Cate Blanchett talks about working with Malick and the tone of ‘Monuments Men’

Cate Blanchett has been making the rounds on behalf of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” this week, which premiered in Los Angeles last night. And again, we’ll be talking about that performance quite a bit over the next few months, but when I got her on the phone recently to discuss the film, I also took a few choice moments at the end to talk about two other projects that have me intrigued.

When we laid out our first set of Oscar predictions a few weeks back, the film that was standing out across the board as an on-paper, sight-unseen sure bet kind of thing was George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men.” World War II, Nazis, stolen art, heroism — it sounded like a perfect storm for an awards season kind of movie, particularly with Clooney coming off a Best Picture win as producer of “Argo.”

But then I began to hear rumblings that it might be more of a commercial play, broader in scope. Which, given that Clooney has brought us stuff like “Leatherheads,” wasn’t exactly a surprise to me. Then it was revealed that Sony was somehow brave enough to let Jeffrey Wells onto the set for a report and he came close to comparing the film to “The Dirty Dozen” and “Kelly’s Heroes” before pulling that punch and writing, “It feels more like a ‘movie’ than a ‘film,'” essentially saying it doesn’t have the weighty gravitas we might have initially expected from a mere plot description. That squared with what I was beginning to hear, so I put the question to Blanchett, who stars in the film: What exactly is the tone here?

“It’s an extraordinary story,” she said. “I mean, it’s one I wasn’t particularly familiar with, this group of architects, curators, historians who go in and locate and save this stolen art that the Nazis were amassing, and with the Nero Decree, it was about to be destroyed so it’s a ticking time bomb. And talk about absurd. I mean you’ve got Bill Murray and Matt Damon and George all trying to locate the art, so it doesn’t always go to plan.”

The key to Clooney, she said, “is his sense of humor. There’s an incredible gravitas to him but he’s silly. So there is a silliness to it but you never forget where you are and what their job is.”

So it really sounds like the kind of thing guys like Clooney and, as proved with “Argo” last year, Ben Affleck are interested in being good at: providing “movies” (to steal Wells’ pejorative-ish phrase), easily consumable, with elements of weight and importance woven in here and there. I’m guessing here, much as Wells was, but again, I was hearing that the film might be playing in a lighter key and Blanchett seemed to confirm that a bit.

I also wanted to hear about working with Terrence Malick, as I always do with actors who end up in front of his camera. Blanchett collaborated with the “Tree of Life” director on the upcoming “Knight of Cups,” with Christian Bale and Natalie Portman. Though she offered a typical caveat before even getting into it.

“Who knows whether or not I’m in the film at all,” she said. “He describes it as going fishing. He’s the polar opposite in terms of being a filmmaker from Woody [Allen]. He’s often going out without a script just to see literally what happens and there’s a continual fracturing of any kind of narrative. He’s just run so far away from that and I don’t know that he can return to a conventional narrative now. It was absolutely fascinating.”

Check back tomorrow for my full interview with Blanchett about her experience working on “Blue Jasmine.”