Cate Blanchett wades into row over straight actors playing gay characters: ‘I just don’t understand’

Cate Blanchett in Tár. (Focus Features)

Cate Blanchett has explained her approach to playing characters with a different gender or sexuality to her own.

The actor is currently promoting the Oscar-tipped Tár, in which she plays disgraced lesbian conductor Lydia Tár, who is accused of sexual misconduct and plagued by misfortunes. It is the second time Blanchett has portrayed a lesbian woman in a feature film, the first being in Carol.

Speaking to Vanity Fair, Blanchett, who is straight, said that she doesn’t understand the contemporary “obsession with labels” and that she doesn’t “think about [her] gender or [her] sexuality” when selecting roles.

“I have to listen very hard when people have an issue with it,” she added, referring to Carol and Tár. She explained that while she doesn’t understand the discourse, she appreciates the importance behind it.

“I just don’t understand the language they’re speaking, and I need to understand it because you can’t dismiss the obsession with those labels – behind the obsession is something really important.” 

Cate Blanchett in Carol
Cate Blanchett in Carol. (Number 9 Films)

Blanchett’s role in Tár was so convincing that some viewers assumed the conductor was a real person rather than a fictional character.

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The actor spoke to real conductors before taking the role, claiming she met one who has perfect pitch and can hear sounds most humans cannot.

The actress told W Magazine: “I was speaking to a conductor who I really admire, [Australian] Simone Young, and she has perfect pitch but with that gift comes the downside that she hears the dog whistle noises that most humans don’t.”

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Later in the interview, Blanchett ruminated on her role in Carol. The 1950s-set drama portrays the relationship between an aspiring female photographer and an older woman.

Blanchett asked: “If [Carol] was made now, me not being gay, would I be given public permission to play that role? I don’t know the answer to that.”

She added: “I don’t want to offend anybody. I don’t want to speak for anybody else.”

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