With the runaway success of Wonder Woman earlier this year, it seems that studio bosses and audiences alike are championing female superhero screen time – and not a moment too soon, if you ask us. Of course, for every hero in tights, there must also be a supervillain counterpart to contend with; historically, a role that women can really sink their teeth into. There’s something quite bone-chilling about a female baddie, don’t you think? From Catwoman to Cruella de Vil, Lady Macbeth to Miranda Priestly, there’s nothing quite as petrifying as a woman scorned, cross, and on a mission to get her way.
We feel the need to do a little air punch, then, that Cate Blanchett, one of our all-time favourite actresses, is now taking on the role of Marvel’s ﬁrst female on-screen villainess; Hela, Goddess of Death, in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. She’s clever, she’s scary, and she’s got some seriously intimidating antlers to boot.
To be fair, we wouldn’t mess with Cate on or off-screen, antlers or no antlers. The Australian-born actress, known for her moving and razor-sharp portrayals of everyone from Elizabeth I to Bob Dylan, has also been named one of Hollywood’s 50 smartest people by Entertainment Weekly, and is famed for her outspoken, no-holds-barred views on everything from the Hollywood gender pay gap to feminism in general. She also publicly condemned Harvey Weinstein last week – whose company she has worked with on ﬁlms such as Carol, The Aviator, and The Talented Mr. Ripley – after reports of his widespread harassment of women, saying, “Any man in a position of power or authority who thinks it’s his prerogative to threaten, intimidate or assault any woman he encounters or works alongside needs to be called to account. It is never easy for a woman to come forward in such situations and I wholeheartedly support those who have.”
Elsewhere, on collecting her Oscar for Blue Jasmine in 2014, she reprimanded the old-school industry dinosaurs who were “still foolishly clinging to the idea that female ﬁlms with women at the centre are niche experiences,” later telling GQ, “Every time there’s interesting, complex roles played by actresses on screen, someone says, ‘Do you think this is a breakthrough?’ and, ‘Does this mean there’s going to be more of the same?’ We seem to ﬁnd ourselves in the same conversation and that’s somehow remarkable… I think there’s a swathe of great roles for women and certainly, there are some wonderful female performers. It’s just time to get on with it really.” And then, “We’ll be back here like Groundhog Day next year having the same symposium. It just has to shift.”
Let’s not make too much of a meal of her marking a new slew of female supervillains, then. After all, it is something to celebrate, but she’s quite right – we shouldn’t still be having the same tedious conversation. It should just be a given.
So what of the actual role itself? Hela, a demoness with a few different sides to her, is a new direction for Cate who, despite appearing in fantasy ﬂicks aplenty courtesy of a reprisal role as Galadriel in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings franchise, is by and large always on the side of the goodies. Thor’s adversary, then, sounds like a welcome change for the actress, who told Grazia, “Some of the happiest times on this ﬁlm for me have been beating people up. I’ve really enjoyed it. I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have to speak today. I can just throw axes into someone’s gut and decapitate that person there.’ So it’s been good,” she laughs.
It’s testament to Cate’s multifaceted acting abilities that she’s been able to play everyone from an Elf Queen roaming Middle-earth to Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator – incidentally, making her the ﬁrst person to win an Oscar for their portrayal of another Oscar winner. But what was it about Hela that she enjoyed so much? “I think this is the most physical role I’ve ever taken on,” she tells us, adding, “I’m pretty physical when I’m on stage. Indiana Jones was also pretty physical, but in terms of hand-to-hand combat, this deﬁnitely wins. And that’s been part of what I’ve relished, actually.”
And what of the struggles outside of the purely physical? “Playing a fantastical character is a different challenge [to all the others] because you still want to believe the character is real,” she explains. “Particularly with a character like Hela who comes out of nowhere. It’s not like she’s appeared in a couple of other ﬁlms. Some people have knowledge of her. Some people won’t actually know her at all. I think the best villains are always those that you kind of love but hate what they do. You sort of understand it. There’s a logic to it. They’re not just completely nuts.”
For someone who has won two Oscars – being nominated seven times – three Golden Globes and three BAFTAs, and had her stage performance of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire described by Meryl Streep as, “as naked, as raw and extraordinary and astonishing and surprising and scary as anything I’ve ever seen,” you would think getting inside a character’s head is of the utmost importance to Cate’s grasp and portrayal of them. On this topic, she tells us, “I’ve had incredible fun playing with Hela because I think her capabilities are so surprising and so unusual. She’s not simply sinister. She also sometimes doesn’t want to kill people. There’s a bit of mischief in there, and playfulness. I think audiences are in for a roller coaster ride with her.”
The ﬁlm’s director, Taika Waititi elaborated, “She’s got a lot more going on than some of the more typical villains that you see in these kinds of ﬁlms. She’s not just about taking over the world or owning the universe; she wants something that I think a lot of people can relate to. Recognition.” Hela may not quite have achieved it, but one thing’s for sure – Cate’s is the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Aside from her acting capabilities, Cate Blanchett also runs rings around almost everyone else on the red carpet with her peerless style...
Photos: Getty Images and supplied