Director thanks rock star dad David Bowie
LOS ANGELES—On this Father’s Day, we feature filmmaker Duncan Jones, whose reminiscences about growing up with dad David Bowie and being mentored by director Tony Scott are apt tributes to fathers and men who devote time to, and thus inspire, their kids.
Duncan, son of the glam rock star-actor with his first wife, American model Mary Angela Barnett, credits the sci-fi and fantasy books that his dad gave him as a child as the prime influence for his well-received first two films. Duncan also shared in this interview how David found time to make short stop (referring to a special technique) animation films with him. The 40-year-old London native is also grateful for the advice given to him by Tony (“Unstoppable,” “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”) when he was unsure about which path to take.
If you haven’t seen “Moon,” Duncan’s directorial debut, we highly recommend it. One of the best films of 2009, “Moon” stars Sam Rockwell as the loneliest man in space, a solitary figure on the moon near the end of a three-year job sending lunar material to earth, to solve the energy crisis. Duncan’s follow-up, “Source Code,” is a time-bending trip with Jake Gyllenhaal that solidified his status as one of the best new directors.
Excerpts from our interview:
Can you talk about your father’s influence on your life?
His work is something I have always admired and have been hugely respectful of. Whenever I see him in a film or hear his music, I can’t help but think of him. The influences were the films he showed me and the books he gave me to read.
I was introduced to Stanley Kubrick because my dad watched “A Clockwork Orange” with me when I was 8 years old—I was far too young (laughing). My introduction to fantastical or science-fiction literature was through George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984” and John Wyndham’s “Day of the Triffids” and “The Kraken Wakes”—
books dad gave me to get me to read at night.
How did you get involved in filmmaking?
I was never really that interested in music. The hobby my father and I had when I was a little kid was filmmaking. We did short stop-motion animation films. He used to show me lots of Ray Harryhausen films. We got an old 8-mm camera and a couple of table lamps. We set up “Star Wars” figures and “Smurfs” and made little stop animation movies. That got me started. I had this big blue box that was full of my story boards and scripts. I wrote these little stories. Then I took a long sabbatical from that as I was growing up and went to college and graduate school.
I was a Philosophy major and then I was on a Ph.D. track. After two and a half years, I realized I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to be a teacher. During that time, my father was working on a TV series, “The Hunger,” with Tony Scott in Montreal, Canada. Tony said, “Why don’t you take a break? This life at graduate school is obviously not what you want. Come and work with us up here and be a wild camera operator.”
So I did that for three weeks, following Tony around like a puppy. Tony was incredibly generous and kind. He spent a lot of his free time talking to me about what it’s like to work in commercials and in the film industry. He was the one who told me, “If you want to get involved in film, go back to London, go to a film school, work in commercials and when you’re ready, move into films.” That’s exactly what I did. I went to The London Film School, which is a wonderful school.
To work with your dad in a film—is that something that interests you?
I would love to be at the level where I can be the kind of director I would want to be for my father. He has worked with some pretty impressive people like Tony, Nagisa Oshima (“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”) and Nic Roeg (“The Man Who Fell to Earth”). I need a few films under my belt before I’d work with my father. I’m sure he’ll be patient (laughing).
How did you avoid the pitfalls of having a famous dad?
I’ve seen a lot of people in similar positions who crashed and burned. The big benefit I had was that I was never into that. I was never into the cool social scene stuff. I was always a bit of a geek, always a bit of an outsider. So I never felt a particular desire to go down that fast-burn route.
You were not into partying when you were younger?
I was always kind of the good kid (laughing).
Your father is a style inspiration in male fashion. How do you see fashion?
I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m terrible when it comes to fashion. If I like the look of something, I wear it. But I have no concept of whether they’re supposed to go together (laughing).
You were one of the most photographed babies. You were known then as Zowie Bowie and now it’s Duncan Jones. How did that transition take place?
I was never known as Bowie in my family. Obviously, that’s my father’s stage name. On our passports, we’re both Jones. My father is David Jones and I’m Duncan Jones. My middle name was Zowie. In the family, my nickname was Joey because they didn’t want to call me Zowie in public. But the alliteration of Zowie Bowie is too good to resist if you’re putting something to print. I’ve been called Duncan since I was 12 or 13 years old. I was Joe before that as a nickname.
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