Cate Blanchett: 'A psychic told me I would play Veronica Guerin on film'
A psychic predicted that Cate Blanchett would play murdered Sunday Independent reporter Veronica Guerin in a film, she tells Aine O'Connor
The word from the interviewers who go before me is that Cate Blanchett and Jack Black are in great form.
When I get to them, Cate is eating chocolate and needs to stand up for a while, Jack wants to know how to spell my name, has Cate ever been to Dublin, and, if she had Guinness there, because it tastes better. He wants to know if I have ever heard of Marlay Park because he played there. "I did not have a 'high five' with Bono but I did stay in his hotel, by the river there, what's that street where all the music is? Bible?" Temple Bar? "Temple, not Bible, of course!"
Cate has not only been to Dublin, but spent time filming there, she played our late colleague Veronica Guerin in Joel Schumacher's moving film. "I had this very strange moment," she says, describing how research for a role as a psychic two years before she ever heard of Veronica, led her to visit a psychic to learn how to use the cards.
"The psychic told me, 'You're going to play a writer, short hair, she dies before her time, she's got some foreign sounding name, Guavin, something like that and you're going to have two bodyguards'."
She says she forgot about it until over two years later and the day they were filming Veronica's murder. "The Gilligan case had been reopened and they were worried about security on set and I turned around covered in blood, with my short hair and there were two bodyguards and I thought 'Oh my God, this feels really familiar. Oh my God, this is what the psychic said…' it was really creepy." We all agree, and Cate continues, "Speaking of creepy…."
"Nice segue!" Jack nods in approval. "She's always getting us back on track, this one."
The track we're back on is the film they're in London to talk about, The House with a Clock in its Walls. Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of 10-year-old Lewis who, upon the death of his parents, goes to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Black). Jonathan lives in an old house where pictures move and a clock can be heard ticking, and he and his neighbour Mrs Zimmermann (Blanchett) bicker amiably, initially hiding the darker secret behind the clock's meaning, namely that it is the result of an evil spell to turn back time. Jovial and bickering though they may be, Jonathan and Mrs Zimmermann are, in fact, trying to save humanity from extinction.
The film's stars see their target audience being aged nine and above, "The same people who saw ET, Gremlins, The Goonies," says Cate, adding: "A lot of children's films are denuded of genuine danger and lean to the sentimental, rather than sentiment and I think that this film is kind of moving back in that direction." She says that her nine-year-old son was on set with her and loved it, "Then I saw it with my 14 year old and my 16 year old and they also really enjoyed it." She adds that the psychic in Savannah also predicted she would have four children, one of them adopted. After their sons Dashiell, Roman and Ignatius, she and her husband of 21 years, playwright Andrew Upton, adopted a baby daughter, Edith, in February 2015.
Many of her films were not suitable for her children to see, but Jack's kids have been able to see lots of his films. "Except my kids don't want to see me. 'Oh Dad, you're so embarrassing'."
Jack was in school with his wife, artist and musician Tanya Haden, but it wasn't until they met at a party 15 years later that romance happened. Their two sons, Samuel and Thomas, are 10 and 12 now. "They're gonna come around, eventually, some day they're gonna say, 'You're not so bad, you know, you can hang out with us'."
The characters in the film bicker all the time, but it is clear there is a lot of love. And the actors who play them seem to get along well too, she slags his shoes, "Is that dog poop on the soles?" "No, it's camouflage!" and they are each full of praise for each other's work.
Have they ever had to work with people they didn't like? "I don't think so," says Cate: "But I did a movie with someone who really hated me. She was horrible to me." She acts out a scenario where the person in question would organise nights out in front of her and entirely exclude her, "right to my face!" It was early in her career is all that she will say. "I'm sure people hate me all the time, Jack is unhateable, I'm annoying."
Has Jack ever had to work with someone he hated? "Not until now. And so far it's just been horrible," he deadpans. Cate asks if I have ever had to work with someone I didn't like. Journalism can be rather ego-based I tell her, "Is that why journalists are often really mean?" she asks. And Black is back, "I just thought of one where I did an interview with someone that I really didn't like. But I can't talk about it," he says, "because it might reveal who I'm thinking of. Next question!"
This is the way they are, back and forth, his every word jocular, she more, but not entirely, serious. They both come across as clever, informed, confident. They are both 49 and come from different, but similar, backgrounds. Jack is a native of California, his parents were both space satellite engineers, his mother worked on the Hubble telescope.
He went to a private school designed to help children who struggled in traditional educational backgrounds and overcame a teenage drug problem, learning to love drama in school, going on briefly to UCLA. He has worked almost exclusively in comedy roles but says it wasn't a conscious choice, "I don't have any real preference, it's just when you read the script, you respond to it or you don't, so I guess I respond to comedies more often."
Cate was born in Melbourne to an Australian mother and American father. Her dad died when she was 10 and her mother changed career to put her three children through private schools. Not initially an actor, Cate studied economics and fine art before dropping out to travel. In Egypt she got her first acting role, almost by accident, and the bug bit, although she never saw herself as a film actress. Her earlier roles were often very serious, the lighter stuff coming in as her career has progressed. In the flesh she is extraordinary looking. She's perhaps 5ft 7in, slender but not skinny, elegant, and with virtually no makeup and big heavy blacked-rimmed glasses, her face is still strikingly beautiful. I wonder if you're very beautiful, do you feel you have to work harder to be taken seriously?
She almost looks surprised, "I have no idea. It's not my problem."
Jack? "If you're very beautiful, do you want to be taken seriously? I'm going to say yes," even deader pan.
Cate comes back with an answer, "As an actress, I never even thought I'd make a movie, I was working in theatre and I was not that girl to be making movies. I was the weird thing in the corner of the room that no one knew what to do with." She says she was quite happy working in theatre, she still does, but when given the chance to make a film she took it. That led to a three-picture deal in Australia ("which basically means they get you cheap.") After one period drama she wondered, "I didn't necessarily want to do the same role wearing different corsets and so I chose to make a film that John Cusack was doing about air traffic controllers, Pushing Tin. I thought I'd get to do something different. I wasn't trying to get anyone to take me seriously, I was just trying different things out. And often when your name is up there in lights you don't get to experiment, I just like trying little things out."
The House with the Clock in its Walls is one such thing. And it is based on one of 10 books. "I've signed up for the ten-ology," Jack jokes, "Are you on for all 10, Cate?" "They've not had that conversation with me," she responds, "I think I'm on trial. I would totally sign up for the ten-ology but you can't go in with a game plan that big, you just have to make the first one and see what happens."
The House With a Clock in its Walls opens September 21.