NEW YORK CITY–American pop culture has a lot of real and fictional icons. Australian actor Heath Ledger is currently promoting a version of a real one in I'm Not There , in which he is one of six actors portraying aspects of Bob Dylan's life. (He is also shooting The Dark Knight , in which he plays the Joker, who became iconic through the Batman comic books and Jack Nicholson's performance in Tim Burton's 1989 film, Batman .)
In a New York hotel room, he says that it's never going to be easy to take on a role that comes with certain expectations from the audience. "When you are playing these kinds of parts, you can underprepare or you can overprepare, but it is all just to feed our superstitious needs and to comfort ourselves. I was a fan of Dylan, but he was someone who I had scheduled somewhere down the line to be obsessed with because I do get obsessed with musicians and artists. So I think [director] Todd Haynes prematurely invited me into this film. The Joker was different in that I was definitely a fan of what Jack Nicholson had done and the world Tim [Burton] created. I think that if he [Burton] was directing The Dark Knight and asked me to play the Joker, I would say, 'No, I couldn't.' The reason why I confidently stepped into his [the Joker's] shoes is that I had seen [ Dark Knight director Chris Nolan's] Batman Begins and I knew the world that he had created and I knew there was a different angle to be taken with the Joker."
In I'm Not There , Ledger plays Robbie, a film actor who gains fame by playing a Dylan-like character (Christian Bale) who disappeared at the height of his fame. Robbie then falls for a young Frenchwoman (Charlotte Gainsbourg), marries her, and has two daughters, but he has numerous affairs as he travels the world. Haynes has told reporters that the character represents Dylan's personal life. Ledger says that he and the other actors (Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Cate Blanchett, and Richard Gere) are all pieces of Dylan that came about as a result of Haynes dissection of the singer's personal life and career.
"I was concentrating on one arm of Bob Dylan," he says. "Todd dissected his life and turned the film into a number of short films. We [the actors] just concentrated on our individual stories. I tend to feel that my story and Charlotte's character”¦represent a more personal portrait of Dylan than the others. I did a lot of research in that I read books, watched documentaries, and expanded my Dylan catalogue. However, I can't say that I know more about him than you do. That is what is beautiful about Todd's attempt to preserve Bob's mystique. He kept him respectfully in the shadows a little and I am happy about that."