars in order to get into character as a woman struggling to stay alive in Berlin at the end of World War II.

Cate Blanchett Explains Her Research Process for The Good German: “I’d studied the second World War. But I think ultimately, probably from a victor’s perspective, and that’s the thing about war. It doesn’t really deal with the vanquished until many, many years later. Something that I did read, I delved into a lot, an anonymously written book called A Woman in Berlin. It was a journalist who diarized her day-to-day experiences of living in Berlin when the Russians came in after Berlin had fallen. It was horrific and terrifying. And the way that just became normal and the odd thing to have been at the center of an all-powerful nation one day and a nation that was vilified by the rest of the world the next, and what that did to your sense of what was good and what was true, the sense that you couldn’t trust anyone. This woman just described when her husband returned, how she’d just been irrevocably changed by being raped on a daily basis, by having to sleep with people for food, by them being betrayed at every step of the way that they couldn’t be together anymore. So I sort of carried that into the film.”

Blanchett also had to prepare to tackle the character emotionally. “There’s a flashback where Lena is raped. If that was done in another film, I think the things that would have been coursing through me would have been very different. The demands would have been different. Whereas it was a half-glimpse thing. If I hit the light in the right way, and put my head in the right way, then the emotion comes across in the right way. As opposed to the camera finding me, I had to find the camera. It’s just a slightly different shift, which at first felt quite technical. But then I found it really liberating because it was like the meaning was completed through the camera. The shots underscored the emotion, so you then had to really finely calibrate how much to reveal.

When I arrived, because it didn’t have a lot of preparation time there, we didn’t have any rehearsal or anything. Steven showed me a lot of cut footage, stuff they had done, which was so helpful. As soon as I saw that, I knew the reference points, the things he was referencing. But when I saw that I went, ‘Oh, I get it.’”

Getting the German Accent Just Right: Blanchett’s accent in The Good German is not the typical ‘Hollywood’ German accent. Blanchett says, “I think the model was more the European actresses who were embraced by Hollywood of that period. …And fortunately, when it's released in Germany, it'll be dubbed. But what the difference is, I suppose, is that if it was a film of the ‘40s, then I wouldn’t be speaking German. Steven [Soderbergh] decided at the 11the hour, basically when I arrived, that in fact he wanted me to speak German, so there’s a bit of a mild internal panic there. But there was a fantastic German advisor on the set who helped me, and obviously Christian [Oliver] who’s playing Lena’s husband was fantastic. [It was] great to have an actor saying, ‘If you give it this cadence, it’ll have this meaning.’”

Blanchett didn’t stay in the accent when she wasn’t in front of the camera. “I think the more you do as an actor, the more facility you have to switch on and switch off,” explained Blanchett. “So maybe five or six years ago, it probably… I think actually when I played Elizabeth for the first time, I called home and mom said, ‘Why are you speaking funny?’ I didn’t even think that I was. I think your facility becomes greater the more you do, and I’ve certainly done a lot.”

Filming in the Style of the 1940s: “[Soderbergh] didn’t work in the style in terms of the star system, but definitely in terms of the visual style he did," said Blanchett. "It was utterly influential. I was just saying to someone else, if you're asked to perform in this sort of highly theatrical way that has a very different emotional production to the way, or a sense of truth to the way we perceive truthful acting today without the backdrop, the cycloramas, the kind of built sets, the backlot quality, and also the noir-esque lighting, then I think you would have been in trouble. But all of those elements really supported that performance style.”

On the Story’s Shifting Points of View: “I think that’s what’s surprising and what’s really great about having Tobey [Maguire] play the role, and I think Tobey’s remarkable in this, is that you don’t expect to see [spoiler deleted]… I think the perspective, the narrative perspective helps that surprise. That’s where it is, I think, akin to the great stories told in the ‘40s is that the story, the narrative is so strong. It actually guides the characters through the story. Whereas often you feel with the screenplays that you have to shape it and move it, like the character is the rich thing rather than the story. This time it was really equally weighted.”

Working with One of the Sexiest Men Alive: So how was working with George Clooney, one of People magazine’s sexiest men of 2006? Blanchett replied, “I’ve been pretty lucky in the leading men department. I had a good year, Brad [Pitt], George, Bill Nighy. He’s great. He’s really incredibly humble and so clued in. He’s got such a great perspective on who he’s perceived to be, who he is, and what he can achieve in the world. He’s a very smart man. I love spending time with him.”

Page 2: Choosing Films, I'm Not There, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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