From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
For her Oscar-nominated star turn in Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett spent three months with her hairline shaved and her brows and lashes bleached. "It was one of the most liberating times of my life," says the 30-year-old actress, "because I didn't even bother. The more effort you make on how you look, the more you put yourself on the line."

Blanchett's willingness to appear less-than-gorgeous for the sake of a part makes her career priorities admirably clear. But she's hardly indifferent to her looks. "Growing up in Australia, I always bemoaned the fact that I wasn't a bronzed surfer chick," says Blanchett, a Melbourne native and the second of three children born to Bob, an American ad executive who died when she was 10, and June, a property developer. "I've had to accept the fact that I'm pale."

It has also taken her a while to figure out exactly what to do with her fine features and willow 5'8" frame. "I find grooming incredibly difficult—I'm very messy," says Blanchett, who stars in the new film Pushing Tin as well as the London stage production of Plenty. The actress, who lives in Sydney with husband Andrew Upton, 33, a screenwriter, admits that she bites her nails, seldom makes it to the gym and keeps little in her makeup bag beyond Bach Rescue Remedy, an herbal solution ("You put it under your tongue—it's a little pick-me-up thing"), and Stila lip color in taupe. "I use lipstick all the time," she says. "Just whack it on. Makes me feel clean."

However carelessly tended, Blanchett's beauty is not lost on Elizabeth castmate Geoffrey Rush. "When you work daily with someone in the theater and you're both schlepping around in rehearsal gear, you come to understand their ordinariness," Rush notes. "Then there are times when I've looked at Cate and I go, 'My God, you're beautiful!' It just suddenly hits you." Or as Ralph Fiennes, her Oscar and Lucinda costar, says, "With Cate you get this particular kind of beauty—it comes from within. She carries some sort of light inside her."