A friend has just reminded me about the film Labyrinth and just maybe, it’s time share my David Bowie story … again.
It was around ’86 and I was a struggling actor in London. An advertisement appeared in the trade paper the Stage & Television today looking for ‘Actors/Actresses who can waltz’. I’d learnt to waltz as a child, by standing on my father’s shoes on our kitchen floor. On the rare occasion when we were listening and dance music came on the radio, Mum and Dad would push the table and chairs to the side of the room and dance. Next it was the kid’s turn and I’d managed to polish up those skills at Drama school in period dance classes.
Every dancer in London came to the open audition and we all waited patiently until called into a small dance studio, paired up and, to the music of an accordion player, waltzed around the room. As eliminations proceeded I found I was being kept on and some of the female dancers, spotting this, tried to manoeuvre themselves into my arms. When it comes to ballroom dancing however, I can be a bit choosy and soon found myself coming back to recalls over the next few days. I got the job as a dancer in the masked ballroom scene of Labyrinth staring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, directed by Kermit the Frog alias Jim Henson.
It turned out that I was the only actor in the group which was otherwise made up of dancers from the Royal Ballet and West End shows. We had two weeks to rehearse the dancing and it also turned out that Bowie (who wrote the music) was a stranger to ¾ time so we had to make it all look like a waltz.
If you look at the clip, fairly early on (0.07sec), there are two shots of me, with horned mask and a partner in an apricot ball gown. Bowie remarked to me during shooting, that he was in danger of getting his eyes poked out by my horns.
The other challenge I remember was the set. Ballrooms are usually flat – this one was all up and down stairs and on different levels. Now, dancing with a show girl partner in this situation is difficult, because they don’t understand that they have to follow. In the end I had to clutch her tightly, whisper urgently in her ear. ‘We are going up and down stairs and I’m the only one who can see where we are going. Follow me.’ In the final cut, for some reason, we got more shots that the star couple form the Royal Ballet.
My memory of David Bowie (that’s the point of this piece) is that he was an ordinary bloke, who came out of his dressing room in a break to ask if any of us knew what the cricket score was – no one did. My other memory is of the teenage Jennifer Connelly (now an award winning actor) looking fantastic in her cellophane ball-gown. She would emerge from her school lessons to do a scene, briefly pausing to allow us to take photos with her before returning to study.
At the time, it was the best paid work I’d ever had, especially as it over ran by a week and I could afford the air fair to come home to New Zealand for the first time in seven years. Thanks David, Jennifer … and Kermit.