For many months the plot of the dramatic film “Blue Jasmine” (from Oscar-winning writer/director Woody Allen) was shrouded in mystery. And it turns out, according to the stars of “Blue Jasmine,” even they didn’t know for a long time what the entire plot of the movie was after they were cast in the film. “Blue Jasmine” has been getting rave reviews, particularly for Cate Blanchett, who plays Jasmine, a snobby former New York socialite, who is forced to drastically change her lifestyle after her philandering, smooth-talking husband Hal (played by Alec Baldwin) is imprisoned for major financial fraud that leaves him and his family disgraced and broke.
In order to get away from the humiliation that she experienced in New York, Jasmine reluctantly moves to San Francisco to live with her adopted sister Ginger (played by Sally Hawkins), who is a cashier at a grocery store and engaged to a mechanic named Chili (played by Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine and Chili often clash because Jasmine disapproves of his working-class lifestyle and thinks Ginger should find a better man. As Jasmine struggles to find a job and choose a profession with barely any work experience, she puts on deceptive airs about her social standing with people she meets while in San Francisco, including a businessman/aspiring politician named Dwight (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who begins dating Jasmine, not knowing that she has lied to him about most of her past.
Meanwhile, there is ongoing drama with the men in Ginger’s life, including Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (played by Andrew Dice Clay), who bitterly resents Jasmine because he lost much of his savings in one of Hal’s fraudulent schemes. Ginger also begins cheating on Chili with a flirtatious recording-studio employee named Al (played by Louis C.K.), and the love triangle causes Chili to go to extremes to try to win Ginger back. Just hours before “Blue Jasmine” had its New York City premiere, Blanchett, Clay, Sarsgaard and Louis C.K. sat down together for a press conference. (Writer/director Allen was in France and couldn’t be at the press conference.) Here is what they said.
Cate, what were your first conversations with Woody Allen about your role in “Blue Jasmine”? He said it’s one of the rare times he wrote the part with a specific actor in mind.
Blanchett: Did he? But is it true?
How did you find out that he wanted you for this movie, and how did you approach it?
Blanchett: I got a call from my agent saying that Woody had a script he’d like me to read and so we spoke — he and I spoke — for about 25 minutes. He said, “Can I send it to you?” I said, “I’d love to read it.”
He said, “Well, call me when you’ve finished.” I read it straight away. It’s a script you do read straight away, and it was brilliant. He’s a brilliant dramatist, apart from being a unique filmmaker.
We spoke for another 45 seconds, and we agreed to do the film together, and then I saw him at the camera tests in San Francisco. I don’t know what you guys think but so much of Woody’s direction is in the script itself. He says he likes to get out of the way.
What sort of research did you do on your character in “Blue Jasmine”? Did you immerse yourself in the stories of people who’ve been affected by the recent economic downturn, or did the character come from somewhere else?
Blanchett: Yes, it’s a very contemporary, apt fable for the moment. That’s a thing of Woody’s. He’s only catering to the zeitgeist — who hasn’t followed the [Bernie] Madoff affair and the epic nature of that catastrophe, but also catastrophes like it? There’s thousands of them, thousands of stories.
But also, there’s a strong line in American drama of women who walk the border between fantasy and reality. Blanche DuBois in “[A] Streetcar [Named Desire]” and Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” But, in the end, those are reference points to be drawn upon, which I certainly did, but Woody has such a particular rhythm and take on the universe, that in the end, you’re in a Woody Allen film. He’s created some of the most iconic characters on screen. In the end, you just have to play that.
And he cast it so weirdly! His casts are always so interesting. In the end, you’ve got to bounce off the other actors.
Peter, what was it like coming into “Blue Jasmine” not knowing the whole story, but just knowing about your character?
Sarsgaard: It’s a similar experience for me. I heard Woody was interested in me for this movie. And my wife was about to give birth.
Blanchett: So you wanted to get out of the house!
Sarsgaard: [He laughs.] Yeah, pretty much. Strangely, there was this guy that I knew that I was researching for a role that had gone missing in the woods and had died. And I came back the next day, from looking for him, got this call that said that [Woody Allen] wants to meet you today or tomorrow. It was an urgent feeling.
So I went down, and I talked to him for about 45 seconds. He asked me what I was doing over the summer. And I said I was having a baby, and he said, ‘Would you like to do a movie?” And I said, “Sure.”
I didn’t even know what it was. And he sent me my parts. I read them. Then he sent me a formal letter, and I saw him first day on set.
For me, it was like there was so much that I was seeing. This woman seemed like she had so much going on. I was seeing someone who looked like they were really on the edge, yet at the same time I’m playing somebody who’s interested in her for some reasons that are not totally deep.
So in a lot of ways, the lack of information made me play the character in a certain way. I had to play someone who was not interested in reality, because the reality was that this woman looked like she needed medical help some of the time. If [there is] my [“Blue Jasmine” character’s] need to have a partner, a person stand next to me on a red carpet, a kind of first lady, she seemed perfect for that, is strong enough, then it all gets kind of justified.
So you end up playing your character, or at least I did, in a kind of reverse order. Things start adding up. You go, “I have to deal with that, and I can’t see that, or I have to see that, and put it over here.” It starts defining who you are.
I think that Woody picks up on something that’s in you that you can’t change when he casts you. And he knows that’s going to automatically be there. I have no idea what it was with me. I just felt lucky to be a part of it.
Louis, you came to your “Blue Jasmine” role in a little bit more of a roundabout way. Can you talk about that?
Louis C.K.: Yeah, I got a call that Woody wanted to meet me, so I went. It’s a few blocks from here, his office. I just wanted to meet him, I had very low expectations. I just thought, “I’m going to get to meet Woody. He won’t pick me, and I get to meet him before he dies.” So that’s what I figured I had coming.
So I went to his office, it’s a very nice little office, and he’s got pictures of him with Muhammad Ali and all these people through the ages. And I’m looking at that wall and waiting to meet him.
His hat was sitting on his table. He takes his hat off and puts it on the table upside down. I’m looking at Woody’s hat that he wears to work. And even if they tell me he’s too busy and I never meet him, it’s worth it.
And then I went into this room, and there he was. I remember thinking, “He looks just like Woody Allen!” He was so nice to me. He said, “I like your stand-up, and I know you can act, but I don’t know if you can be this guy. This a very tough guy, a mean, tough guy. See if you can be that guy.”
So I went in the other room and read a scene that he gave me, and I thought, “I can’t do this guy.” I’ve never really been in a fight or anything. I’m big, and I’m not afraid of a lot of people, but I’ve never really been in a fight. I can’t really be this guy, so I’ll read it as myself and not get the part.
I wasn’t going to be like [he says in a Fonzi from “Happy Days” voice], “Hey …” Anyway. I read as me and he went, “Oh, OK.” And I knew I didn’t get the part. It was like one of things where somebody just wants to say, “Well, that happened that you read that.”
So I left. And I think I cried I was so emotional about it. I just met Woody and he was nice to me and I didn’t get the part and I’ll never see him again. And then I heard that Dice got that part. And I thought, “That’s so perfect.” I was so happy for Dice. He’s a good guy. And that was the end of it to me.
And then I got a letter. Somebody said, “Someone who works for Woody is coming to your house tomorrow with an envelope.” And a young woman came to my house, gave me an envelope, and said, I have to take this back with me, so you can have it for 40 minutes.”
And I opened it and it was a letter from Woody, saying. “You couldn’t do that guy, but here’s another guy you could do.” There were three scenes in it and they just made me laugh, and I thought, “This guy’s totally a jerk-off and I could totally play him.” So he wrote and said, “Please do the part.” And I wrote back and said yes. That’s how I got the part.
Andrew, Woody said that he saw you do stand-up many years ago and he thought you’d be good in one of his movies. He said most stand-up comics can act but most serious actors can’t do comedy. Can you talk a little bit about that? Is there something about the art of stand-up and the art of acting that are related and make it an easy transition?
Clay: Well, originally I came into stand-up to do acting. I didn’t really want to go to an acting school, and I figured I would do comedy stages to develop my own method of acting. You know, not every comic can act. But the ones who’ve really got chops, like when you see somebody like Robin Williams, who could do anything from silly comedy to working with guys like Robert De Niro and playing heavy roles and sympathetic roles, vulnerable roles …
When I got the call that Louis had failed, when I got that call, I actually thought my manager was kidding me. I was here doing a gig at Westbury. And my manager called and said, “Woody wants to meet you tomorrow.”
And I was like, “You’re kidding, right? For what?” I would never think. He did some past [research] on the persona I play on stage as a comic, and he really trusted.
I’ve been asked today, “Does he give a lot of direction?” And I said, “I think his direction comes in his casting.” He gets as close to the part on the page with the person, and then he lets you really work with it. He was very workable on the set, very open to ideas.
Some of the words I would change to fit the way I speak, and he was just great with it. I was just excited to get it. I wasn’t even trying to get in a movie. I wasn’t going for auditions or anything like that. I was just really focused on my stand-up. I could do nothing but sit here and thank him for the opportunity, giving me that chance to challenge myself a little and do something I haven’t done yet.
Cate, as a celebrity and a person who does very goof work, do you find yourself courting fame as opposed to being an actress who performs well?
Blanchett: No. I don’t. I haven’t made a movie in a while, so I’ve been out of this environment for actually almost six years. My husband and I run a Sydney theater company. I didn’t do this to sit here with [the media], as much as I enjoy it. It was to work with Woody and these guys.
Obviously you do it, and the thing about Woody is that he’s constantly talking about the audience. He’s very aware of how people will perceive it, but you don’t do it to get anywhere in particular. You do it for the experience.
Cate, when you were making “Blue Jasmine,” did you find yourself comparing “Blue Jasmine” to “A Streetcar Named Desire”?
Blanchett: We didn’t ever discuss that. The other actors on set — a lot of whom worked a lot in theater — were talking about the set-up on the film being similar to Streetcar. Obviously the payoff isn’t. And in the end, it’s a Woody Allen film — the texture, the tone, the rhythm, the character portrayals and details are quintessentially Woody Allen, not Tennessee Williams. No, he never mentioned it. There are parallels there to be drawn.
Cate, were you feeling sympathetic and protective toward your “Blue Jasmine” character, or did you she was deservingly getting her comeuppance?
Blanchett: I don’t think it’s particularly useful to fall in love with or detest a character. I think that’s up to the audience. I think it’s a bit sentimental to like them or dislike them, because then you’re not going to present the warts at all. There are plenty of warts to be presented in Jasmine.
But in the end, her flaw is tragic. Oedipus, for example, f*cks up right royally — he marries his mother, for god’s sake, but it’s a tragedy because he does it unwittingly. Jasmine, she’s sort of the unwitting agent of her downfall, in a way. What I found the most interesting was to delve into her. She’s on a cocktail of various different things [medications], and that’s an interesting thing. When is she not on Xanax? When has she not had a drink?
In the end, it’s the internal cocktail that’s so interesting to play. She’s so riddled with guilt and rage and fear. And then you overlay that the situational aspect: Woody has placed the characters in often absurd situations.
[She says to Sarsgaard] The scene where the two of us are in the car is completely absurd. But you have to play it for that the stakes are high and the situation is real. And then the absurdity and whether the characters or likable or dislikable in that moment are thrown back to the audience.
Sarsgaard: I learned so much watching this film. I was wondering, “What’s going on with her? What’s happening? Why is she behaving this way?” I particularly was in my own little world. I interacted with almost no one else, and the person I was interacting with, it seems, might have been unreliable.
The core of the “Blue Jasmine” tragedy is deception. Can you talk about that theme in “Blue Jasmine” and if you experienced any deception in your life that helped you play your roles?
Louis C.K.: Well, yeah, my guy is a liar. But he’s just trying to get something. From what I understand, the guy I’m playing works in a stereo store, and he meets a very terrific girl, and he’s married. And he just wants to eke out this little place where he gets to go to hotels and have romantic sex with Sally Hawkins, which I would like to do.
I think he’s just trying to make something better out of his life. Most people are very shackled by everything they have to do, so when life gets really — I don’t know the words you can use for how dreary it can be and how so much it’s not like a dream come true — you went outside of reality. I think that’s why most people deceive or lie — they’re trying to get outside of reality. You try to say you’re something else, or you try to find someone who’ll believe you or something else that’s true.
I think you can play somebody who’s deceptive with sympathy. I think in most of Woody’s movies everybody’s just trying their best, and they’re failing. They’re trying the best that they can at living a life and being a little bit happier than they seem to have been meant to be. And that usually means lying.
[END OF SPOILER ALERT]
Blanchett: This is what the film actually delves into quite deeply, as Peter was saying before, it what you choose not to see. It’s not just people on the Upper East Side or people with political aspirations, it’s also the character of Ginger, played by Sally; she chooses not to see certain aspects of who Jasmine is.
So to back to you question about whether she’s sympathetic or no, it’s very dissimilar, in a lot of ways, to “Streetcar.” There’s a way of looking at “A Streetcar Named Desire” where you can say, “Is Blanche a compulsive liar? Or is the world just set up to stamp out the poetry in her soul?” There’s something intensely dysfunctional about the world in which she finds herself.
Jasmine doesn’t land in San Francisco with a bunch of people who’ve got their sh*t together. Everyone has issues, and everyone is deluding themselves to some degree, or wanting to live a fantasy that is other to their daily existence. It’s just that Jasmine does it to a spectacular extent.
Could you talk a bit about working with Sally Hawkins?
Blanchett: I love her! I absolutely love Sally. She was an absolute ally. The first week, we cried into our beers together. “We’re really screwing this up.” She’s a wonderful, wonderful actress, and one of the kindest, most generous actresses I’ve ever worked with. [She says jokingly] I don’t know if I’d like to take her to a hotel and have sex with her.
Louis C.K.: Sally’s got this infectious smile, and she’s a very silly person. She lives in the moment a lot. And then also, she’s extremely dedicated and breaks herself into pieces to get everything right. She just works so hard. And then she was easy to be around. I was really happy to work with her. I felt really lucky.
Where in the spectrum of pessimism versus optimism do you find yourselves? And if “Blue Jasmine” were recast with actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, who would you imagine as Jasmine?
Blanchett: So who could have done it better? Many could have done it better. I was going to say I was optimistic but now I’m probably pessimistic.
Louis, can you talk a little bit about working with Woody? As a comic, were you looking to play a dramatic role or did he bring it out in you?
Louis C.K.: I never go out for movies and stuff any more. I have my life in a pretty good rhythm of doing stand-up and then doing my TV show, and I spend time with my kid. And so I never really want to go live on someone else’s movie set. And I never get the parts, so I don’t go out for stuff. So it came out of nowhere, I had no interest in any of it.
Are you more interested in doing movies, now that you’ve had this experience on “Blue Jasmine”?
Louis C.K.: I get offered stuff sometimes and I usually just don’t want to do it. You’ve got to go live in, like, Shreveport, Louisiana, for half the year. I just don’t think that’s worth anything. I have custody of my kids for half the time and I want them to count on being with me.
I just want to say one thing about optimism and pessimism. It’s interesting, I was having a conversation with my kids about it. They say that pessimists see the glass as half empty and the optimists see the glass as half full, and my kids and I figured out that there’s a third kind of person, and I don’t know what you call him, but it’s somebody who sees the glass is always half because it’s half- full of water and half full of nothing. That’s the third kind of person.
Louis and Cate, can you talk a little bit working with Woody and how he directed you? Cate, didn’t he leave you …?
Blanchett: High and dry?
Louis C.K.: For me, I wanted to be as little trouble as possible. I think you have to have a sense of proportion. And I knew Cate and these guys were making a movie and I was in it! I figured with Woody, I think I should try not to have the leads focus on me at all. That means basically doing what I was hired to do. But it was fun, because I was happy when he didn’t say anything, because I figured he meant that was fine. Or he could cut me out [out of the movie], and I didn’t cause too much trouble.
But then some days when he would really say to me, he would give me something, just basic. One thing he said that would stick with me was, “That pause was too long for the audience.” And that told me that Woody, the audience is with him. He’s always in the seats watching with a crowd, because he’s a comedian, he came from that. He tried to help us do it right for the crowd that’s going to watch it.
But he’s very humane about movies. Some people are kind of crazy about how they direct, but I think that he’s very humble, too. He said, “I think this is maybe what works.” that was my experience.
Blanchett: The thing he always used to say to me is, “The audience has already left the theater.”
Sarsgaard: Or “You sound like an actor saying lines.” That’s another good one.
Blanchett: Yes! We got that one the first day. It was awful!
Sarsgaard: That’s awful.
Blanchett: It bonded us. [Blanchett and Sarsgaard laugh.]
Blanchett: We did better the next day. I actually found him really forthcoming. In the end, I think there’s an obvious reverence for Woody and his body of work. The danger of that is that the set can become a sacred place where people lay their offerings at his feet.
When you ask him a question, he’ll give you an answer. When you set up that dialogue, it became really enjoyable. And he felt free to say, “That was awful.” And I felt free to say, “OK, what are you after, then? I could do this or that or this or that.” And he said, “Try that.” So he was forced to direct me!
Were you worried at all?
Blanchett: I always worry.
Wood Allen is famous for firing people.
Blanchett: For firing people? You just assume it’s going to happen. You make day 13 and you’re doing well, you make day 20 and it’s the end of the movie. Disabled Olympics.
For a long time, the public knew very little about “Blue Jasmine” other than who was cast in the movie. Did Woody give you any instructions on keeping the plot of the movie a secret? And to Andrew and Cate, what is your “Blue Jasmine” characters’ definition of class, since that is a point of contention between the two of them?
Clay: I didn’t like Cate’s character too much because I hate the rich. I hate ‘em on film and I hate ‘em in reality. I lived for a long time in Beverly Hills, and I’m from Brooklyn, and when you talk to people with old money, it’s like you’re an insect to them.
So the way she played her character was so perfect, I just hated her as that character. She’s great. I actually couldn’t believe I was working with any them, but she played it just perfect.
I had a neighbor just like her in Beverly Hills. I had such hatred for this woman that when I had to dialogue with Cate, that’s all I could think about. That’s how those people are. Anybody, what they call “new money,” they have no respect for those people that come from blue collar, that work their ass off.
Louis C.K.: You’ve been rich for like 40 years, though, man.
Clay: No, I’m broke! I was actually going to ask you for a loan today. But you know what I’m talking about.
And Louis also comes from that kind of family, where you break your ass off and try to accomplish in life. And when you come from certain families that maybe things were just handed down to you, like Coca-Cola, you don’t have to work too hard, and you look at anybody who didn’t come from that kind of class like garbage. That’s how it got into my head.
Blanchett: That’s interesting. Jasmine obviously fought your character [Augie]. I think the interesting thing about the level of delusion and fantasy that exists with Ginger as well as Jasmine is that they were adopted into a pretty lower middle-class family. Jeanette changed her named to Jasmine, and there began the fiction. She set about creating a fantasy world and inhabiting that idea of the princess.
Clay: I didn’t know that because I didn’t get the [entire] script. I barely had my own lines until the last minute.
Blanchett: So it was easy to keep the plot a secret.
Clay: I’ll be watching the movie for the first time tonight. I haven’t seen anything.
Louis C.K.: [He says sarcastically] I like how you used an example of class as the Coca-Cola family as old blue-blood money.
Clay: We’re talking about cash!
Louis C.K.: Yeah, right. [Everyone laughs.] Those Pepsi people really have it.
Jasmine is a woman in her 40s, but being disappointed by not getting the American Dream can also apply to Millennials as they struggle to get by economically in this recession. Cate, did you think about who young people could relate to the people in “Blue Jasmine”? And what do you think about female-centric entertainment for the Millennial generation, like the movie “Frances Ha” or the TV series “Girls”?
Blanchett: [She says jokingly] Younger than me, is what you’re saying. Thanks. Just rub it in. [She says seriously] “Girls” is one of my all-time favorite shows. Even though I’m geriatric, I can still connect to a younger crowd. I think that’s Woody’s genius.
Even though he seems to be writing about a very particular set of people from a very particular set of socioeconomic backgrounds, intellectual backgrounds, he somehow writes them as everymen and women. Even though it’s really personal and specific, from a world he really knows or has heard of, it resonates to a much broader audience.
That’s why he’s been making films and that’s why people have been loving them for so many decades, because they’re archetypical as well as utterly unique and specific. There are a lot of people who have it tough economically, not only in this country but globally.
And even though it might seem like the demise or fall from grace of a privileged little rich girl, there’s a lot of people who’ve had a fantasy of what it means to live in America — and that has been blown apart in the last couple of years. So I think there’s a lot for people to relate to of all ages who’ve had to reshape their economic circumstances that’s been forced up them. They’ve had to really look at who they are and what their aspirations are and what they want and how they’re going to pit themselves against the world now.
For more info: “Blue Jasmine” website
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