Supporting Actress: 'I'm Not There'

“When you get an offer like that, it would be pure cowardice to turn it down.”

So says Cate Blanchett of her role as one of the six Bob Dylan surrogates in Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” although it’s quite easy to imagine how she could have felt some trepidation accepting the part. After all, the notion of casting the very recognizable, very female Australian as one of the 20th century’s most iconic American figures seems absurd, at least on paper.

Which is why Haynes refused to send her the script.

“He didn’t want to give me the script until he talked to me first, and I now know why,” Blanchett relates. “He wanted to take me through the concept himself, because when you just hear the idea separate from the project, it can seem like a stunt.”

Far from a gimmick, Haynes’ casting of Blanchett as Jude, a representation of Dylan on his 1966 European tour, was instead an intentionally disorienting strategy — conveying the otherworldliness of the songwriter during that well-documented period without the buffer of historical familiarity.

More than just limning Dylan, Blanchett had the added burden of playing Dylan in scenes that were captured on film at the time in which Dylan himself was toying with his own persona. (As Blanchett observes: “My role was as much about Marcello Mastroianni as it was about Dylan.”)

With those varying degrees of disassociation alternately separating and contracting, one begins to see multiple intersecting personae in Blanchett’s performance alone, while never completely forgetting that it is, in fact, Cate Blanchett onscreen.

To say that it takes considerable talent to pull off such a multifaceted role would be a titanic understatement. But it takes a true daredevil of a performer to actually relish the challenge.

“There is a Brechtian distance between me and character, character and audience, because I am a woman,” Blanchett says. “So I found to actually perform was incredibly liberating. Not only are you saying that this is not necessarily Dylan, but it’s also not necessarily a man. There’s that kind of frisson between character and actor that doesn’t generally exist.”

Or, as Dylan/Jude/Mastroianni/Blanchett would put it, “I’m glad I’m not me.”

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