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Movies: CATE'S GREAT ESCAPE; SHE'S A WORLD-CLASS ACTRESS, BUT CATE BLANCHETT SPENDS LITTLE TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, PREFERRING A QUIET LIFE.

Byline: JOHN HISCOCK

For a working mum more used to dressing down in denim, Cate Blanchett couldn't have looked more glamorous as she delightedly accepted her Best Supporting Actress Bafta. Wearing an expensive Armani dress at the glitzy ceremony recently held in London, she picked up the award for her role as the legendary Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.

But Cate probably allowed herself a secret smile that all the glittering razzmatazz was in complete contrast to the normality of her everyday life as a mother of two sons and a low-key working actress.

With The Aviator still riding high in the box office charts, Cate has a new film out this week, and she'll never forget the first time she reported for duty on the set of the bizarre comedy The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

It was dark and she had been told to join the cast and crew on a beach where they were shooting a night scene. There, she was amazed to find her co-stars Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Noah Taylor capering around in their pyjamas covered with glowing jellyfish.

"I didn't know what I'd let myself in for," the 35-year-old Australian actress laughs. "But then it all made perfect sense."

In the new Wes Anderson-directed film, she plays an English journalist named Jane Winslett-Richardson who sets sail with oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) on an expedition to hunt down the mysterious, elusive, possibly non-existent Jaguar Shark that killed Zissou's partner during the documentary filming of their previous adventure.

En route they suffer a host of complications, including pirates, kidnapping and bankruptcy, and Cate's character is also heavily pregnant. She didn't need any special padding to play the part, though, because, at the time of filming, she was pregnant with her second son, Roman Robert.

He was born in London last year and is now 10 months old. She and her playwright husband Andrew Upton also have a three-year-old son Dashiell - named after The Maltese Falcon's writer Dashiell Hammett. Their children are already used to travelling with them between film sets, and homes in Islington, North London, and Australia.

"My job is great for having kids and providing them with stability," says Cate. "They can be on the set with me when they're little."

Cate is her usual cheerful, down-to-earth self when we talk at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. It is clear that motherhood suits her and she talks happily about her children.

"My older boy's obsessed with pirates at the moment," she says. "He's walking around going, 'Ahoy there, me hearties'. They're both on their own little journey and it's very sweet. I've got this photo of them dressed up as pirates.

"It's extraordinary. I thought, 'How can I possibly love a second child as much as the first?' But you find those reserves within yourself."

Her pregnancy with Roman may have suited The Life Aquatic, but it also meant Cate had to turn down the offer of the Julia Roberts role in the film version of Patrick Marber's play Closer. Coincidentally, Cate has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her Aviator role at the Academy Awards on Sunday, a category in which she'll come up against Natalie Portman in Closer.

But awards are nothing new to Cate. She was previously Oscar nominated for her 1998 breakthrough role as the Virgin Queen in Elizabeth. She lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow (for her performance in Shakespeare In Love) but did win the Best Actress Golden Globe. Cate was also nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as the murdered Irish journalist Veronica Guerin in 2003.

For such a highly-regarded actress who has starred in so many big films - including The Lord Of The Rings triology - Cate has managed to keep her distance from Hollywood. She doesn't get shadowed by the paparazzi and barely gets recognised when walking down the street, which suits her just fine.

"Some people lust for the public eye and find it helps them in their work, and others don't," she says. "I guess I prefer to be quite private. It's a myth that actors are exhibitionists. I don't think all of them are. It's the research and working with people that fascinates me."

Unlike most of her fellow actresses, she cares little for her looks and is happy to play "ugly" roles. She considers the biggest compliment she ever received was when someone told her she had "an actor's face".

"I'm as vain as the next person," she admits. "But it's really important to shed that vanity. I'm not opposed to looking what is commonly termed ugly."

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Cate went to school at the local Methodist Ladies College as part of a strict upbringing which she looks back on with affection. Her father - a Texan advertising executive - died when she was 10 and her mother, a teacher, kept a close eye on her when she was a teenager.

"She was very protective and my boyfriends weren't allowed inside the house," Cate laughs. "They had to resort to throwing stones at my window."

It was different, however, when she brought her husband-to-be home for the first time. "It was interesting because it was like a change happened," she says. "My mother just knew and Andrew was allowed in, so I thought my instincts about him were right." They were married in June 1997.

Cate still has a home in Melbourne and returns there frequently to appear on stage and in Australian-financed films. She has recently been back home shooting the local production Little Fish, a drama in which she plays a woman trying to stop her brother and ex-boyfriend from embarking on one last criminal venture.

But Cate is currently back in Hollywood for Sunday's glittering Academy Awards ceremony, and admits it's one of the few times she gets dressed up.

"I have a joke with a friend," she says, "about how many clothes with Dry Clean Only labels I have, and how they all stay wrapped in their plastic. That's because I mostly wear the same pairs of jeans covered in baby yogurt. When we go out, I'll take off the plastic, but it's mostly wash and wear for me."

l The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou comes out today.NAME: Catherine Elise Blanchett.

Celluloid CV

PERSONAL FILE: Born May 14, 1969 in Melbourne, Australia. She has an older brother, Bob, who works in computers and a sister, Genevieve, who's a theatre designer.After gaining critical acclaim on stage in Australia, Cate graduated to small film parts and got her big break playing the lead role in Elizabeth (1998) which won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. She has since mixed blockbusters (Lord Of The Rings) with smaller more arty films.

CAPTION(S):

OFFBEAT: The Life Aquatic with Owen Wilson (centre) and Bill Murray; COUPLE: Cate and husband Andrew; ENIGMATIC: Cate has "an actor's face"; BREAKTHROUGH: As Queen Elizabeth I; WILDE: An Ideal Husband; PSYCHIC: The Gift with Hilary Swank; FANTASY: The Lord Of The Rings; TRUE-LIFE TALE: Veronica Guerin; OSCAR NOMINATED: The Aviator
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2005
Words:1186
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