‘THERE is a unique responsibility when you play someone who died so horrifically and so recently. The grief is disseminated, but it’s still there.”
Listening to Cate Blanchett talk about taking on the role of Veronica Guerin, one thing is clear – the Australian actress is respectful of the memory of our Irish crime journalist who was murdered so brutally on June 26, 1996. This is not just another part, where Blanchett can flaunt her acting skills. This is more serious than that. This time the character is a real person, a hero, and one of our own.
“It was daunting to take on this role, because of the weight Veronica Guerin has with modern Irish culture and the culture of the media and the fact that recordings do exist of her. But that was the challenge,” said Blanchett.
“Veronica has come to represent something, so in a way she has become iconic. It did make me approach it differently. In the end, not being Irish helped me. It sounds dreadful but I came to this as an outsider so I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what all this meant. Obviously I knew of her, and I’d seen the Sixty Minutes interview that she’d done, but I’d never read an article that she’d written.”
Blanchett is an award-winning actress who is renowned for her intelligent approach to her work. And she has the ability to transform utterly from role to role. She is a chameleon. Sitting down to watch the film Veronica Guerin , I was all set to see Cate Blanchett as Veronica Guerin. What was I not prepared for was the uncanny similarity between Cate and Veronica. Up on the screen, Cate was Veronica. The appearance, the manner, the walk, the accent – it was unsettling it was so real. So many film stars sail into Dublin and think that they will master the Irish accent and end up making a mess of it. Blanchett’s accuracy was astounding. And she has nailed every detail. There was Veronica’s athletic walk, the way she would always be well groomed with her hair done and small earrings on. Even when she was casual she was smartly dressed. There was the sense of fun, the cheeky impish charm, and still being a lady while working in a tough criminal world.
Watching the film, I didn’t feel like I was watching a film – it was like the real story up there on the screen. Together with the director Joel Schumacher (who has to be lauded for standing up for the principles of accuracy) and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (who was insistent on getting it right), and the entire team, they have made a powerful film. Watching Blanchett on the screen, one wonders how she managed to achieve such precision.
“First of all I wanted to know what the circumstances were. I’m not just playing a character and because Veronica had such a rich and varied life – like football was as big a part of her life as journalism was, as was her son. So it was important to saturate myself with all of that, to know what circumstances within which she was working.
“Then, very specifically, I watched repeatedly, incessantly, every single television interview she gave, listened to every radio interview she gave. It was part of the technical thing of learning another accent, I suppose. I found it fascinating learning the way she spoke; where her voice sat; how she took her breaths; when she paused; her omissions and self-censoring, what she couldn’t say giving interviews; and subsequently finding out the circumstances of her own life and the danger she was in and the interview ‘She was a human being, she wasn’t a saint, she wasn’t a crusader, she was someone with a very strong sense of injustice but also someone who liked to be at the centre of life. Everything she did, she wanted to be at the centre of it. What was the point sitting on the sidelines?’
she was giving at the time. It was the interface for me between what she chose to say, what she was allowed to say, and what was actually going on. I found that stress very interesting.
“She gave one interview on radio and it was a very intimate interview. There was something at the end, the interview just sort of trailed off, they asked her why she continued to do it. And she said: ‘Until you understand a problem, you cannot hope to solve it.’ I found that fascinating, as someone who really wanted to get inside somebody else’s skin. Then she paused and said: ‘I suppose that’s why I do it.’ And there was something about the way she said that, the pause before she said it, I could see her being lost for a moment. I could hear her as a 16-year-old, there was something fragile about it, and maybe it wasn’t there but I sort of held onto that little moment.”
As Blanchett talks, it is obvious that she was rigorous in her research. “Veronica was a phenomenal life force. I have never met so many people who said ‘I met Veronica’ or ‘I had dinner with her once’ or ‘She and I were this close.’ Everyone had opinions about her and that is an incredible positive for me as an actor.
“Somewhere between everyone’s varying opinions of her lies the truth of who Veronica Guerin was. She was a human being, she wasn’t a saint, she wasn’t a crusader, she was someone with a very strong sense of injustice but also someone who liked to be at the centre of life. Everything she did, she wanted to be at the centre of it. What was the point sitting on the sidelines?
“I watched her when she was on Questions and Answers – this had nothing to do with the story of the film. She was hauled over the coals for the Bishop Casey story. Everyone was butting in but what fascinated me was that she just sat there. If someone was describing her character they would say that she would be talking over everyone else, and maybe she did at work but on this particular forum she took it on the chin and she listened. She really listened. Unlike anybody else on the panel she was actively listening and I found the quality of her listening really interesting.
“I was in the position of being able to delve into a specific time through the film. It was horrific and fascinating. The sad thing is that things change immediately in the wake of someone’s death. At least something was achieved but she still died, the world moves on, the problem returns.”
As for Blanchett herself, we do not know that much about the 34-year-old actress. She likes it like that. But there are slim sketches. She lives in London with her screenwriter husband and their baby boy Dashiel. On the day I met her, he had just taken his first steps. She studied fine art and had travelled the world before she went back to Australia and signed up for an acting course.
“I am not one of those people who say I always wanted to be an actor.” To pigeonhole her, one could describe her as a character actress: “I’m not interested in making a part fit me. What fascinates me is what motivates other people. I’m not particularly interested in what motivates me.” She remains a bit of an enigma. Having worked with her on The Talented Mr Ripley , the director Anthony Minghella said that he only knew three things about her. When I repeat this to Blanchett, she smiles and concedes that she is a private person. “I don’t turn up on a set expecting to be everybody’s best friend. There are many aspects to my life and acting is just one of them.”
Cate Blanchett doesn’t just act the role of Veronica Guerin, she becomes her. It is both heart warming and heartbreaking to watch.
Veronica Guerin is due to be released on July 11