David Bowie: Christopher Nolan remembers directing him in The Prestige
The director recalls how he persuaded the musician to play a role in his 2006 film—and how daunting it was to work with someone he'd grown up worshipping.
After David Bowie’s death on Jan. 10, many of his collaborators, friends, and peers spoke out about working with the legendary artist on films, albums, tours, and music videos. Christopher Nolan, who directed him in the 2006 film The Prestige, shared his memories of Bowie with EW and below, in his own words, Nolan describes what it was like to convince his childhood hero to work with him.
When we were casting The Prestige, we had gotten very stuck on the character of Nikola Tesla. Tesla was this other-worldly, ahead-of-his-time figure, and at some point it occurred to me he was the original Man Who Fell to Earth. As someone who was the biggest Bowie fan in the world, once I made that connection, he seemed to be the only actor capable of playing the part. He had that requisite iconic status, and he was a figure as mysterious as Tesla needed to be. It took me a while to convince him, though—he turned down the part the first time. It was the only time I can ever remember trying again with an actor who passed on me. I petitioned to let me explain why he was the right actor for it. In total honesty, I told him if he didn’t agree to do the part, I had no idea where I would go from there. I would say I begged him.
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The experience of having him on set was wonderful. Daunting, at first. He had a level of charisma beyond what you normally experience, and everyone really responded to it. I’ve never seen a crew respond to any movie star that way, no matter how big. But he was very gracious and understood the effect he had on people. Everyone has fond memories of getting to spend time with him or speak to him for a little bit. I only worked with him briefly—four or five days—but I did manage to sneak a couple moments to chat with him, which are very treasured memories of mine. Normally when you meet stars, no matter how starry they are, when you see them as people, some of that mystique goes away. But not with David Bowie. I came away from the experience being able to say I was still his biggest fan, and a fan who had the very miraculous opportunity to work with him for a moment. I loved the fact that after having worked with him, I had just the same fascination with his talent and his charisma. I thought that was quite magical.
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