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© Jan Versweyveld

Michael C Hall on meeting Bowie, remembering Bowie and replacing Bowie

As David Bowie's avant-garde musical 'Lazarus' comes to the King's Cross Theatre, we talk to its leading man about how it feels to play a legend

By Andrzej Lukowski
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Star of the blackly comic US TV shows ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘Dexter’, actor Michael C Hall is the lead in the avant-garde musical ‘Lazarus’, the final project completed by the late David Bowie before his death in January. Directed by the great Ivo van Hove, it transfers to London after a run off-Broadway a year ago. 

This is not a big shiny David Bowie singalong jukebox musical, is it?

‘No. I’m sure a lot of people wanted him to do that, it could have been some sort of protracted version of Lady Gaga’s Grammy performance or something – thank god it isn’t.’ 

It’s a sequel to the Bowie-starring 1976 film ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ with you as stranded alien Thomas Newton, is that right?

‘Yeah, a continuation of the story in the present day with Thomas stuck in some sort of perpetual self-imposed exile, unable to go home but unable to live fully the world and dedicated to numbing himself with gin and junk food and television.’

Bowie was always so forward-looking – why did he want to revisit this story?

‘Well I think it fascinated him, the character of Thomas Newton. Being in the world but not of it was very much in sync with what Bowie was interested in and what he was inclined to present.’

“Jesse

David Bowie in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, 1976

‘Bowie did what he's always done: he stayed a step ahead of his audience’

It seemed to genuinely baffle New York critics, but was that kind of the intention?

‘I think Bowie did what he’s always done, he stayed a step ahead of his audience. All the critical response to the piece were written without the benefit of hindsight, before anybody knew he was ill.’

Did you lose your shit when you met Bowie?

‘Initially it was totally “ohmigod”, but he had a very good ability to diffuse the inevitable sense of awe people felt when they met him. I felt like I was meeting the man not the icon, he was very kind and very enthusiastic, almost in a childlike way – he’d done all that he’d done but this was a new experience from him.’ 

How did his death partway through the run affect you?

‘His passing coincided with the day we were going into the studio to record the cast album and of course we did it and that’s too many things going on at once emotionally to even name. But when we came into the theatre the next night to perform it was very difficult to maintain focus, because at every turn we were hearing things anew. It was heavy…

“Jesse

Michael C Hall in 'Lazarus' © Jan Versweyveld

‘Maybe there is part of me that feels like a messenger’

You’ve kind of become a sort of proxy for Bowie final album ‘Blackstar’, playing the song ‘Lazarus’ at awards ceremonies and whatnot – was that ever discussed with him?

‘He did ask me specifically if I’d be open to performing “Lazarus” on the “Colbert” show, and I said of course. But to sing this song after he’d passed away at the Mercury awards – it’s beyond anything that I could have anticipated. Maybe there is part of me that feels like a messenger.’

This has been a pretty heavy conversation, but looking at the song list for ‘Lazarus’ there’s still a few pop classics like ‘Changes’, ‘“Heroes”’ and ‘Life of Mars?’ in there – it can’t be as bleak as all that can in? Do people sing along?

[a pause]. ‘That has yet to happen. [laughs] Or if they do so they murmur it in a way that isn’t disruptive. The more familiar the song is, the less straightforward the presentation is. So no, that hasn’t happened. There’s time, it could!’

Lazarus’ is at the King's Cross Theatre November 1–January 22 2017.

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