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How Timothee Chalamet prepared to play the role of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s life is a story befitting of the big screen. What he’s done throughout his career has made the world a kaleidoscopic place, and there isn’t a singular voice who has been as impactful as Dylan in modern memory. He’s a storyteller, a maverick and a bohemian soul.

The finest Dylan biopic is the 2007 effort I’m Not There, a picture directed by Todd Haynes and featured an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Charlotte Gainsbourg and more. There’s something undeniably enchanting about his story which keeps attracting filmmakers, and it’s easy to understand why.

The film featured six actors playing different facets to Dylan’s personality and didn’t follow a linear narrative, making it a confusing watch, but that was Haynes’ ambition. Dylan is an almost impossible character to fully understand and is consistently shape-shifting.

Haynes created a piece of work that may have flopped commercially, but it did Dylan proud and offered a momentary glimpse behind the curtain at who he really is underneath the façade.

Last year, it was revealed James Mangold was working on another biopic based on Dylan’s life and, with anticipation growing, the production even lined up Timothee Chalamet to portray the singer. While the project has since been put on hold indefinitely due to covid, Chalamet poured months of work into ensuring he was fit to do Dylan and his story justice.

“We were going to do Bob Dylan with [director James] Mangold that didn’t happen, with Timothée Chalamet, about going electric in the ’60s,” director of photography Phedon Papamichael confirmed to Collider last October. “I don’t think it’s dead, but it’s a tough one to pull off in a Covid-era because it’s all in small clubs with lots of extras in period costumes so you’ve got lots of hair and makeup,” he added.

In the summer of 2020, Dylan was at the forefront of Chalamet’s mind, and with the pandemic putting the film industry to a halt, the period of flux allowed him the time to fully understand Dylan. The New York native revealed to GQ that he rented out an Airbnb property in Woodstock to get a feel for the artist. Coincidentally, it turned out that the house was covered in Dylan memorabilia who, of course, lived in the area but sadly never had the opportunity to perform at the iconic festival in 1969.

Bob Dylan’s life story naturally attracts filmmakers. (Credit: Alamy)

The interview with Chalamet states that the actor quoted the singer often, noting he clearly had a fixation on the art and the persona. The pandemic gave Chalamet a pass to explore Greenwich Village while wearing a face mask, which meant despite being one of the most famous actors on the planet, he had a rare stint of anonymity.

Going Electric was to look at the period in the mid-1960s were Dylan made the radical decision to put down the acoustic guitar and make that bold move to go electric. Chalamet spent his time in the summer going from Greenwich Village to Woodstock and fully immersing himself in the world Dylan lived in during this period.

The actor reportedly “ran from site to site, with notes he’d kept while reading Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, barreling up stairs and peering into windows.”

Before accepting the role, he sounded out the opinion of a true Dylan connoisseur in Joel Coen, who made sure that Chalamet understood the gravitas of playing such an icon. The two went out for dinner together while Chalamet was shooting Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch alongside Coen’s wife, Francis McDormand, and chewed the fat about Dylan over a steak.

The director reportedly told Chalamet that “the truly incredible thing about Dylan was not so much the quality, which was obvious, but the quantity—the rapid amount of work in short succession, one groundbreaking album after another, in those early years.” The actor added, “He almost seemed weary of even talking about this stuff, it was so big and potent.”

Whether Going Electric ends up reaching completion or not remains up in the air, and filming anytime soon looks almost impossible. However, one thing that can’t be doubted is Chalamet’s want and desire to play Dylan, who he devoted countless hours to understanding on a three-dimensional level. Here’s hoping that one day, this film sees the light of day.

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