×

David Bowie’s ‘Man Who Fell to Earth’ Co-Star on His ‘Heavenly’ First Movie Role

When actress Candy Clark talks about co-starring with David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 sci-fi masterpiece “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” the 40 years that have passed since the film’s New Mexico production melt away and the vibrancy of the experience is alive with details and insights.

“Nic’s (Roeg) original idea for the role of the alien, Thomas Jerome Newton was the author Michael Crichton, because he was tall and a little bit unworldly. But my recollection is that film producers Arlene Sellers and Alex Winitsky were talking to Nic and I about the casting and I believe it was Alex who said, “Have you thought about David Bowie?”

That was quickly followed-up, says Clark, who had previously co-starred in John Huston’s “Fat City” with Jeff Bridges and the hit George Lucas ‘50s homage, “American Graffiti,” with a real-live Bowie encounter.

“We were fortunate in that Bowie was staying in L.A. at the time, so Nic and I went over to his place on Doheny. I remember Nic brought a bottle of wine. It was a nice meeting and the next thing I knew, I was starring in a movie with David Bowie.”

Clark knew of Bowie’s musical achievements, but she says today that having not seen him perform was essential to their working relationship. “I went to one of his concerts after we finished the film and thank God I didn’t see him before the movie. I would have been in awe, a complete groupie!”

Once the film went into production, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and shooting in and around Santa Fe, the experience of working with Bowie only got better. According to Clark that was due in no small measure to Bowie’s approach to the challenge of his first starring role in a film, as well as his uncanny appropriateness for conveying the character of an alien stranded on earth.

“David wasn’t a person who ever expressed what he was feeling,” recalls Clark. “He never revealed anything he was feeling, such as ‘I’m so nervous,’ so you never knew what was going on inside him. Plus, he only spent time with what I would call ‘his entourage.’ So outside of acting together, we never had dinner or spent any non-working time together. He was very removed and quiet and of course this was perfect for me, because my character, Mary-Lou, (his lover) never knew what was going on inside Thomas Newton.”

While other cast members such as Bernie Casey, Rip Torn, Buck Henry and Clark all had signficant experience in films, Clark says Bowie the novice actor already had the habits and instincts that made working with him “a joy.”

“David loved to run dialogue, which,” explains Clark, “was a key component of how I needed to work. We’d run it backwards and forwards. He wanted to get it perfect. We’d wrap a scene and instead of going off to rest, we’d start running dialogue on the next scene that was coming up while the crew was setting up the shot. And the dialogue in this film was so good, none of us wanted to improvise a word.”

In Clark’s view, this made total sense, even though Bowie did not have the acting experience, but it was “because he was a musician. Musician go through the songs over and over. They rehearse and they play a set and they go back either the same night or the next town and they go through it again. It was second nature to David and it made working with him a joy.”

In addition to the on-set chemistry and working habits, Clark notes that Bowie was determined to make this film experience successful, even though he was just coming out of a life-threatening drug problem that was documented vividly in Alan Yentob’s British documentary, “Cracked Actor.”

“David vowed to Nic, ‘No drug use,’’ says Clark and he was a man of his word, “clear as a bell, focused, friendly and professional and leading the team.” She also notes that Roeg brought “an entirely British crew with him to New Mexico and I remember David was very happy about that.”

Clark says that if anyone doubts her recollection of Bowie’s dedication to showing up healthy and ready to shoot, there’s an easy way to confirm her version, noting “You can see it clearly because of (DP) Tony Richmond’s brilliant cinematography. Look at David: his skin is luminescent. He’s gorgeous, angelic, heavenly. He was absolutely perfect as the man from another planet.”

But for all of the “joy” of shooting, the aftermath of the film’s production was a terminally troubled release.

“Cinema 5 (the film’s distributor) took pride in never cutting a director’s work,” says Clark, “but (Cinema 5 chief) Don Rugoff cut this film to smithereens. Nic took an entire year editing the picture and I got into a preview screening and had to call Nic and tell him, ‘They’ve chopped our film to bits. They’ve destroyed it.’ So it was a complete, shocking surprise and of course the film made no sense, so they couldn’t sell the product at all when it was first released.”

Thankfully for Bowie fans and movie fans, there is a happy ending because of Candy Clark and what has become known as “director’s cut.”

“In the ‘90s,” recalls Clark, “I found out who owned the film rights and I called them and said, ‘You know I think you’re missing the boat here. I keep getting a lot of questions about this film and I’ll make you a deal. I’ll do all the publicity you need, just use the old poster for the film and let’s put this out as a director’s cut.’ But they told me the negative was chopped to bits and it was impossible. That’s when I said, ‘I know where the original negative is in England.” Cut to the 1992 Criterion laserdisc release, replete with audio commentary, a version and package that is now lovingly restored on the Criterion BluRay release.

As pleased as Clark is that the work of David Bowie, Nic Roeg, Clark and all of “Earth’s” creative team survived the catastrophe of the original release, she sounds like the film was shot last week when she regales the listener with a couple of little known facts from the film.

“Do you know the scene where I play David Bowie playing Thomas Jerome Newton?” she asks mischievously. “Here’s something special to me,” she adds. “Do you remember the scene where Thomas Newton is back on his home planet with his wife and children? That’s me. I got to be something Mary-Lou never got to be: I was Thomas Newton’s wife.”

More Music

  • Hugh Jackman 39th Brit Awards, Show,

    Concert Review: Hugh Jackman Sparkles and Shines at the Hollywood Bowl

    Hugh Jackman is out to prove he truly is the greatest showman. On Friday and Saturday night, Jackman’s “The Man. The Music. The Show.” world tour stopped in Los Angeles for a sold-out two nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Ten years ago, Jackman hosted the 2009 Oscars just a few blocks south of the venue at [...]

  • Portrait of author and writer Paul

    Paul Krassner, Satirist, Yippies Co-Founder and Counter-Culture Figure, Dies at 87

    Satirist, publisher, author and American counter-culture figure Paul Krassner died at his home in Desert Hot Springs, California on July 21. He was 87. His daughter Holly Krassner Dawson, confirmed the news to the Associated Press. Born in New York City on April 9, 1932, Krassner eventually moved to Southern California where he lived with [...]

  • Cameron Crowe, David Crosby, A.J. Eaton.

    Cameron Crowe on Why He Loved Leaving David Crosby Doc on a CSNY Question Mark

    David Crosby may or may not have stuck a joint in Cameron Crowe’s mouth the first time he ever met the future filmmaker, when Crosby was peaking with Crosby Stills Nash & Young and his interviewer was a precocious 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent. As Crowe said to Jimmy Kimmel the other night, “I remember it [...]

  • Adam Lambert Queen

    Concert Review: Queen and Adam Lambert Capitalize on 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

    About half way through Queen and Adam Lambert’s Saturday night show at the Forum in Inglewood, guitarist Brian May took the stage solo to perform a few numbers. He began by acknowledging that day’s 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, as the video screen behind him streamed a real-time replay of the Apollo [...]

  • R Kelly Sexual Assult Accusations Mugshot

    R. Kelly to Face Charges in New York on Aug. 2

    R. Kelly has been ordered brought to New York for his arraignment on racketeering charges that allege he recruited young girls for sexual abuse at concerts across the country, according to the Chicago Tribune. The charges are part of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the singer that have been filed this year. Kelly, who [...]

  • Sturgill Simpson Announces New Anime Film,

    Sturgill Simpson Announces an Anime Film — and Album to Go With It — at Comic-Con

    From alt-country hero to anime producer, Grammy winner Sturgill Simpson is broadening his horizons. Appearing on a panel Saturday night at Comic-Con, Simpson announced an animated Netflix film, “Sound & Fury,” that he’s producing and wrote the original story for, to be accompanied by a simultaneously released album this fall he describes as “sleazy, steamy [...]

  • Garth Brooks Brings Blake Shelton to

    Garth Brooks Brings Blake Shelton to Boise for a Beer-and-Tears Stadium Gig (Watch)

    “I was singing with Garth Brooks! I’m freaking out!” said Blake Shelton, shortly after joining his fellow Okie on stage in Boise, Idaho Friday night. Shelton had flown out to the first of Brooks’ two nights at Albertsons Stadium to shoot a live music video for “Dive Bar,” the recently recorded duet that Brooks just [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content