We lost one of the greats in the history of entertainment when David Bowie passed away on January 10. Since then, a number of his collaborators have spoken about what it was like to work with the singer and actor. The man had a number of film roles but one of his last was as the enigmatic inventor Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige. Now, the director has opened up about working with the icon, and why he had to have Bowie in his movie.
According to Christopher Nolan, casting the small, but vital role of Nikola Tesla in The Prestige was one of the most difficult actions in the film. As the one character in the movie who was based on a real person, it was important that the man playing him be right for the role. Like all right-thinking people in the world, Nolan is a huge fan of David Bowie. At some point, the director made a connection between the two creative and unique individuals, and realized Bowie was the only one who could play the part. He explained to Entertainment Weekly that he did everything he could to get the man on board.
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.
Nolan says that he "begged" Bowie to take the part, telling him that he no idea where to go with it if Bowie didn’t take it. The director doesn’t go into detail regarding what he said to convince The Goblin King to take the role but Nolan was apparently able to convince David Bowie that he should do it.
The Prestige tells the story of competing illusionists, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale who repeatedly try to outdo each other. Jackman’s character, who has a personal vendetta against Bale’s, has an idea for the ultimate illusion and ends up going to a man with a reputation for the impossible in order to make the idea a reality. Check out a scene below.
Just from that brief glimpse, it’s nearly impossible to consider anybody else in the part. David Bowie was unlike any performer who came before him. While Bowie’s film career was only a footnote in his life, it’s unfortunate we’ll never be able to see him onscreen again. He was one of a kind.