Acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese has worked with the biggest names of them all. It goes without saying, then, that the filmmaker doesn’t get overawed by the talent before him—that was until he met David Bowie, of course.
Scorsese, who famously cast Bowie in the role of religious figure Pontius Pilate in his controversial 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, once said: “I was a little taken aback when I met Bowie,” when reflecting on the Starman’s career.
The film which brought the two together, 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, Bowie himself.
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.
It could have been so different, however, when Scorsese recently revealed that Bowie’s close friend and collaborator Lou Reed auditioned for the very same role. “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 said.
It was that working relationship that propelled Scorsese’s admiration for Bowie, whose performance exceeded even those who knew him best. When Bowie passed away in 2016, Scorsese was drawn into a conversation about how influential the artists had become: “He was one of those extraordinary artists that come along so rarely,” Scorsese said. “There’s a song on his album Low called ‘Speed of Life,’ and that’s the speed at which he seemed to move – his music and his image and his focus were always changing, always in motion, and with every movement, every change, he left a deep imprint on the culture.”
He added: “He was such a quiet and concentrated and thoughtful man, and he was truly humble… he was a sheer joy.
“He was a great artist and he left behind a remarkable body of work.”