restricted access 10 - Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett—The Performance Is the Star
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182 ★★★★★★★★★★ ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩ 10 Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett The Performance Is the Star CHARLIE KEIL In a decade that saw the potency of stars challenged, as franchises and action films seemed to monopolize the attentions of both studio executives and audiences, who would believe that the career of a female star who concentrates on serious drama could thrive throughout a ten-year stretch? Yet the examples of Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet proved that actresses who staked out a claim to stardom predicated explicitly on acting talent over celebrity could persevere, generating industry respect and a stream of challenging roles in the process, even if the box-office results were mixed at best. In the 2000s, as the market for properties featuring actressstars progressively narrowed, the careers of these two stars flourished: both imports, one from Australia and the other from England, they dominated the field and conferred immediate prestige upon any project to which their names became attached. Why did these two actresses achieve the level of fame and success that they attained during this period when the fortunes of Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett. so many of their peers faltered? One could argue that it derived from a combination of wise choices and blind luck, of refined technique and dogged determination. But beyond all else, both Blanchett and Winslet retained their images as actresses first and stars second: the pursuit of acting challenges seemingly guided their selection of roles and informed the media’s coverage of each. Studying their careers and their performances over the course of the pivotal ten years from 2000 to 2009 can help us understand how one maintains a reputation as a skilled and respected actress. Ultimately, what links the two is their shared ownership of a legacy some would trace to Meryl Streep, as actresses drawn to emotionally demanding roles, deploying the tools of training, employing a wide variety of accents, and eschewing glamour and— especially in Winslet’s case—clothing, when required. Their devotion to theatrical roots (Blanchett even returned to Australia to run the Sydney Theatre Co. with her husband at the end of the decade; many of Winslet’s relatives have ties to the stage) and family (Winslet was for most of the decade married to director Sam Mendes, while Blanchett has enjoyed a longstanding union with writer-director Andrew Upton) lends them a sheen of hardworking normalcy, as does their decision to live outside the rarified confines of Hollywood. Defining themselves as dedicated actresses who have somehow become stars, Winslet and Blanchett stand in marked contrast to a figure like Angelina Jolie, whose acting prowess is dwarfed by her celebrity. The two actresses’ ability to deflect controversy and concentrate attention on their work has led to rapturous reviews and elevation to the status of “icon[s] of the Era of New Seriousness” (Mark Harris, “Best Actress: Kate Winslet’s Moment,” Time, 19 February 2009). ★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩ A Luxury Liner and a Monarch: Aspiring to Stardom in the 1990s Both actresses were within arm’s reach of stardom by the turn of the previous decade, courtesy of career-defining roles that each undertook in the late 1990s. Winslet, though the younger by six years, appeared in films three years prior to Blanchett, gaining prominence with her first role, in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994), as a teenage girl who conspires with her friend to kill the latter’s mother. Her participation in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (1995) was a harbinger for numerous reasons: first, it was a period piece, as were all of Winslet’s films until Hideous Kinky in 1998; second , it was an adaptation of a prestigious literary property, and her next two films, Jude and Hamlet, would be as well; third, it garnered her extensive critical praise and a BAFTA award, signaling that she was an acting talent to KATE WINSLET AND CATE BLANCHETT 183 watch. Her next project after Hamlet, and her first American film, changed everything: James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), despite extensive negative advance publicity, emerged as a blockbuster, setting box office records that would not be matched for over a decade. Almost overnight, Winslet became a sensation, her onscreen romantic relationship with heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio helping to solidify the film’s popularity with young female viewers in particular. Her performance led to a second Academy Award nod (the first was for Sense) and the press made much of the fact that, at twenty-two, she...


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