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Cate Blanchett’s relaxed concentration

One of my favorite actresses is Cate Blanchett, but I don’t know much about her. A profile of Blanchett from last week’s New Yorker (not online) filled in the blanks nicely:

What Blanchett hides from her directors and her audience she also hides from herself. “I do like to preserve the mystique of the thing, for myself as much as anyone else,” she has said. Over the years, she has repeatedly dodged autobiographical questions by claiming, “I’ve sort of forgotten my childhood.” These ellipses in conversation help Blanchett to trick herself out of self-consciousness. “I’m not interested in the character I am in myself,” she told James Lipton on the television series “Inside the Actors Studio.” “Any connection I have to my characters will be subliminal and subconscious.”

Her approach to acting sounds similar to the idea of relaxed concentration in sports, like the practicing of free throw shooting until you can do it automatically without having to focus on shooting and can instead just focus on being focused while shooting. The author of Blanchett’s profile, John Lahr, wrote a piece on stage fright for the magazine a few months ago that deals with the same theme. British actor and comedian Stephen Fry describes how he seized up after reading a review of a performance in the Financial Times:

The impact of the review was, Fry says, “phenomenal.” He describes the sense of acute self-consciousness and loss of confidence that followed as “stage dread,” a sort of “paradigm shift.” He says, “It’s not ‘Look at me - I’m flying.’ It’s ‘Look at me - I might fall.’ It would be like playing a game of chess where you’re constantly regretting the moves you’ve already played rather than looking at the ones you’re going to play.” Fry could not mobilize his defenses; unable to shore himself up, he took himself away.

To me, the battle with the self is one of the most interesting aspects of watching performance, whether it’s sports, ballet, live music, movies, or someone giving a talk at a conference.