Sunday, January 31, 2016

Remembering David Bowie, By The Roles He Didn't Play

Three weeks ago, artist, musician, singer/songwriter, rock star, glam-god, king of freaks, David Bowie lost the battle to cancer. So many were impacted by his life and legacy and his influence on a lot of music is undeniable, while his own music is quite iconic. What is most curious is that Bowie's style and ability was never singled out. He was never married to one style or another. If you didn't like the poppy Modern Love, then try the ballady Man Who Sold The World. If Space Oddity wasn't your story, then maybe Suffragette City or John I'm Only Dancing. If not Rebel Rebel, how about Young Americans? There was something somewhere in his repertoire for everybody, and that is something that can't be said of every artist. The music, thankfully, lives on forever.

Like other musicians, Bowie occasionally made forays into acting. His star may have been much too bright for the likes of the silver screen, a pattern which would follow him through much of his attempted film career. Perhaps though, that is the trade-off. For just one more remarkable actor, we instead got the singularly remarkable David Bowie.

Here are some reflections on the most memorable roles he didn't get to play.

The Thin White Duke auditioned for Lord of the Rings, but was turned down to play Elrond, Elf Lord of Rivendell.

The most famous of these roles was that of Elrond, mostly because Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy ended up going on to become one of the most successful series of all time, and many actors have since expressed regret for passing up the chance to do the roles they were offered. Notably, Sean Connery turned down Gandalf, the part that eventually went to Sir Ian McKellen, because Connery didn't understand or know the part he was being asked to play. Unlike the rest of the list, Bowie actively campaigned for the role of the Elf who eventually brings together the Fellowship, and plays an integral role in the final chapter. As far as I can tell, his seems to be the only audition that has the attached story of rejection included for the public to see.

According to Jackson, Bowie was too high-profile for the movie series. Some may misunderstand the meaning, as even Hugo Weaving, who eventually got the part, was already unmistakable as Agent Smith, the villain of the original Matrix movie. There were other well-known actors in other roles too, but none carried the name and notability of Bowie. Not at the time, anyway. Liv Tyler, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, were all known but not high profile. Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen were taking on their highest profile roles in this film. Sir Ian is nigh-unrecognizable beneath that beard. John Rhys-Davies may be the most established, and he was a supporting character in his highest profile outing previous to this. Bowie was a star unto himself, a larger-than-life personality that may have been quite the strain on the movie's ensemble foundation. While it would have been magical to have Bowie as a magical being in the trilogy, it perhaps was for the best. But it is the most spectacular of what-if's.

Ziggy Stardust was announced to be playing Bond villain Max Zorin, but turned it down as the film went into filming.

What would end up being third Bond Roger Moore's seventh and final outing as 007 featured one of the more popular and creepy villains of the Bond canon, certainly one of the more memorable of Moore's tenure (the other being Scaramanga, played by the remarkable Christopher Lee, also RIP). That is certainly in large part thanks to Christopher Walken, who makes his mark on the series.

But how fascinating could it have been to have the glam star go head-to-head with James Bond as the charismatic, withdrawn, slightly androgynous microchip mogul? Something off-putting and compelling all at once, not unlike his turn as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. We'll never know though, since Bowie didn't want to spend all his time sitting around while his stunt man did everything, according to him. It's an unfortunate assessment too, since Walken gets some of the best acting parts for a Bond villain, at least in that era, and he would have greatly outshone a Moore who was certainly past his prime and phoning it in.

Apocryphally, Major Tom was attached to play Captain Hook in the Spielberg sequel.

Somewhere in the misty sands of time between Hook becoming a years-later sequel rather than another remake of the classic story, Bowie was supposedly attached to play the aging Captain James Hook.

Now, knowing the final product, it's hard for me to imagine anyone but Dustin Hoffman nailing this role. But Bowie just might have had the charm to do it. Also, going back to Jackson's assessment of the Lord of the Rings situation, Bowie would have had more make-up and hair on his side. Hoffman is very nearly unrecognizable to me beneath that huge head of hair and ridiculous 'brows and 'stache combo. With that and perhaps even some prosthetics, Bowie may have disappeared altogether. It's an electric combination to think about: Williams as the Pan and Bowie as the dark and sinister man.

It would be interesting to have seen a slightly later-era Bowie take on a character that was dealing with aging and passing his prime. Not that Bowie in the early 90s was anywhere near past his prime, but it was certainly a time after his most notable work, much like Hook does for the Captain, who has bested both Peter Pan and the Crocodile when we meet up with him in the story.

A well-known Hollywood legend was that the Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels semi-remake of Bedtime Stories was inspired by Jagger & Bowie's Dancing In The Street music video.

A short one, but incredibly fascinating to me, since I love the movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. According to the writers, they adapted a screenplay of the David Niven/Marlon Brando con movie with the two rock stars in mind.

While Caine and Martin are unquestionably two seasoned comedians at the top of their game in this movie (Caine at his most wittily suave, Martin at his most bumbling debonair) there is a certain camp, rather Ocean's 11 charm to having Bowie as Caine and Jagger as Martin. It's especially true when you've seen the music video which is lovely, but batshit for the star power that it's in it. Then you think about the fact that the writers said they were inspired to have those two as the leads for the movie because they saw that music video... It adds up to a truly zany, insane film. And I'm slightly disappointed I didn't get to see it.

Apparently, David himself was also rather perturbed that they were also passed up for it, maybe even never asked at all.

When it was put out there that Tim Burton was going to be remaking the Batman franchise, The Man Who Fell To Earth was rumored to be sought for The Man Who Wanted To Watch The World Burn.

Throughout The Caped Crusader's long film tenure, dozens upon dozens of high profile names have been attached to all the roles as they get announced. So it's with a grain of salt that I include it here.

This one does have a specific timeframe, at least. Burton was looking to reboot the franchise for the big screen, bring Batman back to his roots as an asskicker, bring back the series' darkness and slightly more grounded reality (though not to the extent that Christopher Nolan's trilogy would go to a couple decades later). Around that time, Bowie was one of many actors rumored to be courted for the role. It's a stellar list of awesome creeps and weirdos: Willem Dafoe, Tim Curry, Robin Williams (who, sadly and famously was used unknowingly as a bargaining chip to eventually get Jack Nicholson to sign on, and was possibly never seriously considered) and John Lithgow (James Woods and John Glover have also been rumored to be on that list). Out of all those, Bowie may have been the most unlikely casting, and it might have worked, when you think about it: Michael Keaton, a comedian known for his farce, plays the tortured identity of Batman, while the rockstar who was most famous for playing an alien would play his most famous, otherwordly adversary.

Bowie definitely has the chops for it, and it may have worked quite well. Again, going back to this Jackson argument about Bowie's indelibility, Nicholson for me has always had that same problem. So even going back and watching it now, and even giving due credit, and as good as it is, it's never far from Nicholson. Which is perhaps both its greatest weakness and greatest strength. Much like Bowie, must have been both curse and blessing to be the persona of David Bowie.

The King of the Goblins may have once been attached to play the King of the Underworld.

The most apocryphal story, because I can't seem to find his name linked to the movie anywhere but one place, There's a good chance that Bowie was at one time approached to voice the fire-headed lord of the damned, in the Disney Greek mythology, gospel infused hero's journey Hercules. Nothing else is said, except that he turned it down, before producers turned to John Lithgow, whose interpretation was unexpected but they attempted to make it work, and fired him after a couple months of filming, before ultimately turning to James Woods, who gave yet another unexpected performance, one that ultimately worked better with the film overall.

Bowie's would have been really something remarkable, though. His amazing, expressive voice coupled with the fact that you were removing the visual element of his performance, meant that for once, he would have had no limits on what he could do acting-wise. And for a star who was most known for breaking any and all limits set around him, it would have been an outstanding challenge.

Goodbye, Ziggy Stardust. We salute you.