Cate Blanchett seems like an actress without a country — or one with several countries. She was royally British in her breakout role as the Tudor monarch in Elizabeth, which won her a Best Actress Oscar nod. She was coolly American as Meredith, the socialite princess in The Talented Mr. Ripley. And most recently, she was dangerously Irish as Veronica Guerin, the fearless, crusading Dublin newspaper journalist. But in reality, the 34-year-old Cate hails from Melbourne, Australia, where she was born, and where she returns regularly to visit her mother. On the day of our interview, she called from one of her stops on a multicity press junket. “Hi, it’s Cate,” she said, and with those three words she made this hapless writer believe we were on a first-name basis, just like she makes audiences believe whatever role she’s playing. For her American Way debut, she was in character as a Melbourne insider, and for that, we give her a big thumbs up.
What clothing essentials would you suggest we pack?
“I would take everything. Melbourne is notorious for how often the weather changes. It’s like four seasons in a day. Australian winters are really mild. A heavy jumper you would wear in winter in North America would be too hot there. January is probably the hottest month. The cold month is June. It is the complete opposite to you guys. While Sydney is humid, Melbourne has dry, hot heat. I would pack your swimmers, and I’d take a portable umbrella. You just never know.”
Who’s the first person you call when you arrive?
“My best friend. Her name’s Kay.”
Where would the two of you go?
“It depends. She has a child about two months older than mine. I think the first thing we would do is go get a coffee at Brunetti. It has fantastic coffee and amazing gelato, and it’s kind of near where she lives. Then we would go for a walk with the kids in Edinburgh Gardens, a great garden with a great playground.”
Tell us a Melbourne sight we shouldn’t miss.
“You’ve got to go along Great Ocean Road. It winds along the edge of the coast and never leaves. You get the most incredible view of the beaches, then you come to a place where there are these amazing outcrops of rocks and the surf bangs up against it. There are great beaches. One of my favorite places outside Melbourne is a beach called Queenscliff. There is a wonderful hotel there called The Queenscliff. Great restaurants, beautiful old rooms, and it’s a really romantic place to stay. From there, you can go out to places on the peninsula. There are great wineries down there, and a place called the Arthurs Seat Maze, where they have this enormous maze. It’s a great place to take kids.”
What are some great places to eat?
“I used to go to Mario’s a lot when I was at university. All the tables have tablecloths, but it’s reasonably priced. You can go there and have a drink, or there are people having a drink and a meal at the same time. It’s pretty relaxed. I also always go to Pellegrino. You can get really simple food or just a drink or coffee at the bar. I also used to go to the Flower Drum. It was like the Chinese restaurant to go to. I haven’t been there since it changed hands. Chinatown is really active. It’s huge. Caffé e Cucina has a great wine list, and there’s a huge blackboard menu that changes daily. And great, grumpy Italian waiters. There are some great tucked-away Jewish restaurants in and around St. Kilda. Acland Street is a great place to go. There are fantastic bookshops, cafes, and if you don’t have a lot of money and just want to get a quick bite to eat, that’s a great street to go to.”
Can you recommend any good hotels?
“I’ve stayed at the Adelphi Hotel on Flinders Lane. It’s really small, with a fantastic restaurant downstairs and a good bar upstairs with a great view. It has a pool on top and a great health club. It’s really minimal.”
What’s the cultural scene like in Melbourne?
“My favorite place of all is the Heide Museum of Modern Art. It’s in Heidelberg. John and Sunday Reed, who were kind of patrons of the arts in the ’40s and ’50s, used to have an artists’ colony there. So all the really famous painters, like Sir Sidney Nolan and Joy Hester and Albert Tucker and Arthur Boyd, they all painted there. The house where John and Sunday once lived has been turned into a gallery. They have the most beautiful herb garden and sculpture garden. It’s a great place to have a picnic, but also the art is there.”
What about theater? Didn’t you perform on the stage in Melbourne?
“I performed at the Melbourne Theatre Company. My very first time was at this tiny little theater called La Mama that seats about 50 people. Theaters in Australia are often built in reclaimed spaces, like soup factories or orphanages, and I find it really affects the performance style. You will see some bizarre stuff, a lot of experimental theater.”
What about the nightlife scene?
“I used to go to the POW, the Prince of Wales. Today it has been done up and has become quite a groovy bar. At the bottom of POW is the Mink bar. They have private booths, and it’s a vodka bar. That’s a great late-night bar. Also on Fitzroy Street is a pub called The George. I haven’t been there for a while, but it’s very relaxed.”
What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekend?
“One of those forgotten pockets of Melbourne is a tiny town called Williamstown, over the Westgate Bridge. It’s a quaint, preserved little village. You can go for lunch and wander around. There are great walks. There’s a lot of boating there. You can go sailing. And they have a lot of sweet little pubs.”
What’s your favorite beach?
“Elwood Beach. It’s great to have lunch there and rollerblade along. If you are wanting surf, I’d go to Portsea Back Beach, St. Kilda, or Sandringham. I think you get a bit more surf there. See, Melbourne is in a bay. Portsea Back Beach is sort of out of town, about an hour and a half to two hours. That’s where I learned to bodysurf. Not on boards. I wasn’t that cool.”
Where should we go if we want to shop?
“If you go to the center of the city, Collins Street has the more established European designers. There is a great jewelry store there called Makers Mark, which showcases really interesting
jewelry designers. The shopping is fantastic on Collins Street. Then there’s Little Collins Street, which is the smallest street. The center of Melbourne is like a grid. You cannot get lost. Little Collins Street is where all the up-and-coming young designers are. My favorite Australian designer is a guy called Martin Grant. He is just the most brilliant. In South Melbourne is this really great designer named Ilona Aldred. It is kind of like yoga stuff.
Really sharp, lots of black stuff that you will always wear.”
What’s your favorite store?
“Mexican Imports is an amazing, colorful shop that sells handpicked stuff like tablewares, fabrics, and doodads. It is a really beautiful store.”
Are there any special products you always get when you go home?
“I always stock up on Jurlique. That’s a natural skin care range. There is a great store called Mecca Cosmetica. They stock everything. There is a great makeup line called Becca. Great foundations. There’s also Beta Alistine Skin Science. It is really good stuff.”
Where do you go to relax?
“There’s a fantastic place called the Lake House. There are mineral springs, so you can go and have fresh mineral baths and massages. It’s like a center for healing. They have a new kind of mineral center, which has just been recently built.”
Any other great getaways?
“Oh yeah, Phillip Island. It’s great to watch the penguins come in. As a child, I did it. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. If you like camping, you can go to Wilsons Promontory. It’s a national park and you can camp there. And there are tons of walks.”
If you only had one day in the city, how you would spend it?
“I’d probably go to Brunswick Street for breakfast, then I’d go to the Yarra [River], go to the Heide, and have a picnic. There is an amazing bike park. You can actually bike your way through Melbourne. The Yarra weaves itself all throughout Melbourne. I would go to the south bank or the docklands area, which has just opened some really great, cheap places to eat for Middle Eastern and seafood. Then I’d go see a show at the concert hall. I’d have a drink somewhere in the city like Walter’s Wine Bar or Fredrick’s. I think that is the restaurant someone was telling me was quite good; I just know there is a bar there. I’d go straight to the St. Kilda. Luna Park is there. It’s a bit like Brighton in England. There are a lot of late-night bars and great places to get something to eat after a show.”
Anything we’ve missed?
“I’m sure there is. It’s a really beautiful coastal drive going up from Melbourne to Sydney if you have the time.”
How long is the drive?
“It’s like 12 hours. But to me, that’s nothing. If I were to drive from Melbourne to Sydney, I’d do it in a day. The distances in Australia are so vast. Our sense of what’s far is not far at all. I used to do that route all the time because I was going to school in Sydney and my family was in Melbourne.”
Twelve hours, and that’s just for a corner of the country?
“It is. That’s what I’m saying. If you were to drive from Sydney right across to Perth, which is on the other side of Australia, it would take you four days. It is almost as wide as America, but there’s 20 million people there. That’s what makes Australia so fantastic. It’s like no other place.”
cate’s travel essentials
what do you never leave home without?
what’s your favorite travel music?
the triffids, chad’s tree
what song reminds you most of melbourne?
anything by nick cave and the bad seeds
who is your favorite travel companion?
my husband, andrew, and son, dashiell. (blanchett is now expecting her second child)
what do you always take with you when traveling?
i wear and take creme universal, a huge bottle of water, and a cashmere throw by donna karan.
cate blanchett’s melbourne highlights.
the queenscliff hotel
caffé e cucina
mario’s of hampton
pellegrino cafe bar bistro
ilona aldred studio
the george melbourne wine room
la mama theatre
melbourne theatre company
prince of wales bandroom
walter’s wine bar
arthurs seat maze
brunswick street, north fitzroy
heide museum of modern art
wilsons promontory national park
our own melbourne highlights.
tolarno boutique hotel
moderate, 011- 61-3-9537-0200. this funky boutique hotel, originally constructed as a grand victorian manse by a former mayor of st. kilda, is both retro and modern at the same time. the rooms range from singles to two-bedroom suites, but many prefer the balcony suites overlooking busy, trendy fitzroy street.
the colonial tramcar restaurant
what could be better than enjoying a fine meal and touring the streets of melbourne at the same time? but how do you do that? aboard this traveling tramcar restaurant, the only one of its kind in the world.
the waterfront view — floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the beach — may be the thing that draws folks here. but its consistently fine italian-
inspired cuisine, cozy beach-house feel, and überfriendly and professional staff keep them coming back.
this tiny shop on little collins street sells didgeridoos, bark paintings, boomerangs, and the rest of the lot. and the profits go to aboriginal colleges.
the original outback outfitter, r.m. williams is where you can stock up on everything from akubra hats to oilskin jackets.
melbourne cricket ground
established in 1853, the g, as locals call it, is the ideal place to experience the sports scene. in summer, it features international cricket matches, and in winter, australian rules football.
melbourne observation deck
scope out the city from the 55th floor of the rialto towers, the tallest office structure in the southern hemisphere.
royal botanic gardens
plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring the 33 hectares (81 acres) of blooming gardens here, alive with plants from all over the world.