The M Interview: The Truth according to Cate
Actress Cate Blanchett discusses playing a vilified journalist in her latest movie
In the middle of the US presidential campaign of 2004, US journalist and television producer Mary Mapes of CBS News programme 60 Minutes Wednesday put a story on the air about US President George W. Bush, who was then seeking re-election.
It alleged that Mr Bush received preferential treatment in the 1970s from the Texas Air National Guard, which concealed his limitations to reach performance standards and hid his absence from the service for almost a year.
CBS News anchor Dan Rather was the reporter for the story.
Mapes and Rather, the highly respected duo who broke the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, among so many others, were vilified by the concerted efforts of the media, who called into question the veracity of the documents that were provided as proof of the allegations.
The source who provided the documents ultimately disavowed them, causing Mapes to be fired and Rather to resign from his prestigious post.
Mapes, 59, wrote Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power, a memoir about her ordeal.
The new political drama Truth, which opens here tomorrow, is based on that 2005 book.
Oscar-winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett plays Mapes, another challenging role in a career full of them, while US thespian Robert Redford is Rather.
At our interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Blanchett, 46, is cool and elegant as always - a movie star but without attitude. She is seemingly unapproachable till you ask questions, and then she answers with such thoughtfulness that it is clear she takes the job of publicity as seriously as she does her acting.
What was the challenge of doing this role?
I think the particular responsibility I had with this piece is that Mary is very much alive and kicking. That there is a Mary who has been dissected and eviscerated in the media, and then there is Mary the human being, who is no longer operating in the same arena.
What I had originally seen when I agreed to do the film was that I had seen Mary in free fall, in lockdown and in a state of trauma in a series of interviews that she had given post-crisis. And that was a very, very different Mary than the one I met.
So the challenge for me, because this is not a biopic, was to put in as much of Mary's vivacity and energy and her hatred of hypocrisy and her great sense of injustice, but also her vitality and her incredible sense of humour.
Mary and Dan came out when we were on set and I don't think I have ever been more nervous and self-conscious.
What attracts you to the roles you pick?
Strangely, it's rarely the character. That's rarely the first point of entry for me.
I read this script and it was like a runaway train. It was really powerful and the subject matter was absolutely fascinating. And I thought that I really want to be part of it. And then I think, 'S***, how am I going to play this person?'
So that's the Chinese puzzle that I then sit down and try and work out.
And when you are dealing with someone as complex as Mary in such a charged environment, then the challenge is very interesting.
Do you have anything in common with Mary?
I wish. I do think I have a strong sense of injustice. And I think I'm very passionate about what I do and I care very deeply about what I do.
Mary cares very, very deeply, not only about what she does, but about the people she works with, which is why the betrayal was particularly heartbreaking for her.
But I hope and wish that I have her tenacity and a quarter of her intelligence.
SPEAKING OUT: Cate Blanchett with co-star Robert Redford in Truth. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Do you think Rather would have had to resign if such a thing happened today?
The particular toxicity and the political atmosphere in 2004, in the lead up to the second Bush election, was very different than it is now.
And I think that also the blogosphere has completely changed our sense. The Kardashians have completely changed our sense of what scandal means. I think that Dan was measured with a different yardstick.
But in 10 years, the landscape and the way the spin is put on events has entirely changed.
I think if a story as controversial as this was going to be broken now, they would already have the spin doctors in.