Cate Blanchett at the 79th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 25, 2007.[Reuters]
That Cate Blanchett found her latest screen role "very scary" comes as no great surprise. She was playing Bob Dylan.
The unusual casting was made by U.S. director Todd Haynes, whose movie "I'm Not There" is a complex portrayal of the singer-songwriter using six performers to play Dylan, including Australian-born Blanchett, a young black actor and Richard Gere.
In competition at the Venice film festival, where its world premiere is on Tuesday, the biopic seeks to avoid reducing Dylan to an easily definable type, and gives a sense of how difficult the ever-changing musician is to categorize.
"Cate was scared. She told me many times that this was a very scary challenge for her," Haynes told reporters after a press screening of the two-and-a-quarter hour film. Blanchett, 38, was not at the briefing.
"I think it took her a long time to commit to the role and she's a very busy actor and had to balance it with her schedule, but mostly I think it was due to fear, which is completely understandable."
Blanchett, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator," plays Dylan at a time when he shocked folk followers by embracing amplified rock and struggled with the media which sought to define him as a folk protest singer.
In her black-and-white sequences, Blanchett's hair is dark and frizzy, and she adopts some of the mannerisms of Dylan, although the performance is not meant as a direct mimic.
The open-ended nature of "I'm Not There" meant the film was the first dramatic portrayal of his life Dylan had ever approved, Haynes said.
"I do think it was because of this open structure, something that would keep expanding who he is and what he's about and not reducing it, which I think is the tendency in the traditional biopic to do."
Also playing Dylan are Gere, young black actor Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw.
Old-style, black-and-white footage is mixed with color sequences for Gere and Ledger and with real news footage of U.S. protests in the 1960s and scenes from the Vietnam War.
In production notes for the film, Haynes said these were his way of channeling anger he felt over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The relatively obscure Dylan track "I'm Not There" was used for the title to portray the singer retreating from public life in the 1960s.
Gere plays Dylan as the fabled outlaw Billy the Kid, who after finding refuge in the town of Riddle is forced to abandon his sanctuary and move on.
"He (Dylan) had been living ... in the world where every step he took, every breath he took was monitored, discussed, debated," Haynes explained.
"Then he had his motorcycle crash ... and he settled in Woodstock, disappeared, raised a family, went into the basement and recorded all this mysterious music with The Band and basically in a weird way he almost never came back again.
"He never reentered that central spotlight again."