By Rob Vaux
Cate Blanchett got started in Australian theater before exploding onto worldwide cinema with her electrifying turn as Queen Elizabeth I in director Shekhar Kapur’s biopic Elizabeth. Since then, she has worked for the likes of Sam Raimi, Sally Potter, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, Todd Haynes, Terrence Malick and Peter Jackson. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and a second one for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. She makes her official entry into the MCU with Thor: Ragnarok, playing Hela that Goddess of Death and continuing the Thor films’ tradition of bringing great villains to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She spoke about the challenges of making the movie at the official Thor: Ragnarok junket.
Question: How was fighting with Chris Hemsworth?
Cate Blanchett: I didn’t do enough of it, actually. I kept wanting to do more. The fight scenes and the stunts were hugely enjoyable for me. And apart from working with Chris and the other guys, obviously, it was a chance to finally – in my deep middle age – to get fit. To wear that much Lycra was really exciting for me. I worked with Chris’ trainer, Zahki for 20 minutes a day, which doesn’t sound like much, but my god, it was intense.
Q: Did you pick up any tricks along the way?
CB: I did, and credit has to go to Zoe Bell, who was my double. She’s an extraordinary actress in her own right and director in her own right, but I was so blessed every day with the fact that she was my stunt double. When I started, I had to manifest these weapons out of my hands, and I had to throw them, and I could see Taika [Waititi]’s disappointment as I threw it. I had to stop making the noises because I’d go “Ha” every time! Eventually, Zoe suggested that I put sugar packets in my hand so at least I could throw something and be real. It was humiliating, but it did the trick. Zoey helped me with little things like that, and I moved from the humiliating to the exhilarating in a matter of five days.
Q: I know you’ve had a background in theater, and there’s always been a lot of Shakespeare running through the Thor movies, with scheming families and the politics surrounding them. Have you ever played Goneril, and if you haven’t, do you think Hela would qualify?
CB: That’s quite a good comparison. I didn’t think about Shakespeare very much on this one. Just on a prosaic level, the language had shifted enormously in this. We improvised a lot. A lot of the dialogue in the film came out of improvisation. Taika would just keep throwing lines, and I’m sorry we couldn’t get all of them in. There was one day when we’re on set, and I had, “I’m the Goddess of the Death, and what were you the god of, again?” And Chris had said, “I’m the God of…” and Taika said, “Dumbos.” It was marvelous. I don’t think it made the cut, but it was marvelous!
In any case, the language was quite different, so the tools you’re using to build the character was different. But as you say, there’s an air of Shakespeare there. Personally, I stayed glued to the source material. I went back to two things, primarily. I went back to the extraordinary images that are there in the original comics, particularly Walt Simonson’s and Jack Kirby’s. And then I went to the fan base, because there’s all these Helafangirlss who are doing these extraordinary costumes online. There has been a lot of cosplaying with this character over the years. She’s really a favorite. And so when we were thinking about what she’d look like visually, I went to that. So I started with the visual, rather than the textual, I think. And you could see the character, both in the comic images and in the way these fans dressed as her. The character just kind of flowed from there.
Cate Blanchette appears, as Hela, in her first Marvel film, Thor: Ragnarok in theaters on November 3rd, 2017!
Rob Vaux has worked as a professional film critic since 2000: writing for such sites as Collider, Mania.com, Flipside Movies and the Sci-Fi Movie Page. He also runs a blog, www.cinema-stache.com, covering musings and notions on the world of film. He lives in sunny Southern California with his wife and a whirling menagerie of animals.