The Many Faces of Bob Dylan

The new movie "I'm Not There" could have been called "The Six Degrees of Bob Dylan."

Director and co-writer Todd Haynes cast six different actors to play the music icon, each portraying a specific phase in his life and career.

Haynes recently appeared on ABC News Now's "Popcorn" with Rolling Stone's Peter Travers to discuss the making of the film.

Dissecting Dylan

The inspiration for the film came when Haynes re-discovered Dylan, specifically the previously-unreleased "bootleg" recordings now available as the "Basement Tapes" on CD.

"That was a revelation. There were so many cool things that I was finding," he said. "This is a guy who would enter into a phase completely and just become identical to it and then exhaust it and move on, often to the seismic protests of his fans."

Haynes is quick to point out that other artists like David Bowie and Madonna have reinvented themselves to the delight of fans, but he said that Dylan's changes were about more than just his "look."

"There was a deeper kind of social repercussion to the change because people so deeply identified with each of the positions he held and they resonated in the political climate of the time and the social feelings of the time," he said.

And so Haynes cast six different actors to portray the star during his many changes.

"I just assumed that nothing like this had ever been proposed before and then of course if Dylan was going to say yes to someone making a movie about him it would have to be unorthodox," Haynes said.

Haynes then turned to Jeff Rosen, Dylan's longtime manager, and Jessie, Dylan's son, to pitch his idea. He didn't expect Dylan to agree with his ideas.

"Jeff said, 'Look, write it down on one sheet piece of paper, very simple, one line description for each of the characters ... but don't use the word voice of a generation and don't say genius, maybe don't even say Dylan,'" Haynes recalled.

The director wrote his proposal according to Rosen's standards (and maybe even beyond since he doesn't even mention Dylan by name in the movie) and waited.

Please click here to read Peter Travers' Rolling Stone review of "I'm Not There." "[Dylan] read the [proposal,] he looked at some of my films which we sent along with the proposal, and two months later he called Jeff and said, 'You liked these guys, let's give them the rights,' and this included life rights and music rights," Haynes said.

At that point Dylan turned creative control of the film completely over to Haynes.

The Six

The first actor to portray one of Haynes' interpretations of Dylan is Marcus Carl Franklin in the role of Woody, a young African-American wandering from place to place with a guitar.

Next up is "Batman Begins" star Christian Bale.

"[Bale] plays Jack Rollins, which is the Dylan of the early folk and protest period," Haynes said. "Then he morphs and ... comes back in a completely different form, " Hayes said. "Later in the film, we find whatever happened to Jack Rollins, this famous folk icon who disappeared at the height of his success."

Ben Whishaw plays the third stage of Dylan, a poet named Arthur who is being interrogated against a white wall.

"He almost serves as the film's unofficial narrator because we keep coming back to this image of Ben against that wall and this is Arthur as in Arthur Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet who Dylan was definitely influenced by," Haynes said.

Dylan then takes the form of an actor, played by Heath Ledger.

"His name is Robby Clark and he's like a counterculture actor during the Vietnam years," Haynes said. "But it's really about how a famous person in he public eye with a unique following balances that life with a private life."

The fifth portrayal is getting the most buzz.

"The next Dylan ... is the electric Dylan whose character is called Jude Quinn," Haynes said.

Jude Quinn is played by Cate Blanchett -- a woman.

"The reason I cast a woman to play Jude was because Dylan had once again transformed into something even more extreme than the Dylan of, let's say, 'Don't Look Back,'" he said.

Haynes believes that audiences will accept the glamorous Blanchett's turn as Dylan.

"The resemblance is uncanny and the performance is just subtle and witty and full of humor and play and then it gets laden with the sort of shadow, the weight of the kind of life that Dylan is leading at this time," he said.

Perhaps just as controversial is the last installment in the movie that showcases Dylan's return to country music.

"That seemed like the first political betrayal of Dylan's career. People thought he turned conservative because country music wasn't cool," Hayes said.

Many have questioned the director's choice to cast heartthrob Richard Gere as this portrait of Dylan.

"I wanted to cast an older movie star who carried in the lines of his face a minihistory of American film," he said.

What Does It All Mean?

While avid Dylan fans may be able to make perfect sense of "I'm Not There," many may fear the six different portrayals might throw off those less familiar with his music.

But Haynes has some advice for those who will be experiencing Dylan for the first time with his film.

"I think in some ways they almost have an easier time if they're open to something new ... because each of these stories are familiar genres in and of themselves -- the rock and roll rebel, the documentary about a famous star who has disappeared ... the struggle of private and public life," Haynes said. "And what's amazing about Dylan is when you try to distill him down into types like this, you end up with this truly American tapestry. All of these instincts and roots that he embodied are really deeply American traditions that he completely became and left behind."