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A chameleon with winning will

Times Staff Writer

Four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn picked up a posthumous tribute last night when Australian Cate Blanchett won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her performance as the screen legend in “The Aviator.”

Her nervy performance divided critics, but the 5,808 members of the academy applauded her assumption of Hepburn’s famous lock jaw, her long stride, her air of independence. The film details Hepburn’s love affair with aviation and film tycoon Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

In her native Australian accent, the 35-year-old Blanchett thanked Hepburn, noting that the “longevity” of her career was “inspiring to everybody.” A well-known muse to fashion designers, the lean, blond Blanchett was resplendent in a lemon yellow gown with a dark sash.

Backstage, she revealed that she had tucked a glove that had belonged to Hepburn in her purse, but only one because the purse was so small.

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“I’d hoped to meet Katharine Hepburn,” she said, “But she died as I boarded a plane on the way to rehearsals. Family and friends such as biographer Scott Berg were generous, however, with their time.... I was trying to do an homage to her work and elucidate her as a human being ... an enormous task.”

Blanchett was nominated for best actress in 1999 for playing another strong-willed woman, Tudor monarch Elizabeth I. In winning this award, she beat Laura Linney (“Kinsey”), Natalie Portman (“Closer”), Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) and Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”).

One of the most malleable actresses working today, Blanchett is a classic chameleon, able to fold her long physique into an array of parts, to appear either plain or arresting. She’s gravitated to playing forceful, self-determining women, often with an intelligence that fairly quivers under her translucent skin.

Raised in Melbourne, Australia, Blanchett made her first international impression as a gambling-addicted heiress in 1997’s “Oscar and Lucinda.”

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She went on to star in a number of films, often rising above the material in which she appeared, playing everything including a shallow socialite in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a dizzy outlaw in “Bandits” and a psychic in “The Gift.”

She also inhabited the ethereal elf queen Galadriel in the juggernaut “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

A mother of two sons, she is married to screenwriter Andrew Upton.


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