Benedict Cumberbatch Is Playing Pete Seeger in Bob Dylan Biopic 'A Complete Unknown'

The James Mangold film stars Timothée Chalamet as Dylan

Photos: Gage Skidmore (left), Library of Congress. NY World-Telegram & Sun Collection (right)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished May 23, 2023

With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny arriving next month, director James Mangold will soon turn his attention back to the Timothée Chalamet-led biopic about Bob Dylan's electric years — in which Benedict Cumberbatch will also star.

A report by Deadline from the recent Dial of Destiny premiere at Cannes Film Festival finds the director revealing that Cumberbatch has been cast as legendary folk singer-songwriter Pete Seeger, who is recognized as one of Dylan's earliest supporters.

Seeger was instrumental in Dylan releasing his self-titled debut LP via Columbia Records in 1962. As a member of the board of organizers, Seeger also invited Dylan to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, where many feel he altered the course of popular music by playing a set that leaned more rock 'n' roll than folk revival.

Years after Dylan put down his acoustic guitar to plug in with his band at Newport, it was said that Seeger was upset by the young artist's decision. Seeger clarified his purported objection to Dylan's performance as follows in a 2001 interview:

I couldn't understand the words. I wanted to hear the words. It was a great song, "Maggie's Farm," and the sound was distorted. I ran over to the guy at the controls and shouted, "Fix the sound so you can hear the words." He hollered back, "This is the way they want it." I said, "Damn it, if I had an axe, I'd cut the cable right now." But I was at fault. I was the MC, and I could have said to the part of the crowd that booed Bob, "you didn't boo Howlin' Wolf yesterday. He was electric!" Though I still prefer to hear Dylan acoustic, some of his electric songs are absolutely great. Electric music is the vernacular of the second half of the twentieth century, to use my father's old term

Mangold's Dylan biopic, now called A Complete Unknown, was shelved indefinitely towards the end of 2020 due to pandemic-related challenges. The director reiterated to Deadline that Chalamet will be singing Dylan's songs himself for the film, which goes into production in New York this summer.

Earlier this month, Elle Fanning joined the cast of A Complete Unknown in the role of Dylan's early '60s love interest, university student and artist Sylvie Russo. In late April, it was reported that Monica Barbaro was in talks to portray Joan Baez in the film.

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