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November 2007
An Interview with Marcus Carl Franklin

An Interview with Marcus Carl Franklin

By Wilson Morales

November 19, 2007

After making a big splash in ‘Lackawanna Blues’, where he was featured amongst a bevy of talent, Marcus Carl Franklin has found another role that puts him in a pool of such gifted talents.

"I'm Not There," is the highly anticipated biographical film about legendary singer and songwriter Bob Dylan, follows six distinct characters (Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, and Richard Gere), depicting different stages of Dylan's life, embodying a different aspect of his life story and music. It's the first biographical feature project to secure the approval of the music legend.

Franklin plays Woody, an embodiment of Dylan’s youth aspirations, who despite being 11 years old and black, calls himself Woody Guthrie. His story is set in the late 1950s. In speaking exclusively with blackfilm.com, Franklin talks about playing one of six Bob Dylan’s characters, learning from both the theater and film world, and his upcoming film, ‘Be Kind Rewind’ with Mos Def.

What attracted you to play the role of Woody Guthrie in ‘I’m Not There’?

Marcus Carl Franklin: My parents got the script when I was about 11. After they generally read things they passed it down to me and they felt it was a very challenging role and when I read it I knew it would a challenging role. I like things that get me out the comfort zone and get me to go the extra mile. That was really drew me to the project.

Did you know that your part would involve some singing?

MCF: That was something that Todd stumbled upon. He had always envisioned someone singing with my character but he didn’t know that I could sing until we sent him some rough mixes that he liked. So he asked us to do a final mix which was an honor.

How much did you know about Bob Dylan before taking on this film?

MCF: I did not know who he was at nor did I know who Woody Guthrie was.

When you heard the music, did you appreciate it or did think, ‘Ok, This is just a job?’

MCF: At first, I was surprised but after I did some research, and when I started to hear some of the music, I was really surprised. I realized that if I was going to really appreciate music and get into the music industry, I have to appreciate all types of music. I have to listen to everything, whether it’s Bob Dylan or Jay-Z or whatever. I have to really embrace it.

Which do you listen to the most, the rhythm or the lyrics?

MCF: I listen to it for the lyrical content as well as the musicianship and the production and the people behind the scenes. Because I’m into the producing part of music, so I listened for the quality. You can tell if it’s Herbie Hancock because if the way he plays the piano and little things like that make it special and unique.

Did you do ant research on playing Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan?

MCF: Partly it was my own research but it a lot of it at the same was Todd Haynes. Haynes sent all the main characters all types of information. He actually sent me a box of pictures and books and a CD with all of Woody Guthrie’s music. That was really helpful because it pushed me right back in it having the primary sources of Woody Guthrie’s and Bob Dylan’s music.

Why do you think your parents chose this for you?

MCF: They passed this down to me because right after I finished the Broadway version if ‘Caroline O Change’ I told them I really liked challenging roles only because I’m growing and I’m still growing in acting. I wanted a challenging role where I would grow and meet people. I wanted a role that wouldn’t be easy so when they the script, they felt it was perfect and that it melt their criteria. It’s a good wholesome project and it’s about someone who’s very important, very special and a music icon.

Although half the cast is playing Bob Dylan, did you get to meet Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, or Cate Blanchett?

MFC: I haven’t met Christian, Heath, or Ben Whishaw. Their scenes were done in Europe, at some of their stuff. A lot of us had our own four week period. As my four week period ended, Cate was coming in, and then Heath came in. I got to talk to those two briefly, and with Richard Gere, we had one scene together. We are the only Dylans that meet. The advice they gave me was amazing. Richard, I idolize him and I really hold him high because he’s very wise and Cate Blanchett is amazing. She’s beautiful and talented and pushed the envelope by playing a man. Heath actually came to meet me, which was an honor. It really made me feel like I was his equal and that we both were equal artists. Those three things were amazing.

How much of a difference is it for you to do film as opposed to working everyday when you did ‘Caroline, or Change’?

MCF: Theater is instant gratification. After a performance in the theater, people immediately clap for you so you really get that feeling; whereas acting, you may shoot a scene or a whole piece but it may a whole year before it’s edited and for people to see it before any gratification comes, so it’s a lot more patience. At the same time, film is a lot more relaxing. There’s not much pressure because you can make mistakes. They have that sort of leeway whereas in theater, if you make a mistake you have to keep going. You have to wait until the next night where you don’t make that mistake anymore.

What did you learn from Todd that was different from what you learned from theater and from what you learned on doing ‘Lackawanna Blues’?

MCF: The style that Todd directed in is different from the way George C. Wolff did on ‘Lackawanna Blues’. I can feel that George knew what I could do and he knew my limits and he pushed past those limits. With Todd, on the other hand, it was more of a collaboration with him than directing. I threw some ideas and he threw some ideas and Todd compromised and said, ‘Whatever you have that can make my piece better, give it to me so you can put it with my ideas. We can really do something as artists together.’

What are you looking to do next?

MCF: I haven’t really thought about that. People have asked me if I could play another musician and who would I play. I’ve heard that Jimmy Hendrix would be an interesting role for me and I’m thinking about it, but I don’t really know who I would want to play.

Are you planning to keep the afro for some time?

MCF: Yes, I plan on keeping this for a while. I’ve had an afro since I was 5 or 6 years old. It’s my style.

Did Todd want you to cut it off for the movie?

MCF: Yes, Todd told them that they had to bring it down a bit; and yes, I was a little bit scared that they were cutting my afro, but acting is something where you need to change and I’m willing to do that.

Are there any Bob Dylan favorites you enjoyed while doing this film or after?

MCF: What really inspired me were two songs, ‘When The Ship Comes In’, which is one of the songs I get to sing in the movie and ‘Subterrainian Homesick Blues’. Those two songs were very inspiring to me in the fact that and ‘Subterrainian Homesick Blues’ is a high paced, witty, sense of energy and I really took that to heart because I needed that energy to be Woody. He’s a kid in a grownup world and he’s keeps moving and changing and going to other places and meeting people and everything around him is revolving and changing. At the same time, ‘When The Ship Comes In’ is a calm song. It’s a 180 degree opposite and it really talks about what was happening in that period. There were race riots going on and as the lady told him, he needs to sing about that period and that encompasses the things that the woman was telling Woody.

You also have a film with Mos Def and Jack Black – ‘Be Kind Rewind’. What’s your role in that?

MCF: I play a neighborhood kid who gets to hang out with Mos Def and Jack Black. There were two other kids and the five of us cause trouble and we run around and do these different things and that movie was interesting in the sense that it was my first comedy. It was really fun. I love Mos Def. I’ve worked with him before on ‘Lackawanna Blues’ so it was like coming home to a friend. Jack Black is hilarious and a friend.

Why should anyone go see ‘I’m Not There’?

MCF: They should go see it because it’s a celebration of artists. A lot of my friends are artists. They sing and dance and this film is the celebration of the artist, of music. It’s the celebration of an icon that was attacked by the media. It’s the showing of change, of growth, and evolution within his craft and it’s very inspiring.

I’M NOT THERE opens on November 21, 2007



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