How Did Blanchett’s Performance in “Blue Jasmine” Transform the Character Woody Allen Had Written?

After directing Blue Jasmine (2013), Woody Allen was asked how he wrote the character of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) in such a way that audiences sympathized with her, despite the fact she was a generally unlikable person. His answer indicates that he didn’t - in fact, it was Cate Blanchett’s performance of the role that demanded a much deeper empathy from the audience than Woody had intended.

“I wasn’t trying to make people like her. I think her humanity comes across because of Cate,” Allen says in an interview with James Kleinmann. “If you had a different actress playing this, you might feel differently about Jasmine. Cate is so full of humanity and complexity that you see her suffering, and you feel for her. A character like that is to be pitied. The fact that she had money didn’t mean she wasn’t suffering terribly. Cate was able to infuse her character with tender dimension.”

This comment speaks to Allen’s famously minimal directorial style. He claims to give little input during shoots, allowing his actors to interpret the characters their own way, say lines off-script, and evolve the role. (Here the approach worked well, as Blanchett’s performance won her both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award).

When writing the character, Allen was more concerned with depicting her accurately than with whether people liked or disliked her. The reality is that Jasmine is a myopic, narcissistic, deceitful, parasitic, shallow and deluded alcoholic. Her talent for introspection is nil, and her only connection to other humans comes in the form of self-benefit. She’s unable to take accountability for her own choices and only wants to associate with those who can offer her something.

On paper, she sounds like a pretty miserable person - yet Blanchett’s performance brings to the surface a deep emotional distress and blatant examples of diminished mental health, fostering an affinity for her. That’s not to say the viewer wants her to end up re-established as the glamorous one-percenter she feels she “needs” to be, but Blanchett establishes an emotional connection that a different actress may not have forged. That depth is pivotal to the film as a whole.