Exclusive interviews with David Bowie Stardust filmmakers & cast explore why it has sparked fury from fans

By Francesca Lombardo. Upcoming David Bowie film Stardust which will be released worldwide over the next couple of months, has premiered last month at the Rome Film Festival 14th Edition with the Director, Gabriel Range, lead actor Jonny Flynn and the producer  Fabien Westerhoff present at  Rome Film Festival 2020 to present it while the official trailers was released in the UK last Wednesday, sparking  fury from fans.

Stardust film is already raising controversy as most of David Bowie‘s s fans expected a major biopic on his most famous year which featured his major hits. Stardust is instead focusing on one specific David Bowie aspect of his life when he had not yet reached that global fame we know him for. He was a 24-year-old artist who had achieved some success with Space Oddity in the UK but was trying to break in the US market and  in 1971 he embarks on his first tour to America that proved to then to be quite disastrous. As he had no paperwork he couldn’t play any of his songs.

But this  is the story of the years that not many of his fans know about; when he was still struggling as an artist about finding his true music alter ego and identity which makes the film altogether more interesting. With Stardust we are learning about David Bowie in a very different light; o the young musician who is trying to figure out his musical alter ego and still trying to find himself. It was the research of those years that lead to the creation of the famous Ziggy character. But it is the story of a young troubled musician who struggled with the fear of mental health (schizophrenia) which ran in his family, giving us an intimate portrait of this very vulnerable side of David Bowie.

The film starts with David Bowie travelling on a tour to America in 1971. Why did you choose early years’ episode of David’s career?

We wanted to make a film not about this success but about the challenges that even a major music icon as David Bowie had to face before becoming David Bowie and to achieve that level of global fame. To some respect, we wanted to honour those struggling years and his sheer determination to become the big icon we know. Those years are also quite interesting He already had his first success with Space oddity but he wasn’t still quite uncertain about his music alter ego and to some extent, those years were the incubation time of his Ziggy Alter Ego character which propelled his fame to unprecedented levels. We wanted also to explore another aspect that is even less known; the spectrum of his brother’s illness had a half brother called Terry who had a huge influence on him. He was the one who brought him to his first gig and brought for him his first record. So there are two very major factors that at this time defines his life, the uncertainty of his career and of the fear of developing mental illness, and how compelling both were for the making of the artist he then became.

What have been the challenges as an actor to bring to the screen such a major global star? 

(The Actor) To play a real person that was not just an impersonation of a fictional character where you can have all a go at creative liberty it is always challenging. To bring an iconic figure to the screen as David Bowie is even more. However, this is a specific moment of his life when he was not yet that iconic start. He is a man who was very vulnerable and been able to portray and access that vulnerability made me feel as an actor very connected with him He had a lot of conflictual situation, real problems that any person could experience, and to some extent, it is more relatable than aspects related to global fame. So this was the key thing for me to accept this film and this role. Gabriel told me that he didn’t want to make it picture-perfect but deliver an interpretation of his challenges and feelings of struggle and fear of failure. 

(The producer) We have seen numerous films dedicated to pop stars, what is the peculiarity of this film as it appears very different from the big biopic that has been produced. There has been already plenty of documentaries about him as an iconic public figure. We didn’t want to do that. There is already a lot of material about different versions of David Bowie, depending on how old you are. It is very difficult to create one version of him that completely represents him that is the reason why we believe we didn’t want to do a biopic on his entire life. The unique opportunity we had with this film was to put a human face on the young and struggling man before he became an icon, which is the difference from a film that focuses on the years of his great successes. We purposely, we didn’t want to make a big traditional pic. From our point of view, we wanted to make something unique and original and we wanted Flynn as he is a musician himself. It is quite a challenge as you’re reinterpreting a very famous person and everyone has an opinion about it but this is just one version of David Bowie. 

What was your first impression when you read the script? Would you have preferred to interpret the famous David Bowie years?

(The Actor) I don’t think I would have wanted to try and play David after Ziggy’s years. I know from the start that I was only interested in doing this kind of film because there were so much more fun and character exploration in impersonating a character that had to face such challenges and major problems: This is was a much more intimate film for me as an actor than doing a film that featured all his biggest hits songs. That was for me exactly the excitement. So, no I would not have done a traditional biopic I think this kind of film 

Was the Rolling stone interview that is featured in the film published then? 

(Director) The Rolling Stone’s interview was published and it was quite entertaining. The choice we made about that period of his life was was important for us as it was a time when he was setting some key questions about himself and his identity and finding answers. That whole trip to American was his big question: how am I going to be to achieve that fame I want to achieve and during that trip, he found the seeds of Ziggy’s persona which propelled him then to global fame then. 

Films worships fame and celebrities as the success of a film is often based on the big names of the actors but these films deconstruct the myth of fame by showing David Bowie in his pre-global fame years. How do you think fame has changed over time and how the film industry or biopic today engage with it?

(The Director) Well, fame is the same as those early years but what has changed dramatically is how it is achieved today and for what reason. Today we have instant fame which is achieved often on no specific talents. The film shows how much harder was back then to achieve it and even now for your real talent. Now there is this expectation that fame should be very instant. What is remarkable and inspiring is that David worked so hard to become David Bowie. Those were also the years when David had a lot of insecurities about his talent and as a musician; he felt that artists of the likes of Lou Reed had a raw talent he didn’t have, therefore he always felt compelled to work hard to get where he wanted to get. This was David’s experience with fame.

(The Actor) I think, is pretty sad that celebrities are in the film industry a currency instead of artistry. You hear stories about people being cast because they have a huge social media following and that is pretty sad, and a really dangerous game to focus on that type of fast celebrities. Then you have David is someone who has worked for years and years to get where he got. And it is something to reflect on and I think it makes us realise that maybe we have lost our way.

Are you fearing the fans reaction to the film who maybe were expecting a film about his biggest hits and his most famous years?

(The Director) I am not worried about expectations. We made this choice of representing this part of his life. We wanted Jon Flynn to play David for various reasons; he is a great fan and he is a musician himself. I see it as a love letter from one artist to another artist. We just didn’t want to do that kind of film on his biggest hits but express our admiration and respect for his incredible artistry by also bringing the man to the screen. The audience expectations on a film on the greatest hits that is just a different film. Maybe one day a big studio would make that biopic everyone is expecting but personally, for me, that wasn’t a film that I was yearning to make, I was more interested in making something that was a bit more thoughtful and intimate that doesn’t have the pressure of bringing on the screen the catalogue for its greatest hits. It just didn’t feel necessary for that chapter of this life.

How much the film is grounded in facts and was the mental illness spectrum just a fear? 

(Director) The film is grounded on absolutes in facts. David went to American in 1971 and landed with no paperwork so he could not play a single note of his music, that is why he went on play to all these odd parties. As for the schizophrenia issue I did a huge amount of research about his brother schizophrenia. David spoke about that fear of mental illness on many occasion, pretty much every song speaks of that was it was very clearly something that was at the front of his concerns and worries. I think David’s understanding of schizophrenia was that it was genetic so he felt there was this bad seed in his family and it may potentially be in him. But today we have learned that schizophrenia is more about how we are raised than genetic code, but David was afraid of the possibility that he might develop it too at some point.

What was the relationship with the Bowie family for the making of this film?

(Director) The producer of the film set up to make it independently that is as it was for the film made on Churchill. Part of this is to keep editorial independence of the movie: we would be thrilled if they see it and I hope they feel respected in the way we portrayed David. 

(Producer) Well, our film is one of the many approaches to David’s body of work. There is a BBC series on David Bowie, a big exhibition so David is always the subject of great interest in respect to bringing him back to the audience. We have contacted the David Bowie estate and they have confirmed that there is not currently any making of a big studio biopic, which is good for us. Stardust will be released worldwide soon and right now is the only film on DAVID BOWIE.

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