The iconic singer-songwriter David Bowie left us almost two years ago, but he is unlikely to be forgotten for years to come because of the dent in the universe he made with his work, to borrow a Steve Jobs line. Had he been alive, Bowie would have been 71 years old. While he is most well-known for singing and songwriting, few know that he was an actor too and appeared in many films.
In fact, he was an actor before he was a singer, and in an another world he would have been an accomplished actor first, and musican second. His most famous acting role is probably in Christopher Nolan’s thriller The Prestige, that starred Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. There is an interesting story behind his casting as physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla. Turns out, Nolan, with whom the biggest actors would do anything to work with, had to beg (in his own words) David Bowie to play a role in his film. Such was the stardom of the man. Days after his death, Christopher Nolan narrated it to Entertainment Weekly as follows. He also explains why Bowie was cast in that particular role.
“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.”
Nolan continues and desribes how Bowie’s charisms affected the crew of The Prestige, “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.”