Cate Blanchett's Big, Little Movie

In spite of onscreen coronations as both Elizabeth I and Elfin Queen Galadriel, what really crowns Aussie actress Cate Blanchett's sovereign status is her incredible range and talent '- and her ability to portray women under extraordinary circumstances.

In Veronica Guerin (a small film with big backers -- Hollywood veterans Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced, and director Joel Schumacher) '- Blanchett burns with the passion of the Irish journalist and anti-drug crusader of the title, who lost her life in a struggle to bring order and justice to tragically ineffective drug-crime legislation in Ireland in the late 1990s. This is not a spoiler: The film reveals her murder by a drug dealer's assassin at the start (60 Minutes featured Guerin in a 1996 special; and American actress Joan Allen portrayed the Irish journalist in When the Sky Falls, 1999).

This is sort of a spoiler: Louche lad and Irish "It" boy Colin Farrell has a cameo as "Tattooed Boy."

"My husband saw the film and described it as being somewhat like a car crash it unfolds before you and you're constantly wanting to it to stop," says Blanchett, who wed film editor and screenwriter Andrew Upton in 1997. The couple has a two-year-old son, Dashiell John (named after The Maltese Falcon novelist), and are expecting another child this spring.

"I knew her name. I knew vaguely what she'd been writing about and that she died in her line of work, but I had never read an article. I didn't know what she looked like," reveals the actress about her courageous character. "And Jerry and Joel sent me the 60 Minutes special she had done after she had been shot the first time [by drug dealers], in 1996. And it was something about her level of passion, and also the rage in her belly. I think the absolute outrage that one must feel when your home is violated. After she was shot, I think she was in quite a great deal of shock and she delivered all of those letters asking, 'Were you responsible for my attack?' I don't know whether I would've done that. But I was fascinated by what made her tick."

In spite of Guerin's reputation for dubious and dangerous journalistic practices -- including the suggestion that she put her family in jeopardy by doggedly pursuing the prosecution of vengeful drug barons -- to many of her countrymen, her perseverance embodies the intrepid Irish spirit.

"I don't get involved in films to tell an audience what to think," says Blanchett. "You make a film and then you hand it over to an audience. And depending on the person they will have a different response to how they feel about it. That's the point, to walk out and to think, Would I have done that? Could I have done that? What would I fight for? What do I think is important?"

Obviously, producer Bruckheimer thought the story of Veronica Guerin was worthy of a film narrative; his extensive résumé includes Pirates of the Caribbean, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Beverly Hills Cop and Flashdance, to name a few.

"I think it's fascinating when someone of Jerry's stature and power who is so successful and well-known wants to do a low-budget film with a female protagonist," enthuses Blanchett, who also gave good reviews to helmer Schumacher (A Time to Kill, Batman Forever,Falling Down).

"Film by its very nature is poetic license, and one must take it," says the actress. "That's because you're weaving a fantasy for an audience based on a real person. On a humane level, of course you grow very cognizant and sensitive to the very present grief that the family feels because she's been so claimed by the Irish public. So I felt very responsible for that. But at the same time, there's a script, there's a story, Joel's making a particular type of film and you've only got an hour and a half to kind of realize that self.

"I was very relieved and moved by the response in Dublin. When I stepped out of the car for the premiere I realized the audience was filled with her family, friends and colleagues, and I thought, I'm just going to go into the bathroom and kill myself. But they loved it."

Audiences are sure to love the actress as the ravishing Rita Hayworth in The Aviator, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric Howard Hughes, and in The Missing, a Western-flavored film in which she plays the daughter of Tommy Lee Jones.

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