Cate Blanchett Talks New Film 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' And Immigration Systems Gone Mad

Illustration by Britt Spencer

I suppose that's what you get when you watch a film rather than read a novel: You see what the character doesn't," says two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett about her troubled yet comical character, Bernadette Fox.

In theaters this month, her new film, based on Maria Semple's novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, tells the story of an agoraphobic architect—an "absurd, hilarious and negative character"—who has been avoiding her problems for so long the only place left is Antarctica. After one too many lapses in judgment, she must now confront her fears.

Migration—of sorts—is a theme for Blanchett.

Her upcoming TV series Stateless shows the impact of the world's current immigration systems. A UN Goodwill Ambassador since May 2016, Blanchett is an advocate for refugees and immigrants.

Whether she's telling a story about immigration or playing a mother in search of a reawakening, it comes down to this: "You hope to provoke a sense of empathy and change in audiences," she said. "Hopefully both projects can do that and start a conversation."

We spoke with Cate about Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Stateless and the treatment of refugees in the U.S. and her home country of Australia.

How does the Bernadette on film compare to the book character?

Hopefully she's got her same spirit. The world is public enemy No. 1. The problem is out there, not within. She has to really look at herself because she's experiencing a seismic gap between who she thought she was and who she actually is.

Did you have a favorite scene?

Selfishly, being on the ice and getting up close and personal with those monolithic, monumental extraordinary icebergs—I mean, that was one of the happiest days of my life.

Can you tell me about Stateless?

Set in Australia, it's almost a prequel to policies which have been exported elsewhere. It's really about a system gone mad, and I think that system has gone mad in most countries.

How did you get involved with your humanitarian work?

I come from a country, which—colonial invasion notwithstanding—was largely built on immigration and the welcoming of asylum seekers and refugees. I've watched that national characteristic gradually change. I felt if I had the platform to highlight how vulnerable—resilient but vulnerable—refugees are, then I should use it.

What do you think about the detention centers in America?

I think what you can see at the border in America is there is nothing positive about that.