Los Angeles–Cate Blanchett could have said "Been there; done that" when director Shekhar Kapur asked her to star in a sequel to his 1998 film Elizabeth. After all, she had done pretty well since winning an Academy Award nomination for the film, which launched her career. She won an Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in 2004's The Aviator and earned a third nomination for last year's Notes on a Scandal. But Blanchett said yes to Kapur's proposal to star in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which opens on Friday (October 12) in Vancouver.
In an L.A. hotel, she says that she had been aware when she was completing the first film that there was a good possibility a sequel would be made. "The minute we finished the first one, Shekhar was talking about me playing Elizabeth again," she says. "We remained friends and discussed other projects, and eventually he came to me with a script that dealt with a love triangle and I found it to be different from the first film. I said that if there was another one she shouldn't be the central character. So I liked the fact that this was an unabashedly romantic film, because it didn't feel as though we were treading the same ground."
In the second installment, Elizabeth meets adventurer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) at a time (the late 16th century) when she is embroiled in a dispute with Spain, whose Catholic king, Philip II (Jordi Mollí ), believes Elizabeth's Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), should be Queen of England. Philip has decided to wage war, sending an armada of ships in 1588 that he predicts will crush England and rid the country of Protestant Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is flirting with Raleigh, even though she knows that she can't have him and is also aware that he is interested in a member of her court, Elizabeth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish).
Blanchett says the key to making the movie was that although she and Kapur came to the material from different places, both knew that the story had to move on from the first film. In that movie, Elizabeth had to worry about internal struggles. Blanchett says she was intrigued by the romantic triangle set against the backdrop of the battles with Spain. She says she also knew that if the movie was going to be made, she and Kapur would have to be collaborators.
"The great thing about us working together is that I am utterly fascinated by history and he is utterly disinterested," she says. "So as collaborators, we balance each other well. We did a lot of research, but in the end you have to ask, 'Is she starting off at a point where you left her in the last film?' She was at a point of utter rigidity in the last film. We felt we had to open her up a bit. It was strange, because it felt like there was an echo to the film and yet it was very fresh.
"What interested me about the relationship between her and Raleigh–and Raleigh and Elizabeth Throckmorton–was that there was vicariousness. I think that happens in a lot of so-called love relationships. You don't want to be with the person as much as you want to possess the person. I think there were a lot of male courtiers she had a connection with, and I think that men like Raleigh fascinated her because they travelled the world and she could never leave the shores of England."
Although Blanchett has put her stamp on Elizabeth by playing her twice, she says that the part has been taken by so many actors over the years that no one can claim to own Elizabeth, a character played in countless movies and television shows in several languages dating back to the era of silent films.
"There has been a long, glorious legacy of actresses who have played Elizabeth, from Flora Robson to Bette Davis and Glenda Jackson and Helen Mirren. She is constantly being reinvented and she is ripe for it, because she is such an enigma. And I think there will be many more Elizabeths long after this film, because she is a fascinating point from which to leap off to a story. She is iconic. I run 100 miles an hour away from a project, so the ones that stick are the ones I just can't say no to. Of course, I had to say yes to this, but it was very daunting. I was a little nervous about returning to this character that had allowed me to walk through a door into an international film career, because you don't want to go backwards. When I thought I could progress forward by playing it, I said yes."