It's that ability, along with her marvellous craftsmanship, that has made Cate Blanchett one of the hottest actresses in the world.
The twentysomething blond-haired Australian began generating screen heat as a gambling addict in love with Ralph Fiennes in Oscar and Lucinda. With her Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning turn in the title role in Elizabeth, she grew red-hot.
"Cate is an astonishing, astonishing actress," says Anthony Minghella, who directed her in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
In that movie, now showing, Blanchett plays Meredith Logue, a young American heiress travelling Europe.
A suspenseful murder mystery - in a classy sort of way - the film stars Matt Damon (as Tom Ripley), Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is about a young man who had nothing, who suddenly gets everything, and will do anything to keep his new, posh lifestyle - including murder.
Meredith's role in the movie isn't very big. (But, as a wag once said, there are no small roles, only small actors.) "At first I didn't realize why she was coming to meet me about the film because Meredith isn't a large role," says Minghella.
As it turned out, however, Blanchett was a huge fan of Minghella's first movie, Truly, Madly, Deeply. And when the director discovered she truly, madly, deeply wanted to play Meredith, he "went back to his screenplay and enlarged the role for her."
Blanchett saw Meredith as someone coming to Italy to "reinvent herself, hoping her cocoon will burst and something extraordinary will happen to her."
And the time Meredith spends with Ripley in Italy "is probably the most wonderful week of her life." Ripley is the man she feels she has been waiting to meet. "The pity is, of course, that she is unaware of Ripley's duplicity."
Dressed on this gorgeous Los Angeles morning in a green knit V-neck cardigan and slacks, Blanchett is asked about her craft.
"I sort of have an ambivalent relationship with acting. The offers that were coming my way after Elizabeth were asking me to do the same thing again.
"I wanted to work with good directors on scripts that exercise different muscles as an actor. I much prefer to do different things. And when you do smaller parts, people leave you alone a bit and you get to experiment."
Playing a smaller role in Ripley allowed Blanchett the luxury of working only two or three days a week while staying in the "most extraordinary apartment in Rome, working with an extraordinary director and cinematographer...
"I think I was in the same state of wonderment as (her character) Meredith was."
Getting back to your ambivalence about acting?
Blanchett, who admits she doesn't enjoy the interview side of the business, wriggles in her chair, crosses her arms. Her eyes are coming at you shyly now. "I just think some people are more public than others and I just find it ... hard ... I find it hard."
"I don't like to focus on myself very much. Part of the skill as an actor is to listen and to focus out. And the more you talk about yourself and the more you talk about (she shouts) WHY and go down into your navel so deep that you can't get out, the more you actually destroy the very skill that makes you a good actor."
So how much of yourself are you revealing in a performance?
"I think if a part is well-written, if you serve the part and don't concentrate on yourself and concentrate on the other actor, then you'll be playing the character."
Good acting is good listening, she adds.
"One of the great things about Anthony Minghella is that he's able to make the most brilliant thing about the film, the story. He doesn't allow you to concentrate on a particular performance moment, on any particular lighting moment, on any particular musical moment. Everything sort of blows in to feed the story. Even as an actor, you get swept along by the story."
Next up for Blanchett is the role of Galadriel, the elf queen in the live-action feature Lord of the Rings, based on the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. "I start in June. It's a 14-month shoot. We're making three movies back-to-back. And I'll be in all three.
What drew her to this project?
"I was actually in The Hobbit when I was in high school but I hadn't read the books and now I'm delving into them." She says she was also drawn to the project by director Peter Jackson "who has one of the most extraordinary, bizarre, out-there minds."
I stare at her. With her pixie face and tall, slender build, she'd be a remarkable elfin queen, as depicted by Tolkien.
Her eyes twinkle quite mischievously.