Cate Blanchett on 'bringing the system down' as a 'contemporary' femme fatale in Nightmare Alley

·3 min read

The 2022 awards race is heating up in a big way, and two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is poised to be a major contender once again.

Blanchett has roles in not one but two awards hopefuls this year: Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley and Adam McKay's Don't Look Up. Fresh off scoring a SAG Award nomination for her work in the former, Blanchett sat down with EW's The Awardist podcast to discuss her experiences working on both projects, her inspiration for her roles, and the directors she still wants to work with.

In Nightmare Alley, Blanchett plays Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychologist hell-bent on exposing Bradley Cooper's Stan as a conman. EW's review of the film describes her as "a purring blond puma in a skirt suit," but Blanchett is quick to point out the unconventionality of this particular femme fatale.

"I think there's a richness and a texture to her, in a way that perhaps there's not in traditional femme fatales," she tells EW's Joshua Rothkopf.

"Femme fatales, to me, often are sirens who — and it's always men — draw men into the rocks, but for destructive reasons. Whereas I think Lilith is interested in bringing the system down. And that feels a very contemporary thing for a woman who's suffered extreme pain to want to do. And it's all pouched in the buoyant, strange, and unique humanity in which Guillermo makes his movies."

Blanchett describes Lilith as "deeply ambiguous and unknowable and mysterious," so, to get a handle on portraying her, she says her director encouraged her to create a backstory for the character.

"Guillermo is very, very big on backstory," she explains. "So even though a lot of the characters never explicitly mention who they are, what motivates them, what their history is, he absolutely wants all of those characters to be rich and full the minute they walk in the door, and also for them to have a secret that is only shared with him."


NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX; Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures Cate Blanchett in "Don't Look Up" (L) and "Nightmare Alley" (R)

Her experience working on the neo-noir psychological thriller could not have been more different from filming McKay's disaster flick, both due to COVID protocols and a significant difference in directing styles. McKay is known for having an improvisatory set, and while Blanchett says she feels that all acting has some improv involved, Don't Look Up was a unique experience.

Likening the film to "silent movie-making," Blanchett says, "It was a bit hard because [McKay] was masked and behind his PPE, so you couldn't always understand him, but he would often throw lines in from the side or let the take run and run and run."

She adds, "What was great about it is that, after a few takes, you realized you could go really off-piste because you might end up somewhere useful. And particularly because the absurd became increasingly realistic and possible. We were all living it. We're living the ridiculousness as a species. So with every passing day, it felt like things that were happening out there in the so-called real world could be not necessarily directly referenced but definitely fed into the way we were working."

Nightmare Alley is in theaters now, and Don't Look Up is streaming on Netflix.

Listen to the full interview on EW's The Awardist podcast below or available wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe for new episodes every Monday. Our new season covers the road to the 2022 Oscars with in-depth analysis and interviews with Kenneth Branagh, Mike Mills, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Halle Berry, and more Oscar hopefuls.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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