In "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," opening Friday, Blanchett reprises her role as Britain's long-reigning queen during her epic struggle to protect England amid a holy war with Spain.
A month later, "The Golden Age" opens, with Blanchett as one of six actors portraying Bob Dylan. Blanchett plays the musician during the Dylan-goes-electric uproar in the mid-1960s, when fans of his early acoustic sound renounced him for plugging in.
"A certain fearlessness is needed to take on figures as familiar as Hepburn and Dylan, a ruler as illustrious as Elizabeth or a character as beloved as Galadriel, or to jump into a rabidly awaited sequel such as her current project, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
While it's taken some convincing by filmmakers for Blanchett to agree to some parts, she said her choices generally come from the gut.
2"People say, 'How do you choose a role?' In the end, I think you really decide in about two and a half seconds," Blanchett, 38, said during an interview at a Los Angeles theater before a question-and-answer session with an audience catching an advance screening of "The Golden Age."
"It's a purely instinctual response. And then you spend the rest of your time trying to rationalize your way into it or out of it. Sometimes that takes a couple of weeks and sometimes it takes 10 years, like 'Elizabeth."'
When "Elizabeth" premiered in 1998, Blanchett had only a few television and screen credits and was little-known outside her native Australia, where she had trained in theater and become an acclaimed stage performer.
"Elizabeth," an irreverent glimpse of the early, uncertain days of a woman whom history has painted as a steely monarch, earned Blanchett a best-actress Oscar nomination.
A supporting-actress win followed for her turn as Hepburn in 2004's "The Aviator," and Blanchett received a third nomination for last year's "Notes on a Scandal," in which she co-starred with Judi Dench, who won an Oscar for playing an older Queen Elizabeth in "Shakespeare in Love" the same year "Elizabeth" came out.
Though actresses as esteemed as Bette Davis and Glenda Jackson both played Elizabeth twice, Blanchett was hesitant to return to the role at first. In fact, she had reservations about playing the part the first time around.
"My initial feeling when the film came my way the first time - it was probably hubris, because I was completely unknown and should have been throwing myself at their feet - but I thought, well, Glenda Jackson's done this. What do I have to say about it?" Blanchett said.
Playing Dylan was an easier sell when Blanchett met with "I'm Not There" director and co-writer Todd Haynes, who also cast Richard Gere, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger among the six actors portraying different sides of the enigmatic rocker.
The incarnations range from a 13-year-old black boy riding the rails under the name Woody Guthrie, an early idol of Dylan's, to Gere as the grizzled Billy the Kid in the Old West, representing Dylan's period as a recluse in Woodstock, N.Y.
3Haynes "wanted to talk to me before I read the script, which was actually really wise, because the script was verging on impenetrable," Blanchett said. "Because it was a filmmaker script, all the pieces of the puzzle were in Todd's mind. I think the title of the section I was in was 'Electric Star Wreaks Havoc on His European Tour in the Style of Fellini's 8½'."
"When somebody offers you something as insane as that, it would be pure cowardice to say no."
Along with the "Indiana Jones" adventure opposite Harrison Ford, Blanchett next year also reunites with Brad Pitt, her co-star in 2006's "Babel," for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, the film casts Pitt as a man developing backward from old age to infancy, with Blanchett as the lover aging in the opposite direction.
Pitt was thrilled to work with Blanchett again so soon after "Babel."
4"She is mesmerizing. I don't know why. It's beyond my understanding," Pitt said. "Why we all want to work with her is she elevates the rest of us. She's just got some ethereal grace and elegance that's beyond me, and an acute understanding of human nature. She's just exquisite. She's otherworldly."
Since the time "Elizabeth" wrapped, director Shekhar Kapur had talked of doing a second film about the queen. Blanchett thought he was joking, but over the years, Kapur continually raised the prospects with her and co-star Geoffrey Rush, who reprises his role as Elizabeth's wily adviser.
Rush recalled Blanchett's reluctance and Kapur's salesmanship when the three met to discuss it a few years ago. "Cate was saying, 'Oh, but you know, I've played that character. It just feels like repeating her. It's going to be kind of a dead-end for me as an actress,"' Rush said.
Kapur stressed the differences between the first film, when Elizabeth was a girl thrust onto the throne, and the new story, set decades later as the queen faces a storm of political and personal crises, among them a spinster's realization that her chances for love and children were slipping away, Rush said.
"A middle-aged woman confronting being established as the queen, caught up in a holy war between Catholic Spain and Protestant England. The armada. The New World opening up, the unknown spirit of adventure. The fact that she's now become this iconic monarch figure and can't really have a life and can't have children or family or anything," Rush said. "Those dilemmas started to appeal to Cate enormously. It's a beautifully written role, and Cate is absolutely astonishing in it."
"The Golden Age" co-stars Samantha Morton as Elizabeth's scheming cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, the explorer who sparks the queen's romantic longing. Raleigh also evokes longing for travel and adventure in a queen who, for all her worldliness, never left England.
"To have someone walk into court who's literally gone to the edges of the known world. How incredible and expansive must that have been for her, her sense of poetry and the possibility of what life could be," Blanchett said. "It was interesting, I found, to play a vicariousness in the relationship with Raleigh, rather than simply making it, 'here comes Clive Owen, isn't he handsome?'
"Which of course he is, and undeniably charming. But to actually sort of say, 'I'd like to BE him.' I've certainly had those experiences. I was talking today about watching the 'Indiana Jones' films. My experience was as a young girl, and of course, you want to kiss Harrison Ford. But I wanted to BE him. I wanted to BE Indiana Jones and have those adventures."
Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas are maintaining tight secrecy, so Blanchett cannot offer details about her role in the fourth "Indiana Jones" flick. She is getting to live some of Indy's adventures, though.
"Steven is saying he makes it my mission everyday to give me five butch things to do. He's trying to butch me up," Blanchett said. "He's saying he's going to cast me in a film where I'm continually in a harness with five machine guns. I'm not in this, but I get to do a few butch things."