Cate Blanchett’s latest film, Carol, out Friday, Nov. 20, is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 romance novel The Price of Salt. In the Todd Haynes-directed film, Blanchett stars as the titular character, a married woman who falls for a shopgirl named Therese, played by Rooney Mara. Part of her character’s struggle is confronting her desires for Therese, and how they will jeopardize her life with her family—she wants to divorce her husband, Harge (played by Kyle Chandler), but wants to share custody of their daughter Rindy. Set in the period of the ‘50s, she knows it’s impossible to love who she wants to love and legally remain Rindy’s guardian. It tears at her—and the viewers, as well.
Throughout the film, signs point to the idea that Carol needs to be who she is, and love who she wants to love, even if the societal standards of the time make it seem as if she's an ignorant mother who chooses her happiness over that of her child's. Blanchett agrees with this plot point, though it may mean sacrificing the compassion of the viewers. “As a mother, she makes a choice based on her own survival,” Blanchett said during a press conference for the film in New York on Monday. “She risks losing sympathy. If it was a gay man, somehow I don’t think the question of sympathy would arise.”
She thinks this is largely due to the implications of seeing mothers in the movies and expecting them to put their children’s needs above their own. “When one plays a mother on screen, there’s always the sense of the right way to parent,” she explained. “You lose your identity and you become a mother, first and foremost. What I loved about Todd [Haynes] is that we didn’t ever talk about sympathy. Personally, as an actor, I find the idea of playing for sympathy a repulsive endeavor. It’s like saying, ‘like me, like me.’”
Blanchett said that Carol’s choosing to prioritize herself was the dilemma of her character, and what she enjoyed most. “It’s a terrible position, a tragic position that Carol has been placed in,” she said. “But one thing about working with Todd is that we never discussed the sympathy—the S word.” Because, like Carol, Blanchett she does whatever she wants, no matter what.
Watch a trailer for Carol here: