In 2000, when writer-director Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”) approached Jeff Rosen, Bob Dylan’s manager, about the prospect of making a film on the unparalleled musician, he had every reason to believe Dylan would flat out say no. Dylan had notoriously shunned filmmakers from taking on his legacy, and for Haynes, his subject’s approval was crucial.
“I wouldn’t have even considered going forward with the concept if I wasn’t gonna get music rights from Dylan,” Haynes said in a telephone interview. But much to Haynes’s surprise, Dylan agreed, and eight years later, the director’s vision has finally come to fruition with “I’m Not There.”
The film, which opens tonight at The Michigan Theater, is no ordinary biopic. It tackles Dylan’s different personas through six separate roles played by a variety of actors, among them Marcus Carl Franklin (“Lackawanna Blues”), a young black boy, and Cate Blanchett.
“People can think it’s gimmicky, and then they have to go see the movie,” Haynes said. “From what I continue to hear from people who see the film is that that just disappears and you, and it suddenly makes complete sense that a woman would be playing Dylan in 1966.”
Still, even after he allowed Haynes to secure the rights to his music, Dylan remained at bay from the production.
“Dylan himself has pretty much been being Dylan,” Haynes said, “doing his own thing.”
Haynes said his goals for “I’m Not There” were “high and mighty.” “I had this, this, this unbelievably famous, beloved artist, popular American artist, and his massive, beguiling, rich and varied body of work, you know, to put into a movie for the first time.”
Haynes said his concentration was fueled and inspired by Dylan’s work.
“I really took my cue from the adventures that Dylan himself, um, uh, embarked on in popular music,” Haynes said. He said he wanted to be as “risky” as his subject.
In striving to succeed, he was forced to recognize the contrasting cultural states of Dylan’s era and the present day.
“The amazing thing is just that he had a kind of culture in the 1960s of audiences that kind of wanted to have their minds blown all the time,” he said. Though that wouldn’t necessarily be the most apt description of today’s viewers, he said he didn’t want to shortchange them of the “unique results of that time.”
Haynes said that every time someone makes a movie, not to mention one as complex and high profile as “I’m Not There,” “you kind of feel you’re naked again and you’re kind of figuring it all out from scratch, as if you never had done it before.” But he refused to allow that vulnerability to threaten him on “I’m Not There.”
“I made a pact with myself that I was going to allow it to be complex and allow it to be combustive and exciting,” he said. “Like the music and like the period, I also wanted it to be fun and full of emotions and desires.”
Haynes said he made the movie he intended to make, but he isn’t sure if it would be a movie that befits a contemporary audience. “I didn’t really know how today’s world – which is very different from the ’60s – would respond to it.”
“So far,” he said, “I’ve been kind of blown away.”