Pull Quotes is a regular news feature that breaks down, digests, and spits out the best parts of a fascinating—but long—interview or article.
Cate Blanchett’s newest film, a lesbian romance called Carol, is set to premiere at Cannes on May 17. A piece in Variety today reflects on the movie’s road to its Cannes premiere, which, even by Hollywood standards, was sort of a long, windy clusterfuck.
Carol has been in development for nearly 15 years, which is far from surprising, considering Hollywood has enough trouble hiding its ambivalance about women-centric movies, much less its distaste for central gay characters, much less its inherent fear of lesbian love stories. The film is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price Of Salt, which Highsmith wrote under the pseudonym Claire Morgan to protect herself from the ire of the general (read: ignorant) public. It follows two main characters: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and Carol Aird (Blanchett), who meet in a New York department store and fall madly in love, as one does.
The rights to the novel were acquired all the way back in 2000, when a producer asked screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, a vocal Highsmith fan, to adapt the material. Nagy wrote a first draft in 10 weeks—then spent the next 10 years writing roughly 10 revisions, which sounds like the very specific worst nightmare of every writer I’ve ever known. Over the course of those 10 years, directors came and went—including Kenneth Branagh, John Maybury, John Crowley—and though Blanchett was always attached to star, Mara turned down her role at first, overwhelmed by the material. “I didn’t think I could play the part,” Mara told the mag. “So I turned it down, which is insane to me now, because working with Cate has always been a dream.” I agree, Rooney Mara. That is insane.
Finally, director Todd Haynes (I’m Not There) took the reins, and decided to shoot the movie in 16mm, with a look based on the photography of Vivian Maier (yes, the very same). Mia Wasikowska signed on to play Therese, but then had to drop out “due to a conflict.” That’s when Mara agreed to take the part. The film shot in 35 days last April, but after it screened to a test audience, it “went into hibernation.” It’s not totally clear why it’s finally coming out now—honestly, it’s the Weinstein Co., so I’m sure it’s for some grossly capitalist reason—but whatever. It’s here! (Almost.)
What struck me most about the piece, outside of the fact that this movie has basically been in the making for six decades, was Blanchett’s revealing accompanying interview, in which she discussed women in film, her own sexuality, her creative process, and why she’s so critical of herself. Here are my favorite pull-quotes from the interview:
- “We have to push forward. What industry has parity pay for women? None. Why would we expect this industry to be any different?” She says the dominance of male stories on the big screen is bad business. “It’s not serving the audience. People want to see good films. We should have equal access to the multiplexes.”
- Blanchett says she wasn’t convinced that Carol would ever make it to theaters. “It was so hard,” she recalls. “Midrange films with women at the center are tricky to finance. There are a lot of people laboring under the misapprehension that people don’t want to see them, which isn’t true.”...Blanchett, who yearns for a time when the conversation about the gender gap is no longer necessary, believes there is hope. “I think there’s been a critical mass of women who have reached a certain place in the industry,” she says, citing Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, as well as producer Allison Shearmur, who made the Disney fairy tale about a magical glass slipper a reality. “I want it to not be discussed anymore,” Blanchett notes. “But it needs to be discussed.”
- When asked if this is her first turn as a lesbian, Blanchett curls her lips into a smile. “On film — or in real life?” she asks coyly. Pressed for details about whether she’s had past relationships with women, she responds: “Yes. Many times,” but doesn’t elaborate. Like Carol, who never “comes out” as a lesbian, Blanchett doesn’t necessarily rely on labels for sexual orientation. “I never thought about it,” she says of how she envisioned the character. “I don’t think Carol thought about it.”
- She eventually offers some details about how she unlocked the secrets to her latest character, explaining that she turned to the film’s costume designer, Sandy Powell: “We asked, ‘What is the most erotic part of the body?’ We kept saying that wrists are really erotic. The neck. The ankles. The way Highsmith writes, she’s got this exquisite observation of detail that most people would miss, but a lover’s eye never would. We talked a lot about erogenous zones.”
- The actress studied the era by picking up banned erotic novels. “I read a lot of girl-on-girl books from the period,” she says. The other book on Blanchett’s shelf was The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark, by psychoanalyst Josh Cohen, which she found relevant on many levels. She describes Carol as “unknowable,” but she could just as easily be talking about herself; unlike many celebrities today, she covets her privacy. For example, she says she’ll never join Twitter. “I think I’d end up in rehab,” she jokes. “That stuff is addictive.” She doesn’t Google herself either. She finds out she’s made headlines when she walks her kids to school and the crossing guard tells her, “What they said about you — that was terrible!” Blanchett realizes we live in a society of snoops. “We need to get into people’s private lives now,” she says. “If they are hiding something, they are dishonest.”
- Blanchett doesn’t like to watch herself in movies. “I never think I have it,” she says. “Maybe that’s why I keep working.” She’ll often calm herself by imagining that nobody will ever see the movie she’s making, but that didn’t work when she boarded The Aviator as Katharine Hepburn, given the high profiles of director Martin Scorsese and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. She had a ball on set, but when she saw the finished film, she wasn’t satisfied with her performance. “I was filled with disappointment and regret,” admits the actress, who has starred in plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Hedda Gabler and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. “That’s what I love about theater — you can try to improve what happened the night before.”
- If Carol lived today, she couldn’t see her marching in a gay pride parade. “Her sexuality isn’t politicized,” Blanchett says. “I think there are a lot of people that exist like that who don’t feel the need to shout things from the rafters.” She says the movie captures the spirit of Highsmith’s prose. “Her stories, her characters, the texture that she writes are so slippery,” Blanchett says. “It was no surprise to me that it was a tricky thing to get made.”