Johnny Flynn defends Bowie film ‘Stardust’ over “bland and safe” biopics

He says co-operation without Bowie's estate won the filmmakers a certain freedom

Johnny Flynn has defended Stardust, arguing that the film avoids the “bland and safe” territory often occupied by musical biopics.

Actor and musician Flynn, who portrays David Bowie in the film that did not receive the late star’s estate’s blessing, said close cooperation risks “suppressing” the story.

“I think you could argue that this story told with the complicit cooperation of an estate would mean that it becomes a homogenised, slightly, sort of suppressed version of the story, and with all due respect to the Bowie estate and family, we just wanted to be able to tell the story that we wanted to tell,” he told Sky News’ Backstage podcast.

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“All too often we’ve seen with musician biopics and other biopics recently that eventually things just become, I think, a bit bland and safe because of the estate, trying to kind of protect the legacy of the subject.”

Stardust Johnny Flynn
‘Stardust’ opens on Bowie travelling to America for a tour in 1971. Credit: Vertigo Releasing

Stardust doesn’t feature any of Bowie’s music. The biopic, which is out now, details Bowie’s first road-trip around the US in 1971 before introducing his Ziggy Stardust alter ego.

In an interview with NME earlier this month Flynn spoke about the “violent hate mail” he’d received for his depiction of Bowie. “When the trailer came out [last October] there were a couple of weeks of getting really heavy stuff online.

“I’m not big into social media, but I was getting a lot of violent hate mail and stuff from people saying: ‘You played him like he’s insecure’. And then homophobic abuse: ‘You’re playing him all fey. Why is he wearing a dress?’”

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And addressing why he ultimately decided to take on the role after at first rejecting it, he said: “It’s this dark little film about this very dark moment in his life while he’s still putting things together.

He continued: “That was the film I wanted to make, show him covering [emotive Belgian singer] Jacques Brel, he’s into The Velvet Underground and copying [Cockney actor and teen pop icon] Anthony Newley’s vocal style… to see all those elements that he slams together to be this new innovation in Ziggy.

“It was much more interesting than doing a greatest hits jukebox musical. I think people think this is a cynical biopic in the vein of Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, then they’re offended by the idea that it’s not…”

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