Martin Scorsese has revealed that Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed auditioned for a role in his 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ but was edged out by David Bowie.
The film, which was written by Paul Schrader, is an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ controversial 1955 novel and stars the likes of Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton and, of course, David Bowie.
Shot entirely in Morocco, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation. The project, given a big budget for Scorsese to work with, suffered numerous setbacks in pre-production with a number of casting reworks due to repeated breakdowns in negotiations. While Dafoe’s performance as Christ garnered positive reviews, he only landed the role after Aidan Quinn passed on the job. Likewise, with the role of Pontius Pilate, musician Sting had initially been lined up before he decided not to be involved which resulted in Bowie being included.
If the upheaval wasn’t difficult enough for the production team, Scorsese was tasked with the tricky predicament of picking between two close friends in his casting decision as Lou Reed and Bowie auditioned for the same part. “Lou and I got to know each other over the years,” the director revealed in a new article for The Guardian. “I was so touched when he wrote a song about me and Sam Shepard on his 1984 album New Sensations – actually, it was about our work and how much it meant to him.
“In 1987, he auditioned for the role of Pontius Pilate in my film The Last Temptation of Christ, but his old friend David Bowie ended up playing the part,” Scorsese added.
The filmmaker would go on to explain that while his and Reed’s paths would cross numerous times in the years that followed, they were unable to turn their friendship into a working relationship: “In the 90s, we tried to get a film made based on Dirty Boulevard from Lou’s album New York, from a script by Reinaldo Povod, who had written a play called Cuba and His Teddy Bear with Bob De Niro and who later passed away at a very young age. We were never able to get that picture into production.”