This week, the world got a little greyer after hearing the news that a musical legend had passed away. David Bowie transcended genres and not only pushed boundaries, but gleefully leaped across them during his musical career that spanned the ’70s, ’80s, right up to this month when he released the album Black Star. However, Ziggy Stardust was not only a musical genius, but a talented actor who had a number of mainstream film roles.
Bowie’s acting career began with a number of parts, including a short film titled The Image in 1967, with a couple of bit parts and uncredited roles following.
Then, following his success with the Space Oddity album in 1978, he was cast as the lead in the apt film The Man Who Fell To Earth.
In this film, Bowie portrayed Thomas Jerome, a humanoid who travels (falls) to Earth to retrieve water to save his dying planet. Whilst on Earth, Jerome sets up his own company in order to gain the funds to return home. Along the way, he meets a girl and traverses the ruthlessness of the business world on his quest to return home. The film was released to some critical praise and earned David a Golden Scroll for his performance.
Roles followed in films such as Baal, a 1982 TV movie and 1983’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, where Bowie portrayed a British soldier that enters a Japanese prison camp. This film won a number of awards, though none for Bowie. In the same year, he starred in The Hunger alongside Catherine Denevue and Susan Sarandon, starring in a lead role as an unfortunate soul who has fallen out of favour with a vampire queen.
In 1985, Bowie was cast in Into The Night, starring Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer in a smaller supporting role; and then in 1986 came potentially his most well-loved and iconic film role.
A whole generation of people that grew up in the ’80s and the ’90s will have grown up with the fantasy film Labyrinth. Bowie plays the lead role of Jareth the Goblin King (also known as The Bulge, watch the film to understand). The film focuses on Sarah, a 16-year-old who is babysitting her little brother. As she reads him a story, she wishes the goblins from her favourite book would steal her crying baby brother. The door to the Goblin Kings world opens and he steals the child. In order to get her little brother back, Sarah must find her way through the Labyrinth to the Goblin King’s castle before he turns her brother into a goblin.
This role suited the Starman’s eccentric style. Although he received no awards, the film has been widely acclaimed by both fans and critics. Made by Jim Henson, the talent behind The Muppets, this fantasy played into Bowie’s creative persona perfectly and offered him an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities. The film also allowed him to flex his musical muscles. Jennifer Connelly, co-star in the film, spoke fondly with Entertainment Tonight about her experience filming with Bowie just a few months ago.
In the same year, he was cast in the musical Absolute Beginners, a film adaptation of the novel by Colin MacInnes about life in 1950s London. Roles followed in films such as The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, The Linguini Incident in 1991 and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in 1992. In 1996, Bowie took on the role of Andy Warhol in the film Basquiat, and 1998 brought with it a role in Il mio West. The following year, he could be seen in Everybody Loves Sunshine, and 2000 saw him take on the lead role as Mr Rice in Mr Rice’s Secret. The same year, Bowie took on the role of The Host alongside Terence Stamp in the horror anthology TV series The Hunger.
In 2001, the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander hit cinema screens in a storm of laughter and ironic satire. Bowie performed a cameo that gained him a nomination for Best Cameo at the MTV Movie Awards. In 2006, Bowie took on the role of Nikola Teslar in the outstanding psychological drama The Prestige (he can be seen at 2:05 in the trailer below), which saw him star alongside Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Later in 2008, Bowie starred in the drama August, then a role as himself in the teen flick Bandslam in 2009.
It is easy to forget the extent of Bowie’s acting career, which is understandably overshadowed by his music. Whilst his talent most definitely lay in his music, there was some aptitude for acting, especially in roles where he could be creative and eccentric such as Labyrinth. Films such as The Prestige displayed his potential for more serious roles; but he shone in the fantasy style characters, which seemed to more closely suit his character.
Not only has the music industry lost one of its brightest shining stars, but every sector of the arts and entertainment industry now shines a little less brightly. There is a Starman waiting for us in the sky.