Notes on a Scandal: Cate Blanchett interview, with Richard Eyre and Patrick Marber
With both Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench picking up award-nominations left, right and centre, for their performance in this gripping drama. We caught up with Oscar-winner Blanchett and film-makers Richard Eyre and screenwriter Patrick Marber, just before Christmas to get the low-down on the making of this Oscar-nominated movie…
LOVEFiLM: Adapting Zoe Heller's work must have been a challenge?
Patrick Marber: It was very hard to adapt, I read the book many times and underlined all the things I wanted to use and all the scenes I wanted to keep and I ended up using much less than I thought I was going to use.
I think I stayed true to the darkly comic tone of the novel, at least I hope I did. The thing that seduced me about the book was the truth of it and the comedy of it and the nastiness of it.
LF: What do you think it is about Sheba that attracts?
PM: I think I made Sheba more Bohemian, and a slightly lonelier figure than she is in the novel. I think in the novel she is scatty and posh and sort of a bit of a flibbertigibbet. Whereas I don't think she's scatty and a flibbertigibbet in the film. You tell me [to Cate], what do you think?
Cate Blanchett: Well at least not all the time, there's a sort of plaintive quality to her in the novel which could be a bit annoying really, on screen. And also the film is so much more a literal medium, what you see is what you get, and I think it was important to kind of give Sheba her own voice, to liberate her from Barbara's opinion.
LF: Cate, the scenes with Andrew Simpson (who plays school boy, Steven), were they tough to deal with?
CB: I'm not interested in playing characters who see the world through my prism, I think the journey of understanding any character is to see how they tick boxes and how they differ from you. Probably the hardest thing was to liberate her from my own morality.
I think the casting process was really interesting - maybe this is my morality coming in again - but it was important to me that the actor was above the age of consent. Although really, what's the difference between 15 and 16? It's the law, yeah, but he's very mature.
It wasn't really until the end of shooting that I sort of gasped; he wrote me this handwritten letter that made me want to weep, about what the film had meant to him. It was then that I thought he was so young, you just tend to treat all the actors like normal actors once they're there.
LF: Cate, you and Judi have a rather aggressive fight scene in the film, were you nervous about taking on the great Dame Dench?
CB: She had this strange Ninja Turtle back pad on that gave her a bit of a hump, which we had to hide. Both of us were dreading it to be honest, because it's about finding the pitch of a scene like that. The stakes, and the expression of those stakes are so high, but also it's absurd, the things that they're saying to one another.
I think what Patrick had written gave the scene a buoyancy which was actually, in the end, quite fun to play. But we did down a bottle of champagne after we'd finished it.
PB: I was very conscious throughout the shoot that Cate and Judi were dreading the day they had to do this scene. It's a monstrously difficult scene, and it's a scene also where we the audience are watching two mad women. Two characters who have been driven almost mad by the events of the story, not two nutty actresses, shouting at each other.
So, therefore we watched the scene sort of appalled by where they've got to with each other, but that's the whole point, that's where the story has gone. It's gone to this quite mad place, it's the purging scene. And after that when Barbara is clearing up all the rubbish that Sheba has created it's a very, very quiet scene. And their goodbye scene is sort of a stalemate; they've come to the end of something.
Richard Eyre: I'd do more if I was asked! I used to make films for the BBC like Tumbledown, which was about the Falklands War. And then I went into a film monastery because I run the National Theatre. So for 12 years I didn't make a film.
I thought effectively my chances of making a film were over, but Iris happened simply because I was doing a play with Judi on Broadway. She'd won the Oscar. We were walking down the street and she literally stopped the traffic 'Hey Judi! Judi!'. We went into a diner, to avoid the crowds. We were sitting there and I asked what she was going to do next and she said she'd been asked to play Iris Murdoch.
I asked who was directing it, who was writing it and she said she didn't know, she didn't think they had anyone. She knew who was producing it; a guy called Jon CalleY, so I rang him and asked if I could put myself forward as director and writer. He said he'd let me know.
I thought that was the end of that. Anyway three months later he called me up and said he'd like me to write and direct it. So that's how I started to direct films again. How lucky can you get?
LF: Was the screenplay written with Cate and Judi in mind?PM: I think when Scott Rudin sent me the book; he thought it would be great for Richard to direct. Then there was another conversation where everyone felt that Judi and Cate would be perfect for the parts.
I think they were then sent the book, and given the information that I was working on a screenplay. Word came back that they loved the book and would both be interested to read the screenplay. To answer your question, I was conscious when I was writing the screenplay that I had these two brilliant actresses waiting to read it.
I was aware of that. So it was a pressure, but a very pleasurable one because I thought that I could write at full stretch and hopefully they'd like all these strange contradictions and twists and turns that I was going to give their characters. And not provide easy answers as to why the characters are. I thought both the characters would embrace that, rather than flee.
LF: Cate, has an Oscar win changed your career you think? Put you on different lists?
CB: I haven't seen the lists, I hope so. I think probably winning these things can be a bit of a curse depending on who you are and how you think. But I haven't been on a journey to get anywhere in particular, so that hasn't changed. And my criteria for choosing projects hasn't changed.
Perhaps it's changed by being a parent in that you ask yourself how long you'll be away from home. My eldest child is approaching school age so that becomes the more……….they're less portable, so that's probably shifted things.
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