Oscar winner Cate Blanchett laments unhealthy mix of politics and media

The Australian actress gives her take on politics and the upcoming US elections, but keeps her private life to herself

Cate Blanchett, a marching wind of navy-but-almost black in a deceptively comfortable-looking pantsuit, glides into a suite at London's Corinthia Hotel, meaning business.

"Right… nnngh. What are we talking about today?" she asks, eyes aflash with a steady, open gaze; hair smoothed neatly in a blonde bob around a strong-boned face.

The subject of discussion, it turns out, is social realism, philosophy and Ibsen. A Norwegian journalist has cut into the game quickly via a question about her theatrical work.

"These plays are classics because they are always ripe for reinvention and re-examination," the actress says, referring to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy Of The People as an example.

"I've seen a lot of different productions in England, in Australia, in Germany, so it clearly crosses a lot of cultures - that somebody who's inside the system, someone who sees the system as broken, compromised and corrupt and trying to expose that corruption and ultimately being destroyed."

Blanchett, 46, could go on to debate the frayed morals of society and all the individual intractable stakes in it, and how the stage is a useful refraction of the incorrigibility of the world. But she is here to talk instead about her involvement in James Vanderbilt's Truth, about the rise and fall of American TV news programme 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes.

With the twittersphere, the advent of the blogosphere… it's very difficult to separate opinion news from factual news. But we need diversity to find out what's going on.

CATE BLANCHETT on the erosion of investigative journalism and the space in televised media

In 2005, the TV executive was systematically and politically persecuted over her alleged exposure of former president George W. Bush's draft dodging via undocumented falsified military records in the 1970s.

Masterfully segueing into the topic that brought the press team into the room in the first place, Blanchett says: "Truth - it's about a very particular pocket of American history but I think it has a universality that Ibsen does."

But she also adds that it is not a biopic about Dan Rather, the journalist caught in the controversy, or Mapes.

"In some way that All The President's Men is not about (former president Richard) Nixon, this film is not about George W. Bush or the Republicans either. It's more about the unhealthy crucible of corporate America, its media and its politicians.

"And I think that's an interesting question… it raises a series of interesting questions for not only the American public but for the Western media generally, about the global media."

Slowly but surely, the Australian actress is provoking thoughts on the upcoming elections in the United States and, by extension, political reporting around the world.

"It's an interesting question to have in your mind when you're going to the polls. Because the horse races have begun.

"There's very little content, very little ideology, it's all about personality. It happens in the US and in Australia, I'm sure it happens everywhere. It feels like the media is running the election, rather than the ideas driving the election."

Fast-talking and quick-thinking, she slides easily between topics in conversation, casually holding onto her reign as queen of court among four journalists at this interview. She has been a 16th-century monarch incarnate twice in her breakout film role Queen Elizabeth I in 1998 (Elizabeth) and again in 2007 (Elizabeth: The Golden Age).

When Hollywood first descended upon her with a slew of opportunities after Elizabeth, she was already a successful stage actress. Her star rose through the ranks with successful appearances in the film world. Roles ranged from gutsy crime reporter Veronica Guerin (Veronica Guerin, 2003) to the ethereal Galadriel in the Lord Of The Rings series, to a cross- dressing Bob Dylan in I'm Not There (2007) and campy evil baddies in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008) and Cinderella (2015). She was also nominated for a best actress Oscar in Todd Haynes' acclaimed Carol (2015), where she plays an older woman romancing a young photographer (Rooney Mara) in 1950s New York.

And yet she insists that she still has "never really worked in Hollywood" and never bought into the media circus. "I personally don't like knowing anything about the actors I see on screen because I find it gets into the way of immersing myself into the story," she says.

Unafraid to comment on fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch, she muses further: "I don't think a monopoly of media ownership is healthy for any country. And certainly this is centralisation of media ownership in Australia. A democracy can function only when it has a truly free and diverse press.

"Particularly now - we digest captions and that's enough," she adds. "It's very hard to get news these days because it's so mixed up with the memes. There's an erosion of investigative journalism and the space in televised media. With the twittersphere, the advent of the blogosphere… it's very difficult to separate opinion news from factual news. But we need diversity to find out what's going on."

Does she still believe in journalism? "I mean… here we all are," she says with a shrug, looking at all the reporters in the room with irony, flashing a tired smirk.

"I end up speaking to the media much more than I like. I consume news. I'm interested in what's going on in the world.

"But I don't have Facebook or a Twitter account, I'm not on Instagram. I've got four children, I run a theatre company in Australia, I'm lucky enough to do the work that interests me. It's a high-class problem," adds Blanchett, who is married to long-time husband Andrew Upton, fellow director of her Sydney Theatre Company, where she has been "primarily happily working for the last eight years, with the occasional foray into film".

Indeed. She will thump your head with irresistible elan and beautiful words over the degenerating politics of the world, or her support of green causes, or her feminist response to media fetishisation of actresses' bodies in the name of fashion. But she will give you zilch on her private life and thoughts.

"I don't talk about it. Don't publish photos of myself on holiday. My work is my work and my private life is my private life. It's expanded exponentially in the last 15 years. The landscape was quite different when I first started."

What movie magazines and the Internet will tell you is that she is the middle child of a Texan-born naval petty officer and a teacher, and raised in a Melbourne suburb. Dropping out of university to travel around the world - and thereby accidentally making her first movie appearance as an extra in a party scene on an Egyptian film set, she eventually went to drama school and dove onto the stage.

She is lined up for no fewer than five other film openings over the next two years, including the Terrence Malick project Weightless.

Still, her life off-stage is not only the silver screen: She is eager to let you know she spends valuable time "producing the work of others".

"An actor's job is to be slightly out of balance. If everything is neat and siloed and tied up in little bows, it becomes a little dull. You need a little bit of chaos. I guess you need to be hyper-organised if you're going to have chaos."

•Truth opens in Singapore on March 17.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'The truth about Cate Blanchett'. Print Edition | Subscribe