Ahead of the release of her latest film, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the actor talks to Michele Manelis about the emotional chaos of family life, marriage and growing up.
When we meet Bernadette she's in a moment of chaos. How do you deal with chaos? Do you deal with it regularly and do you deal with it well?
Yes, I have a perverse attraction to chaos, I think. I have four children, both my husband and I freelance and I think the way I deal with chaos is to surf it until it's been going on for say, six months, and then you burst into tears. But it's always the moment when the pilot light goes out and there are no matches that makes you burst into tears. It's never over the major things because you somehow deal with those things. But things like the car not starting, all those little tiny connective tissue bits that you rely on in order to make your life function and then when the wheels fall off … that happens regularly in my house.
I imagine the mornings must be chaotic at your house with the school run and all that that entails.
It's not just in the logistical chaos, it's the emotional chaos of having the four very distinct, strong individuals my husband and I have been lucky enough to be blessed with. We've been together for a long time; it's wonderful and takes work. We're always biting off more than we can chew. Life's interesting. And so when someone comes to you and you're very time poor and they ask you to do something, I always say yes rather than no, and so that leads to a lot of chaos.
You've achieved so much in your personal and professional life – what are the highlights?
Obviously marrying my husband and the birth of my children have been monumental highlights of my career, my life.
The scenery in the movie [Where'd You Go, Bernadette] was breathtaking, especially watching you kayaking out on your own with the backdrop of Greenland.
Yes. Kayaking out away from the boat, there's absolute silence and then you hear the sounds of the icebergs calving, which is what they do. It was absolutely life-changing, pure wonderment.
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If we could change the title of the movie to Where'd you go, Cate? Where is the place that you find peace?
The bathroom! I'm not joking. It's usually a closet or the bathroom. It's usually a very small room where no one can find me.
Since you mentioned bathrooms, do you like to take baths or are you more a shower person?
Are you asking if I bathed today? Yes I have washed; I always wash before I meet with people, out of respect. I love water, I love the ocean, I love rivers, so I'm probably more a bathtub person but I don't get to have a bath very often, it's usually a very quick shower.
What's it like travelling with the family?
It's a bit of a military operation.
What kind of traveller are you?
I'm very restless but I'm trying to be less so. All I said to myself when I was at university is that I don't know quite what I want to do but I'd love to travel with my work and I've certainly done that. And what's great about having a chance to either tour with a play or shoot a movie in a foreign location is that you get inside a culture in a way that you don't as a tourist because you're working with people from that place. And so it's been a big privilege.
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Have you ever run away from home and if so why and where to?
Yes, I did. At the age of 3, I ran away from home. I was very ambitious, I went to the next-door-neighbour's house. But for some reason my neighbour didn't tell my mother and I was missing for six hours. Can you imagine my poor mother? But yes, she found me.
Your oldest son is turning 18.
Oh, thanks for reminding me. You want to make me cry?
Can you reflect on that, the idea of 18 years ago, being pregnant and now having someone of legal age in a few months?
It's big. It is really big … And he recently did an internship and that was a big thing and he went off for a couple of weeks. People have been asking me recently, I guess because of the film, what's the hardest thing about being a parent? And the answer is letting go. My mother always used to say it to me and I'd roll my eyes, "You'll always be my child …", and now I completely understand that totally. It drives him nuts.
You celebrated a significant birthday recently ….
Were you dreading that milestone or is 50 just a number? Are you wiser?
Definitely, can't you tell? Not consciously. For me the only age I really remember being anxious about turning, which now seems absolutely ridiculous, was 26. I remember when I was 25 and I turned 26 I went, "Oh my gosh, I'm almost 30!" And it was that thing where you turn the number when you're heading into the next decade but the other ones I haven't worried about so much. But this birthday, you certainly get asked about it a lot.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, based on the novel by Maria Semple, opens in cinemas on Thursday, October 24.