For the past quarter-century, David Bowie has been one of the cinema’s most intriguing yet elusive performers. Beginning with his star turn as the alien who becomes imprisoned in alcoholism as his planet dies of thirst in Nicholas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” the film roles of David Bowie reflect the eclecticism and eccentricity of his musical orbit. On screen, he played a male prostitute in a Berlin brothel in “Just a Gigolo,” a glamourous vampire in “The Hunger,” a British soldier in a Japanese POW camp in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” Pontius Pilate in the controversial adaptation of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and appearances in films that only the most die-hard cinephile or Bowiephile could ever dream of recalling: “Christiane F.,” “Into the Night,” “Labyrinth,” “Absolute Beginners,” “The Linguine Incident.”
Currently, Bowie can be seen in the title role as a mysterious 400 year-old man who helps a terminally ill teenager discover a new meaning to life in “Mr. Rice’s Secret.” This award-winning Canadian film, directed by Nicholas Kendall, offers a mature and uplifting story focusing on the spirit of life and well-being, and it is among the very rare contemporary films where teenagers are portrayed with a high level of intelligence and sincerity.
“Mr. Rice’s Secret” will have its US theatrical premiere on December 22nd at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in New York. “Mr. Rice’s Secret” will also be the lead in the Two Boots Pioneer’s Theater’s mini-retrospective of Bowie’s films. Entitled “A Very Bowie Christmas,” the series will include rare screenings of “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “The Hunger,” “Basquiat” (with Bowie in a flawless supporting role as Andy Warhol) and the concert film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”
In an interview with Film Threat, David Bowie discussed “Mr. Rice’s Secret” and his unique relationship with films.
What was it about “Mr. Rice’s Secret” that first attracted you to consider starring in the film?
From the script, it was so thoughtfully and considerately conceived. Nothing smacked of the sensational. It could have so easily have slipped into that hole given the subject matter. There was an active intelligence behind it all.
How did you prepare for your role as a 400 year-old man in that film?
I have quite a few years of my own to draw upon, though a year in Manhattan is good for fatigue resource. I don’t think you can ‘play’ 400. There are no precedents. A 400 year-old may well have the ability to project the characteristics of a 19 year-old. Who knows? I just settled for him to be relatively low-key.
“Mr. Rice’s Secret” touches on several subjects that rarely get addressed in mainstream films. How do you feel audiences will respond to this film and its message?
I think the intention of the writer and director is firm, focused and quite clear. There is no ambiguity to the situation. Audiences will respond to the honesty and clear insight of what they are watching in a positive way.
“Mr. Rice’s Secret” is opening in New York as part of a retrospective of your film career. Where do you see this film in the context of your work in films to date?
I don’t really think in those terms. It was nice to play a father/confidant figure because of my own family ties. These days, having three children, two grown of course, draws me toward material that projects certain truths for the younger, I guess.
“Mr. Rice’s Secret” is a Canadian production in which teenagers intelligently face questions of mortality and faith in each other. In many recent American productions, however, teenagers are portrayed as sex-obsessed and shallow and rarely face the challenges that the young people meet in “Mr. Rice’s Secret.” Do you think American filmmakers have the proper image of today’s young people?
A majority of producers and directors have no wish or desire to see past the buck or vain glory. The banana skin rules. I find many European releases are far more considered vehicles for timely and important questions.
You’ve appeared in relatively few Hollywood productions, with most of your film work concentrated in independent films like “Mr. Rice’s Secret” and in productions based outside of the U.S. Have you specifically avoided working in Hollywood films or you find the opportunities in non-Hollywood productions to be more stimulating?
I have, on the whole, avoided Hollywood like the plague. One cameo for Scorsese (Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ”) to me brings so much more satisfaction than, say, a James Bond. For instance, I turned down the part of the villain ‘Zorin’ in “A View To Kill” as it simply was a terrible script and I saw little reason for spending so long on something that bad, that workmanlike. And I told them so. I don’t think anyone had turned down a ‘major’ role in a Bond before. It really didn’t go down too well at all. They were very tetchy about it. The only Hollywood movie I regret having passed on was a piece that Ridley Scott wanted me very much to do. He even determined that if I didn’t do it he wouldn’t make it. Unfortunately I was touring at that time so it became an impossibility. He never did make it, so at least I know that I don’t have to kick myself too hard.
….The only role that one could define as ‘Hollywood’ that I have accepted recently was for Ben Stiller with his ‘Zoolander’ fashion epic. It was just too funny a script to walk past. An absolute hoot !!
Which current films and filmmakers excite you? And what trends in contemporary films leave you disappointed or worse?
Ang Lee, Tom Tykwer, Darren Aronofsky are among my favorites. But there again, there really are a lot of tremendous films being made. You just have to search for them. It’s always subject matter over content that leaves me cold. The subject is so often a potpourri of effect and bad visual punning against tissue thin content. No writing, no thoughtful direction.