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With 'Stateless,' Cate Blanchett tackles the 'human drama' of immigration

Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Debates over immigration and national identity dominate the political discourse in the Trump-era United States, but many Americans may be unaware that Australia has grappled with similar issues for decades.

That's about to change with the debut of "Stateless," a Netflix series co-created by Cate Blanchett that dives into her home country's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

The drama is set during the mid-aughts, as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sent thousands fleeing to other countries, including Australia, with the hopes of beginning a new life. The six-part series follows the unusual journey of Sofie (Yvonne Strahovski), an Australian flight attendant who gets involved in a cult, suffers a breakdown and mistakenly winds up in an immigration detention center, where she claims to be a German tourist who overstayed her visa.

At the center -- in a parched, economically depressed corner of South Australia -- she is held along with hundreds of so-called UNCs (or unlawful noncitizens). These refugees include Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), an Afghan man hoping to reunite with his family after a traumatic separation. Outfitted in a silver wig and sequins gowns, Blanchett has a small role as Pat, the singing-and-dancing wife of a charismatic cult leader played by Dominic West.

As implausible as it may seem, Sofie's story is partially inspired by the case of Cornelia Rau, a white Australian woman who was held in an onshore detention center for several months and helped bring attention to the country's severe immigration policies.

Blanchett created the series with Tony Ayres and Elise McCredie. Though "Stateless" deals with subjects that remain deeply polarizing in the U.S. and Australia -- and are explored in greater depth in an accompanying podcast called "Post Play: Stateless" -- Blanchett insists the series is "not a piece of agitprop."

 

"It's human drama. It's not just delivering some political message. It's asking more questions than it answers," says the two-time Oscar winner, who was also an executive producer on this spring's politically charged miniseries, "Mrs. America."

Blanchett and Ayres recently spoke via Zoom about the series and the difficult themes it explores.

Q: What made you want to get involved behind the scenes on this series? Is producing satisfying in a way that performing isn't?

Blanchett: The producers I truly admire are infinitely inventive. Some of them also happen to be performers or directors, as these skill sets are often interlinked. For me, it's about balancing the pragmatic with the creative. Sometimes I am compelled to be involved in a project but know that to shoehorn myself artificially as an actor into that project would capsize or pervert the material. Then also knowing that if one is not in it, that certain financiers may not be willing to take a risk on the material. Some of the most fulfilling creative experiences I've had, the most fascinating conversations, have been in and around facilitating the work of others. It's never been about what role I play, more the quality of the conversation.

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