Christopher Nolan Had No Plan B For David Bowie Turning Down The Prestige

When Christopher Nolan was casting "The Prestige," there was only one person he had in mind for the role of Nikola Tesla, based on the real-life inventor. David Bowie took some convincing, but he eventually agreed to play Tesla — which is a good thing, since Nolan didn't have a backup plan in place for what to do without him.

Early in his music career, Bowie had cultivated stage personas like the Thin White Duke and the glam-rock Ziggy Stardust, so he already had acting experience of a sort even before he starred in his first major theatrical film role in "The Man Who Fell to Earth" in 1976. He subsequently appeared in a number of other noteworthy films, such as "The Hunger," "Labyrinth," and "The Last Temptation of Christ," but of course, being a rock star meant that he could afford to be choosy about the movie roles he accepted.

After Bowie died in early 2016, Nolan recalled to Entertainment Weekly how he arrived at the idea of putting him in "The Prestige," saying:

"When we were casting The Prestige, we had gotten very stuck on the character of Nikola Tesla. Tesla was this other-worldly, ahead-of-his-time figure, and at some point it occurred to me he was the original Man Who Fell to Earth. As someone who was the biggest Bowie fan in the world, once I made that connection, he seemed to be the only actor capable of playing the part. He had that requisite iconic status, and he was a figure as mysterious as Tesla needed to be."

'I would say I begged him'

Nolan already had some clout when he made "The Prestige," having helmed films like "Memento," "Insomnia," and "Batman Begins." However, some of his biggest hits, such as "The Dark Knight" and "Inception," were still ahead of him, and Bowie wasn't quite ready to commit to anything when Nolan first offered him the part of Tesla. Nolan continued to EW:

"It took me a while to convince him, though — he turned down the part the first time. It was the only time I can ever remember trying again with an actor who passed on me. I petitioned to let me explain why he was the right actor for it. In total honesty, I told him if he didn't agree to do the part, I had no idea where I would go from there. I would say I begged him."

Bowie's reluctance to be involved in "The Prestige" is mirrored by the film's storyline, in which Hugh Jackman's stage magician, Robert Angier, otherwise known as The Great Danton, heads to Colorado Springs in search of Tesla, who has an electrified fence around his compound. Angier first has to deal with an intermediary, Tesla's assistant, Mr. Alley (Andy Serkis), who greets him with a shotgun in hand.

It's only by staying at the local hotel "indefinitely" that Angier is able to get an introduction to Tesla himself, who comes walking through a field of crackling electricity in his laboratory and is able to light lightbulbs with a handshake. The character of Tesla, a rival of Thomas Edison, does indeed have an "other-worldly" quality, as Nolan put it. Thankfully, Nolan's reach didn't exceed his grasp in this case and he was able to convince Bowie to appear in his film so that "The Prestige" could actually get made.