'The Prestige' 10 Years Later: Why Christopher Nolan Had to Have David Bowie in the Film

by Stacy Lambe 7:15 AM PDT, October 17, 2016
Playing 'The Prestige' 10 Years Later: Why Christopher Nolan Had to Have David Bowie in the Film

Halfway through Christopher Nolan's 2006 thriller The Prestige, the legendary David Bowie appears as the real-life Nikola Tesla in what would become the late musician’s final major film role.

While the mysterious thriller about rival magicians starred Christian Bale -- reuniting with the director after 2005's Batman Begins -- and Hugh Jackman, it was Bowie's cameo as the physicist that quickly got audiences talking. If, that is, they even realized the singer was in the film.

"Some people don't even notice it's [David]," Nolan told ET in 2006, ahead of the film's theatrical release. "Some people who even know he's in it sort of forget or miss it and just afterward realize and go, 'Oh, that's David Bowie.' He really lost himself in the part, which was terrific. It was fun to watch him do."

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"David Bowie, who I've been a fan of since I was a kid, seemed absolutely perfect for [Nikola]," Nolan continued, explaining why Bowie was perfect for the role. "Nikola Tesla, who's a real-life figure, he's said to have been the origin of the myth of the mad scientist … And we felt to play that part we needed somebody of extraordinary charisma and just a strange aura about them."

While Bowie, whose last starring role was in Mr. Rice's Secret six years prior, was perfect for the part, it took some convincing to get him to return to the screen. "I just picked up the phone and called David Bowie's agent," Nolan said. "He immediately, of course, said no. So, I kept asking and eventually flew to New York to explain to him why I was completely stuck if I couldn't get him to do it. So he agreed. And I'm glad he did.

"When someone's right, you find yourself unable to imagine doing it any other way," Nolan added.

Photo: Buena Vista

Neither Nolan nor Bowie could have predicted The Prestige would be his last major film credit before the singer died on Jan. 10, 2016, from liver cancer. Dying two days after his 69th birthday, Bowie left behind a legacy that extended from his prolific career in music to an unforgettable onscreen presence, with memorable roles in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), Labyrinth (1986) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Nolan, like many who worked with Bowie onscreen, had extremely fond memories of their brief time together. "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," the director wrote in a tribute for Entertainment Weekly. "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."

"[David] was very warm. He was lovely," Jennifer Connelly told ET about Bowie's presence on set, ahead of Labyrinth's 30th anniversary. "He was just a nice, sweet guy -- cracking jokes and friendly with the crew."

"To me, not only was he a genius, he was a genius who had the time to be kind. [That] was my experience of him," she said following his death. "So my thoughts are with his family." 

"Meeting him and working with him on his music video is hands down the highlight of my life," model Andreja Pejic said last year in a conversation with ET, recalling Bowie's comforting nature while filming the 2013 music video for "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)." "He was incredibly sweet; we chatted about politics in between me sticking claws down his throat."

"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," Nolan wrote. "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."

While Bowie's acting career slowed after The Prestige, his son, Duncan Jones, started making a name for himself as a director, first directing a 2006 ad campaign for French Connection before making his feature film debut with 2009's critically acclaimed Moon. In June, he released his third feature directorial project, Warcraft, an adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name.

"[My dad] taught me a lot of things, but one of them was to be brave and to go with what feels right. And for me, you know, having an opportunity to do this [film] felt right," Jones explained to ET in May.

"He got the chance to see an early rough cut, and, you know, he's a dad, so he was proud," Jones added. "He was proud back then and I'm sure he would have been proud of the finished one."