THERE are few more iconic figures in some circles than Queen Elizabeth I and Bob Dylan. One was England's famous Virgin Queen, who vigorously guarded her country's independence during the age of Shakespeare and the Spanish Armada; the other America's rumbly voiced bard. Nothing connects them in the popular imagination, but a pair of concurrently released films shows these figures struggling with their phantom alter egos, the mythic selves that live free-form in the culture.
In "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," the monarch determinedly sheds her intimate personal identity to become the white-faced theatrical mother of the nation; in "I'm Not Here," Dylan -- or at least one of the seven versions of Dylan in the film -- is seen in his new electric guitar phase, "an amphetamine dandy" as director Todd Haynes calls him, willfully refusing to submit to his admirers' need to deify his folk-hero persona.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 09, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Blanchett film: A story in Sunday's Calendar section on actress Cate Blanchett mentioned a movie titled "I'm Not Here." The film, in which Blanchett and half a dozen others portray Bob Dylan, is titled "I'm Not There."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 14, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Blanchett film: An article in the Oct. 7 Calendar section on actress Cate Blanchett mentioned a movie titled "I'm Not Here." The film, in which Blanchett and half a dozen others portray Bob Dylan, is titled "I'm Not There."
The less likely link between the two is that both parts are played by Cate Blanchett, the 38-year-old Australian actress who, in a mad period of months, transformed from a corset-laden monarch terrified of intimacy to an androgynous male singer-poseur.
The latter performance has already won her the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, where "I'm Not Here" premiered. Still, Blanchett admits that when Haynes first approached her about the part, "I just burst out laughing. I said, 'What are you talking about?' " But she liked his audacious nuttiness. "How can you not take that meeting?"
Blanchett is in L.A. at the end of an 18-month working jag, which includes not only "Elizabeth" and "I'm Not There" but also "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a romance with Brad Pitt, and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which she's finishing. Blanchett can't say much about that last role (though an indiscreet day player has said she plays an evil Russian), but she does reveal that "Steven [Spielberg] is very proud that I've had to butch up." No bodices or fancy-pants accents. "He was joking the other day, saying he was going to cast me in a film where I was always in a harness flying through the air with guns in both hands."
Blanchett was certainly looser and giddier than when we first met half a dozen years ago. On that occasion, she was polite but reserved, with her hair shorn to about an inch long all over her head, and a plum constructed suit that she wore as chic armor. She was an actress on the rise, having already stunned critics and audiences with her portrayal of the young Elizabeth in Shekhar Kapur's first film about the famed monarch, but she remained distinctly wary of media limelight.
In the intervening years, she gave birth to two sons, picked up an Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator," and moved assuredly into her reign as one of the great actresses of her generation. When she appeared for tea at the Beverly Wilshire hotel recently, she was evidently still an admirer of formal-feeling fashion (this time a stiff but feminine gray scoop-neck dress and red-bottomed stiletto heels), but she was relaxed after playing with her two boys upstairs and eager to laugh.
It used to be hard to remember what Cate Blanchett's face looked like -- its elastic quality merged so completely with her early performances ("Charlotte Gray," "The Shipping News") that the essence of who she was remained elusive. Now, after 30-odd films, Blanchett seems supremely comfortable with her gift, and her intelligence shines through, anchoring her more securely in the audience psyche. Says Kapur, "Cate is so confident of her innate skill that she can put that into her subconscious, and explore herself through the part. . . . Every artist is only a great artist if [she] can reveal herself."
Another man in her life
Bob DYLAN, says Blanchett, is the only man who ever made her husband, the writer-director Andrew Upton, "jealous."
"I became unhealthily obsessed," she says, describing how she'd sit in front of the TV and watch old Dylan press conferences over and over. . Upton "literally one day just kind of took the remote control out of my hand and went, 'Hello!!' " Not that she ever met the superstar, nor did writer-director Haynes. But then again, "I'm Not There," which opens Nov. 21, is a meditation on the singer, not a Dylan biopic, and his various personas are played by actors as diverse as Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere and a 10-year-old African American actor named Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Dylan as a Woody Guthrie-like hobo. Haynes says he wants audiences to "experience the movie like a Dylan song. A discourse, not an answer." The conceit apparently appealed to the puckish superstar, who gave his permission -- and OK'd the use of his songs -- for the enterprise.