On the 45th Anniversary of the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, actress Candy Clark fondly recalls working with David Bowie and director Nicolas Roeg, as well as Robert Mitchum and David Lynch. She also describes how she rescued the version of Roeg’s film we now love (“director’s cut”) from the butchery by the original film company. Hooray Candy Clark. Hooray Anthony Petkovich for getting the real story for PKM
“This is the furthest thing from a sci-fi film, really,” 28-year-old David Bowie matter-of-factly told Creem magazine back in 1975 while on location in New Mexico filming The Man Who Fell to Earth. “It’s a very sad, tender love story that evolves over a long period of time.”
It’s true: The Man Who Fell to Earth is a love story—albeit, a truly bizarre one, but a romance all the same.
Filmed in 1975, released in 1976, and helmed by British director Nicolas Roeg (the Paul Mayersberg script based on the dark, dystopian, 1961 sci-fi novel by Walter Tevis), The Man Who Fell to Earth (TMWFTE) is an off-the-wall tale involving the needy, simple-minded but good-hearted alcoholic Earthling Mary-Lou—adeptly played by American actress Candy Clark (also 28 at the time)—falling head over heels for the brilliant, physically fragile, boyish-looking, saint-like (initially, at least) extraterrestrial harking from the dry, dying planet of Anthea, Thomas Jerome Newton—portrayed with natural flair and, when necessary, well-chosen reserve by David Bowie, at perhaps the zenith of his creative powers. It’s amazing to think, too, that TMWFTE was Bowie’s first-ever big-screen production, the magnetic pop star putting in such a phenomenal performance—and against such choice veteran actors as Candy Clark and Rip Torn!
Trailer for The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976):
On another key level, TMWFTE is a poignant but still highly entertaining portrait of Earthlings as the true weirdoes of the universe, with Newton being the relatively ‘normal’ player. Newton does look like an average human being; until our resident alien removes various anatomical ‘accoutrements’, showing himself at one point to a beyond-shocked Mary-Lou as completely hairless, with cat-like irises, while lacking any form of—at least visible—genitalia. Yet Newton does not come or “fall” to Earth for any ill intentions. Rather, he’s here to, legally, make a ton of money via the manipulation of several near-priceless patents (Newton posing as a posh, fashionable British mogul, frequently dressing to the nines in 1940’s noirish suits, all magnificently created by costume designer May Routh), in order to secretly build a spaceship and travel back to his drought-ridden planet to rescue his beloved wife and two children, thus making TMWFTE a two-tiered love story.
Yet most of the humans with whom Newton interacts—from the knowledge-hungry, skirt-chasing college professor Nathan Bryce (played by the irascible Rip Torn), whom he enlists to help construct the spacecraft, to his own hulking, ominous chauffeur (Bowie’s real-life bodyguard Tony Mascia)—end up selling out the strange, powerful millionaire in Judas-like fashion and, in turn, play a part in getting Newton imprisoned and tortured at the hands of a foreboding hybrid of Big Business and Deep State. Except, that is, for Candy Clark’s Mary-Lou, who has sincere affection for him. Yet even she inadvertently blindsides Newton by debauching him with booze, eventually turning this equally “flawed being”—as Bowie himself described Newton—into a weakened, confused, fuzzy-headed alcoholic like herself.
The story is also very much about the curse of drink, per its author’s admission. As Tevis told interviewer Donald Swaim on the latter’s CBS Radio Show Book Beat in 1984: “I’m a recovered alcoholic… My novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, is about falling into alcoholism. It was written at a time when this was beginning to happen to me back in 1961.”
Tevis (who also penned the hit novel The Hustler in 1959; made into a classic, bleak, urban-pool-shark film with Paul Newman and Piper Laurie in ‘61) similarly admitted to Swaim that he typically wrote about “alienated persons.”
“They’re isolated individuals,” Tevis stated, “… doing something that the mainstream doesn’t fully comprehend or sympathize with very much. I suppose it comes out of my childhood—my own feeling of estrangement.”
More specifically, Tevis spent a year and a half in a hospital in San Francisco (his birthplace), suffering from rheumatic children’s heart disease, while his parents moved to Kentucky, where he was later raised (and where his novel TMWFTE takes place). Consequently, when finally released from hospital at age 10, Tevis was a fish out of water. “I went from a rather genteel, upper-middle-class life in San Francisco, into a really Appalachian environment in a fairly tough part of Lexington, Kentucky. I think that’s what I was writing about in a deep way when I wrote TMWFTE. My spaceman comes from another planet to rural Kentucky, where he’s shocked by his entrance into that culture.”
But getting back to the movie…
Born in Oklahoma and bred in Texas, Candy Clark is one of the few major performers in TMWFTE who’s still very much with us (so many of them now gone, including star Bowie, novelist Tevis, and director Roeg), having previously appeared in the gritty, underrated, Stockton-based boxing film Fat City (1972) for director John Huston; followed by the fantastic coming-of-age-in-the-summer-of-‘62 comedy American Grafitti (1973) for up-and-coming director George Lucas. Clark was, in fact, justifiably nominated for an Academy Award for her effervescent role as Debbie, Grafitti’s big-haired, good-time girl who’s nothing if not a trouble magnet; but, like Mary-Lou, still incredibly loveable.
Scene from American Grafitti (1973), starring Candy Clark (as Debbie) and Charles Martin Smith (as Terry “The Toad”); with Harrison Ford and Debralee Scott:
Then, a few years after Grafitti, Clark headed off to New Mexico to work on what would become one of her all-time favorite movie excursions: the film adaptation of Tevis’s ‘61 sci-fi novel for cinematographer-turned-director Nicolas Roeg, who’d already experienced critical acclaim (if not box-office success) for Performance (1970), Walkabout (1971), and Don’t Look Now (1973); the Land of Enchantment being the perfect place to film TMWFTE, since, for Roeg’s almost-completely British crew working in a foreign country, New Mexico (replacing Tevis’s original Kentucky exposition) was a “right to work” state, insuring that its English visitors would not break any American work regulations. Additionally, New Mexico’s constantly changing topography was perfect for the film’s off-kilter, frequently shifting landscapes, i.e., in a mere 15 minutes, one could travel from a big, windy city (Albuquerque, for example), to vast, mysterious sand dunes (White Sands National Monument, standing in for the arid planet Anthea).
So, in essence, The Man Who Fell to Earth was a film about an ‘alienated’ alien (Newton) being shot by aliens (Brits) on an alien-like American landscape (New Mexico).
Roeg actually shows Clark’s character of Mary-Lou as much younger, far svelter (at least in the early part of his film) than the middle-aged, somewhat corpulent Betty Jo in Tevis’s novel (yes, they changed the character’s name for the film). Tevis describes Betty Jo as “a chubby, pretty woman… (who) outweighed (Newton) by at least fifty pounds… (and who) wasn’t bad to look at (for a woman of 40), if you covered up the tiny purplish places around her eyes that came from gin and sugar.”
Mary-Lou, however, like all of the characters in Roeg’s movie, grows older and far less beautiful over the decades, while our alien protagonist Newton doesn’t appear to age a day because of his vastly different ET genes, thus fully maintaining his fresh, boyish (dare we say androgynous?) looks throughout the story.
Quite bizarrely, it almost seems as if Tevis had Bowie himself in mind when originally developing his eponymous character. As Tevis describes Newton in his novel: “He was not a man; yet he was very much like a man… his hair was as white as that of an albino… His frame was improbably slight, his features delicate, his fingers long, thin, and the skin almost translucent, hairless. There was an elfin quality to his face, a fine boyish look to the wide, intelligent eyes, and the white curly hair now grew a little over his ears. He seemed quite young.”
In the end, Tevis was highly pleased with Roeg’s choice of Bowie as his spaceman Newton. The author, in fact, spent a few days on location in New Mexico, drinking Budweisers (with Roeg and crew), observing the filming, meeting Bowie, and, in the end, calling the British rock star a “gentleman.” Tevis, however, was a bit miffed when his book was re-issued as a tie-in with the movie’s release; the novel’s new ‘upgraded’ cover flaunting an illustration of the iconic side view of Bowie (from the movie’s poster), with the star’s name appearing above—and in far larger type than—the author’s name, making it look as if, per Tevis, Bowie had written the novel himself.
Nonetheless, Tevis graded the movie a solid B upon its release; though TMWFTE definitely stood head over shoulders above some of the other sci-fi entries of ’76, including the cheesy but fun Food of the Gods and Embryo; the disappointing Futureworld, a tepid sequel to writer/director Michael Crichton’s clever, engaging Westworld (1973); and the over-elaborately produced Logan’s Run; all movies which—no matter how diverting—still lacked the intense charisma which TMWFTE had secured (in air-tight fashion!) with performers Bowie, Torn, and Clark.
After playing TMWFTE’s charming, pitiable, highly memorable Mary-Lou, Candy Clark went on to make other noteworthy movies, including The Big Sleep (1978), starring Robert Mitchum as detective Philip Marlowe in a strange British redo of Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled novel; and the unique crime/heist/cop/giant-monster-on-the-loose entry Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) for director Larry Cohen.
Robert Mitchum and Candy Clark in The Big Sleep (1978):
After finishing work on TMWFTE himself, Bowie quickly made one of his best-ever records: 1976’s Station to Station (the album’s odd, downbeat black-and-white cover taken from a photo from TMWFTE), before Roeg’s movie was even released, proving how much easier it is to produce a record than to fully complete a motion picture. Bowie even went on TV’s popular dance show Soul Train to sing/promote his new single “Golden Years”, as well as talk about Roeg’s upcoming movie, in which he was not only starring but also composing the score.
David Bowie on Soul Train (November 4, 1975) promoting The Man Who Fell to Earth and singing his upcoming single “Golden Years” from the album Station to Station (released in 1976):
It was not Bowie, however, but John Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas) who wound up doing the film’s music, developing a more Americana-like score per Roeg’s wishes, in keeping with the movie’s subtheme of nostalgia. Roeg, that is, did not want a spacy Dark Side of the Moon-esque score, despite how perfect some songs on Station to Station would have been, like “TVC 15” and the title track. Phillips, under great pressure to deliver the goods, ultimately had no choice but to obtain much of the film’s music from already-existing sources, some of which included “Blueberry Hill” (by Louis Armstrong), “Try to Remember” (the Kingston Trio), “True Love” (Bing Crosby), and cuts from a handful of albums by Japanese percussionist-composer Stomu Yamash’ta.
Yet one might reasonably conclude that Roeg’s movie prompted Bowie to fully develop not only the rock star’s enigmatic Thin White Duke persona, but indirectly helped the singer/songwriter get into the mindset of writing moody instrumentals, leading to his development of those distinctive, longer, lyric-less compositions making up the second half of 1977’s Low (that particular album cover lifted from the poster of TMWFTE), as well as the flipside of 1978’s Heroes: together making up two-thirds of Bowie’s critically acclaimed Berlin Trilogy. Thank you, Nicolas Roeg!
Actually, only one instrumental which Bowie specifically wrote for the TMWFTE, “Subterraneans”, wound up on Low; while another song he recorded for the film, “Some Are”, is featured as a bonus track on the album’s 1991 reissue.
David Bowie, “Subterraneans”, from Low (1977); proposed soundtrack segment for The Man Who Fell to Earth:
But surely—as writer Susan Campo points out in her superb 2017 book Earthbound: David Bowie and The Man Who Fell To Earth (which greatly helped with some sections of this introduction)—Station to Station’s “TVC15” was undoubtedly inspired by the scene in TMWFTE where Newton is watching an entire wall of TV sets, fully ignoring Mary-Lou, much to her chagrin; while Bowie is on record as stating (to Britain’s New Musical Express in 1980) that the chilling ballad “Word on a Wing” was composed as a result of his involvement in Roeg’s film. “The passion in the song was genuine,” he told NME’s Angus Mackinnon. “(It was) something that I needed to produce from within myself to safeguard myself against some of the (stressful) situations that I felt were happening on the film set.”
Interestingly, John Phillips’ RCA soundtrack to TMWFTE wasn’t released until 2016 (40 years after the movie’s premiere!), which includes an enjoyable rock-and-roll ditty devoted to Mary-Lou—a redo of the Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou”—featuring then-recently-departed-from-the-Rolling-Stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
John Philips, “Hello Mary Lou”, from The Man Who Fell to Earth soundtrack (produced in 1976; released in 2016):
Decades after filming TMWFTE, Bowie still loved the character of Thomas Jerome Newton so much that he bought the rights to Tevis’s novel in 2005 (shortly after the singer had a heart attack on stage in Prague on June 23, 2004); Bowie ultimately using the novel as the foundation for his 2015 musical “Lazarus”—which he produced, co-wrote, and provided the songs for (including four original tunes)—one of his last-ever projects, next to the Blackstar album (released on Bowie’s birthday, January 8, 2016; and on which there is, indeed, a track entitled “Lazarus”), before dying at age 69 on January 10, 2016; the fallen, internally tortured Thomas Jerome Newton still pining away for his long-lost love Mary-Lou in Bowie’s musical.
And just like Bowie, Candy Clark never lost her passion for TMWFTE. Forty-five years after the movie’s release, she still considers it one of her favorite projects. I spoke with her on the phone this past December; the still-very-much-acting Clark (currently residing in Southern California) possessing a remarkable memory about her experiences with Bowie and Roeg, as well as how she helped develop the character of Mary-Lou, featured in one of the greatest freak-out scenes in American movie history (for real); while Clark also had a huge hand in saving the 139-minute director’s cut of Roeg’s terrific, far-from-conventional “love story”.
PKM: So, Candy, right off the bat, what was it like working with David Bowie on The Man Who Fell to Earth?
Candy Clark: I already had the part in the film as Mary-Lou, so they were looking to cast a very unique character to play the lead. At the time, Nic Roeg was even considering writer Michael Crichton, because he was super tall. In Walter Tevis’s book, the character of Thomas Jerome Newton was an especially tall person. So that was being tossed around. But I think it was (film producer) Arlene Sellers who suggested David Bowie—and Nic thought that was a great idea. At the time, Bowie was in town, staying at this rental on Doheny, near Sunset; so Nic and I went over there to meet him. Luckily, I hadn’t seen Bowie in concert, so I wasn’t in awe (laughs), or a groupie, or a fan, or anything. And I hadn’t bought any of his albums. I knew who he was and saw the documentary on him.
PKM: Cracked Actor (1974)?
Candy Clark: Right, where he’s in that knit jumpsuit with one leg exposed. So Nic and I go to meet him, and he’s super nice. “Yeah, let’s do it,” he said. (laughs) So it was really easy to convince him. Bowie knew that it would be a great acting role for him. He was trained as an actor and a mime, so he recognized opportunity when he saw it. He probably did a little research on Nic Roeg and realized that he’d worked with Mick Jagger (on Performance).
Cracked Actor (1974), BBC documentary on David Bowie, Part One:
And when we finally got to shooting TMWFTE, David was great. He was a natural for the part. He looked the part, acted the part, and was so easy to work with. You can look at him and think he’s from another planet. He had beautiful skin, and that red hair with the blonde streak, so it didn’t take much of a stretch to think of him in that way.
And what I really liked about David was his responsiveness, because we had a lot of dialogue together. It was fantastic, well-written dialogue by Paul Mayersberg, and we really wanted to do it word-for-word, period-for-period, and respect the writing. So we’d be shooting a scene, and when they’d be setting up the lights—which, back then, took forever—David and I would be sitting nearby, sometimes on the floor, and we’d run our lines, so we got (the dialogue down) really smooth. We knew the lines backwards and forwards, which is important in order to be relaxed in front of the camera. If you know what you’re saying and what words come next, then you’re not even thinking about the dialogue; it just comes, because it’s so well-memorized. Bowie was really good at that, and I attribute it to his being a musician and rehearsing all of the time. Every time his band would go to a new venue, they’d go to the location and play music—and there would be constant rehearsals. So it was no big deal for him to rehearse lines. A lot of actors don’t like to run lines; they think it makes them stale. But I enjoy it—and so did David.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) and Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) have their first chat in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976):
Bowie’s Thomas Jerome Newton becomes partial to TV and alcohol in The Man Who Fell to Earth:
PKM: I think that the scene when Mary-Lou sees Newton fully exposed as an extraterrestrial is probably one of the great freak-out scenes in American cinema.
Candy Clark: (laughs)
PKM: I mean it. But I remember reading that Bowie wasn’t on the set when you shot some of that remarkable sequence.
Candy Clark: David was sick that day. He’d drunk something and thought he’d been poisoned. He liked to drink milk, and at the bottom of his glass, there was… something in there. Anyway, he went home. Initially, my character was supposed to see him as it was written, and I run into the bathroom and throw up into the toilet. So I thought (sarcastically), ‘Oh, great! I’ll be one of the first actors to throw up live on film.’ So I’m like, “Hey, get me some Ipecac,” which, if you’ve been poisoned, makes you throw up. And they got this (laughs) Ipecac, and I drank it, not even feeling nauseated. I’m like, “Hmmmm…” So I drank more. And the crew is waiting around for me to… get sick. (laughs) And nothing happened. So we had to rethink that.
But that day, when the door opens in the scene and you think you’re seeing David Bowie’s hand, it’s really someone else wearing a rubber glove. And when the door opens, all that I was really seeing was the camera, since Bowie wasn’t there that day. I had to really visualize my boyfriend, Thomas Newton, whom I’ve lived with for so long, revealing himself as someone I didn’t know. So I had to really react when I open the bathroom door, seeing a stranger who looks like a serpent or something. Imagine yourself in that situation. What would you do? You would SCREEEEEAM (laughs).
PKM: Well, you did a brilliant job. You really look as if you’ve lost your mind from sheer terror.
Candy Clark: I’d been in this wonderful improv class that I went to every Thursday night for four years, and there was this particular actor in the class. Anyway, we were doing a scene, the actors were on stage, and I was just watching from a nearby chair, and this one actor pretended like he was scared; and for a brief moment, he was literally in the air and his feet were against the wall, and he came down. And I was like, ‘Wow! That’s a good image!’ And I kept that in my head and thought, ‘I’ll use that someday. I’ll need that.’ So when Mary-Lou throws herself back, that was my image: that actor throwing himself onto the wall and being momentarily suspended. Gravity for a split second didn’t affect him. So I threw myself back, and behind me was a bookcase, and I have a drink in my hand, and somehow Mary-Lou hangs onto her drink. Of course, she’s an alcoholic.
Then David Bowie comes by—he was back at work at this point—and he touches Mary-Lou. And the image of me in my head was that of a toad: when you pick up a toad and he pees all over your hands. That was the image which I was using, from the fear and everything. But, because I couldn’t throw up with the Ipecac, we had to rethink Mary-Lou’s reaction. So I guess I was the first person to… urinate on-screen! (laughs) But it was all fake. It was with tubing and colored water.
PKM: Incredible performance. You really do have to use your imagination in scenes like that, don’t you?
Candy Clark: You have to use some visuals, or else you’re going to be standing there and feeling very foolish. I tried to get it right the first time. But that’s the job of the actor: to bring experiences and visuals that you, the actor, have seen and put in your little file of ‘Hey, that was interesting… l’ll keep that’.
PKM: Tell us about working with Nic Roeg.
Candy Clark: One of my favorite directors to work with. Very hands-on. You really got the feeling that he was like a coach; someone right there approving of everything. It was a very positive experience. When David and I were doing a scene, Nic would be in a chair just inches out of the frame, and you could see his body language. Just by moving his shoulders, or his hands, or his fist, he was keeping us in time, like an orchestra leader, but his arms weren’t flailing around. Even though you’re looking at the other actor, you still see peripherally, as well. Your vision doesn’t shrink down to tunnel vision, so it was a very positive experience. I owe all of my performance to Nic Roeg and his approval.
Nic also let us come up with a few ideas—not changing the script, though; because there was one scene where I ask the man who fell to Earth… It was where we’re out on a dock, and I’ve reacted badly to his exposure of his true (alien) self. And he’s standing there on the dock, and there’s a blue light that’s going ‘round and ‘round and shining on him. Anyway, David’s character is looking very sad, and I come out and want to apologize, but the relationship is really broken at that point. And I ask him, “What are your children like?” and he says, “They’re like… children.” Now I see that the line which was written is perfect. But at the time, I thought, ‘God… children? That sounds so fussy’; because what I wanted to say is, “What are your kids like?” But Nic said, “No—children. You keep that word there.” So I did. And I can see that it’s a lot more elegant to ask about your children rather than (in goofy tone), “Hey, so what’re kids like?” That was the only time I asked to change a word and was out-voted—and I’m glad I was. (laughs)
David Bowie and Candy Clark in a key scene from TMWFTE which most probably inspired the Bowie song “TVC 15”:
PKM: Most of the film, of course, was shot on location in New Mexico.
Candy Clark: Yes. We were based in Albuquerque, but moved to Santa Fe and different locations. Santa Fe was incredible. And that hotel…the La Fonda Hotel… it’s still there, because last time I was in Santa Fe, which was maybe four or five years ago, I went back to see that hotel, and it’s still the same. It’s an old, old hotel.
PKM: Was it originally planned for you to also play Bowie’s alien wife on his native planet Anthea, which we see in flashback sequences?
Candy Clark: No—I volunteered! I loved being in that movie. I wanted to work day and night on it. I loved it so much. (laughs)
PKM: It’s neat that you play both Thomas Jerome Newton’s female love interest on Earth, Mary-Lou, as well as his wife on Anthea.
Candy Clark: Well, nobody knew that at the time. I’m the one who blew that secret.
PKM: Were the contact lenses and costumes worn by you and Bowie, when portraying these Anthea aliens, difficult to handle?
Candy Clark: I’ve always worn hard contacts since the Sixties, so it wasn’t a big deal to put something into my eye. But we did have one problem. When we were doing a fitting for the contacts, it was done through this ophthalmologist’s office in Beverly Hills. The contact lenses were hand-painted with some kind of oil; and then over that was something to stabilize the paint so that it wouldn’t come off; some sort of varnish or acrylic. Anyway, the doctor put these things in my eyes—big, full-coverage contacts—and one got stuck. It suctioned onto my eye so tight, that the doctor was starting to panic. We couldn’t get that frickin’ thing off! It was a struggle for about 30 minutes or so. But we finally released the suction and… ughh! It never happened again. I wore them and wasn’t afraid. It was just a one-time deal where the thing really clamped onto my eyeball.
But, also, you couldn’t see through the contact lenses, because of that urethane or whatever they put over it to protect the artistry (of the alien eyes).
May Routh—who’d designed our costumes with the tanks and the tubing with the pink water going through them—really had a vision. And she had these shoes made with Plexiglas soles that were kind of like platform shoes. David and I were out on the white sands of Alamogordo (New Mexico) trying to walk down this hill; you know, when you see the family (from Anthea) coming down this one sand hill. And at first, David and I had on these Plexiglas platform shoes, and it was supposed to appear as if we were floating down the hill, because you can see through Plexiglas. So we’re trying to go down this hill, and these shoes were like skis, and we were flying and falling. We could not stand up and go down the hill. So they had to junk that idea. Instead, we walked down the hill barefoot. But it would’ve been a good effect if it could look as if we were floooooating down the hill. But that didn’t work.
PKM: Was there some camera trickery used when you carried Bowie to his hotel room after his character passes out in the hotel elevator?
Candy Clark: Since I was in the gym all of the time, I thought for sure I’d be able to pick him up. (laughs) So when the day came for us to do that scene, I said, “I can do this. I know I can do this.” So we gather up Bowie’s legs… I gather his back up… and he’s supposed to be limp and passed out… just dead weight…
And I couldn’t budge him.
I could not budge him. Even though he was thin, I couldn’t just dead-lift this actor. (laughs) So we obviously had to do a re-think on that, right?
PKM: What did you guys do?
Candy Clark: What they did was make some sort of skateboard or trolley effect that was low to the ground, and then David had wheels under him, and I was able to pull him along, initially. The lifting itself was done with an actual lift that was attached to the camera. So, after David was lifted, my job was to keep him squeezed tight so that his knees and his back were close together so that his body wouldn’t be out of the camera lens. I had to keep him squeezed tight while he’s supposed to be kind of passed out and woozy, and then bring him down the hallway and struggle my way into (the hotel room) and put him onto the bed. I tell ya, because of this rig that was in front of my legs, it was hitting my legs and shins… That film was so much fun, but you got hurt so many times. It was no big deal. You didn’t feel it at the time. But you felt it later when you were all bruised.
PKM: I believe it. Filming your aging process in the movie must have been interesting.
Candy Clark: Yeah. (laughs) That involved a lot of rubber. You had to do one of those plaster casts of the face which is always difficult and requires a lot of patience…I don’t know if you’ve ever had a cast of your face done, but you have all of this really heavy goo upon your face, and you’re breathing through your nostrils with little straws, not your mouth. You really have to know that it’s going to be over soon and try to relax. It’s very suffocating; then it starts getting hot, because the plaster starts heating up when it hardens. So you have to kind of go somewhere else and not focus on the claustrophobia of it all—because it can be very claustrophobic.
Then, when they pull that off and make a mold, that’s when they make these appliances, those rubber pieces: cheeks, nose, neck… It was all of this stuff that had to be glued onto me for like two weeks solid. It was a very tedious process. And every day, getting into that rig, I’d write down my hours, you know, (laughs) just as an exercise. ‘How many hours will I have spent doing this?’
PKM: And how many hours was it?
Candy Clark: Ninety-six and a half hours spent in the chair. Two full 40-hour work weeks plus. So imagine that: just sitting and being poked and glued… Then you have the removal process, where they use a paint brush and all of these solvents that are releasing the glue, slowly but surely, because they can’t just rip it off, otherwise they’re tear your skin.
An older Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) visits former boyfriend Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), now a prisoner of the Deep State in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976):
Newton threatens Mary-Lou in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976):
PKM: Sounds highly unpleasant. You were definitely a trouper. So, did you ever meet Bowie again after finishing the movie?
Candy Clark: I did. I was in New York doing a play down in the Village, just walking down the street one afternoon—and there he was! “David!” So we went and had coffee together. He was friendly, sweet. It was about five years after making the movie, something like that.
PKM: And you also play Thomas Jerome Newton himself in one scene, don’t you?
Candy Clark: I did. At that time, Bowie was very superstitious about many things. Whenever he had to travel, I think he was either driven or took a train. He wouldn’t fly. But I, who wanted to work day and night on this film, said, “I’ll go to New York,” because we shot (the scene) in New York. I figured I could fit into his clothes and found a little orange wig at a wig store… And we took off, went to New York, and I had all of his clothes on. They fit pretty well! (laughs) But I knew that our jawlines were not the same. So, when you see me come through the revolving door, and I’m heading for the limo?—I had my hand up to my chin to disguise the fact that we had different jawlines.
They had set up a few blockades, and there were a few Bowie fans standing around, and I could hear them whispering (excitedly), “There’s David Bowie! There’s David Bowie!” (laughs) I felt really good about that. Let’s keep ‘em thinking that way.
PKM: (laughs) What were your impressions of the film back when it was first released?
Candy Clark: I saw it in England, and it was fantastic. I loved it. (Note: The movie’s world premiere was held in London’s Leicester Square Theatre on March 18, 1976.) I volunteered to go on the road with it, to promote it in the U.S., and I was supposed to be on the road for two weeks. I lived in California, so I went to New York. The (distribution) company, Cinema 5, brought me in, and we were going to go on the tour, and I said, “I’d really like to see the film one more time just to refresh myself so I can be clear about it when we’re doing the promotion”; because we were going to pit stop all over the U.S.
So, I’m in the theater, they start the film, and I was stunned, appalled, and sickened by what I was seeing. Cinema 5 had this reputation—kind of like the Weinstein Company—of doing class-A, high-end European films. Their whole motto was that it was always the director’s cut. They respected the director so much, and all of their films were pure directors’ cuts and directors’ visions. But this time they decided that they’d trim this film down from two hours and 23 minutes to two hours. So they hired—and I found this out after the fact—a guy who edits commercials, who saw the film for the first time and started chopping it up and rearranging it. And I knew Nic and (editor) Graeme Clifford had spent like a year—maybe eight months—editing the film to perfection, which you see today. These days, you do see the director’s cut of The Man Who Fell to Earth. But, at that time, I was seeing a cut by a guy who edited Alka Seltzer commercials, and I was totally stunned.
We didn’t have cell phones then, so I’m watching this whole frickin’ thing, and mentally I am fa-reaking out and thinking, ‘How am I going to go on the road with this thing?’ So, when I get back (to my hotel), I call Nic Roeg and say, “It’s all chopped up. They’ve destroyed your film.” I was the one who had to break the news. So now the people at Cinema 5 tell me (in nagging, nasally voice), “Now you’re gonna have to tell people that this is the director’s cut.”
So I’m at a really nice hotel, the Sherry-Netherland in New York, in a suite with a living room and the whole works. Real fancy. They’re paying good money. And my first interview is coming in—and it’s The Village Voice. I’m like, ‘Shit! How am I gonna lie for these people? I don’t know these people!’ I met (the head of Cinema 5) Don Rugoff, and I met the company’s PR guy… Anyway, I’m supposed to cover for Cinema 5, and say that this is the director’s cut.
So The Village Voice arrives, and I’m trying my best, and this PR guy from Cinema 5 was monitoring my whole interview. He’s sitting there the whooooooole time, and I really felt like a prisoner of war. (laughs) Like I was under interrogation and being filmed and… Achhhh! It was horrible. I was just a nervous wreck.
So, finally, the PR guy decides to go to the restroom; so when he goes off and he shuts the door, I tell The Village Voice, “I’m lying. (laughs) This is not the director’s cut. It’s been all hacked to pieces by Cinema 5. Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah!” I say it as fast as I can, and then the guy comes out of the restroom, and I say, “And Bowie was wonderful!” I change back to my good-PR persona, like I didn’t miss a lick of promotion for these people.
Anyway, that night I called my manager and said, “I cannot do this. It’s giving me a nervous breakdown.” And she says, “Okay. Get on a plane. Come back.” So I packed my bags, snuck out (cracks up) of the Sherry-Netherland, went to the airport, and flew back home to California. And for two weeks (the folks from Cinema 5) were calling my manager and trying to find me, and she kept saying—and lying!—“Well, I haven’t talked to her.” So we lied—just like they lied.
So when film went out, it made no sense, and it was a complete failure. It got horrible reviews.
PKM: Because of Cinema 5’s so-called “director’s cut”.
Candy Clark: It was destroyed.
PKM: And when you watch films by Nicolas Roeg, a key component is the editing.
Candy Clark: Yeah! I mean, that makes it a Nic Roeg film. That makes it unique. A lot of hours spent. And then Cinema 5 went, “Let’s just chop up this Picasso painting… make if fit the frame here… okay… take that off and take that off…” It’s just like, “Huh! You did what?”
So years later, I’m living in New Jersey, and The Man Who Fell to Earth came out on VHS, and I hated it. Hated it. And periodically someone would say, “God, that film just makes no sense.” And I’d say, “I know,” and I’d tell my stupid story. My tale of woe. (laughs) But, as I said, years later I was living in New Jersey and thinking about the film. And I’d read that Don Rugoff, the boss at Cinema 5, had left the company. So I thought, ‘Maybe I should just call and speak to the PR department.’ So I called, got the head of the PR department, and said, “Hi, my name is Candy Clark and I was in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth. You know, I’m constantly asked about the film” and “There’s such an audience out there for this movie!” (laughs) And I’m lying. Then I said, “You know what you should do? You should keep the poster, but put a banner across it which says, ‘Director’s Cut! Uncut Version!’ You’ll have ‘em linin’ up around the block! People will wanna see this. I guarantee it. And I’ll even go on the road and promote it… do radio… whatever you want me to do.”
And he said, “That’s a great idea!”
So a couple of weeks later I call back, just to get an update and see how it’s going. And the same head of the PR department tells me, “Well, you know, our negative was cut by the guy who did commercials.” And I’m like, “Nooooooo!” So the edit was permanent for them. There was no full negative. The guy who did commercials had cut the negative.
But then I said, “Well, I know how to fix that. I know where the complete negative is, and I can give you the names of the producers—Barry Spikings and Michael Deeley—and the company, British Lion Films. Here’s their numbers.” And Cinema 5 called the producers, got a full negative, printed it up, and now it’s been many, many years since that old version has been gone, because it never made it to DVD; just to VHS.
PKM: And the world finally received the real director’s cut.
Candy Clark: It’s the real director’s cut. It’s something to be proud of.
PKM: Absolutely. Congrats! Now, a year or so after filming The Man Who Fell to Earth, you went to England to star in director Michael Winner’s remake of The Big Sleep.
Candy Clark: And at that time in London, it was the battle between the Teddy Boys and the Punk Rockers; just like the Mods and the Rockers (a number of years before). All of London was taken over by it. It was in the news. I also went in full regalia to some clubs. I bought the Vivenne Westwood/Malcolm McLaren outfits (laughs). I had the pants with the straps between the legs and the straightjacket shirt. I was so into that. I don’t remember the groups I saw, but I do remember doing the pogo in clubs.
PKM: (laughs) Awesome. So what was Robert Mitchum like to work with on The Big Sleep?
Candy Clark: Fabulous. He loved all of the actors and treated us to old Hollywood stories. Easy to work with. No attitude.
PKM: When you came back to America after filming The Big Sleep, did you get into the music scene here in California?
Candy Clark: A little bit. It wasn’t as big when I got back. I did go to a Devo concert—I think it was at the Whisky—which almost no one attended. It was a small venue, and Devo were about as close to that type of music as Johnny Rotten and all of them. They were just starting out. I remember (laughs) they had their stage on the floor, and there was a baby bed…A crib—and (Devo) were in it. And there were so few people in the audience, I was actually there yanking on the crib, rattling it around. And we all became friends after that.
PKM: So it was fairly interactive.
Candy Clark: It was very interactive, which was very punk.
PKM: Jumping way ahead now, how did you get involved in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, The Return?
Candy Clark: I was called in for an audition, and it was the strangest audition because it was with—I’m trying to think of the casting lady, I know her so well (note: probably Johanna Ray)—anyway, I go into her office and they’re just videotaping me as I’m chatting with them. I thought, ‘This is so weird.’ I mean, it’s a little weird when you’re talking about yourself and you’re being filmed in front of a casting director, and you’re thinking, ‘What is this? There’s no scene. There’s nothing.’ It’s just kind of you gossiping and talking. And I’m like, “Okay? Thank you—I guess.” (laughs) And that was it.
Trailer from Twin Peaks, The Return —and can you spot David Bowie?:
PKM: Definitely sounds a bit unorthodox. So what was Lynch like?
Candy Clark: Not difficult. Actually, he approved of everything you did, so it made it very easy. I only worked for a day, so there was a lot of memory work before I got there. And up until the day of shooting, the night before, I’m like cramming this dialogue. I got onto the set the next day, did a run-through, and it was a real office building, kind of rustic. It was a small room, and they had the camera there, with David Lynch in the corner and the other actor, Robert Forster.
(In the scene), I go charging into the office, slam the door back, and I’m screaming at my husband, played by Robert Forster, with all of my complaints. And I look over at David Lynch, and, as I said, we’re in this very small room—and he has a megaphone! Anyhow, I start laughing so hard. We’re in this tiny room, and he’s got one of those bullhorns! (laughs)
PKM: Kind of overkill. (laughs)
Candy Clark: (laughs) Yeah. Anyhow, after I finished laughing, I quickly got used to it because I had to. I guess he was trying to save his voice. It was a great experience. The producer lady came over afterwards and complimented me. I don’t have cable, so I never saw the original series.
PKM: Going back to The Man Who Fell to Earth, do you think the film has held up pretty well after over four decades?
Candy Clark: Yeah. When the (uncut version of the) movie came out, it was really ahead of its time, especially with its editing. And David Bowie’s fame really grew after that movie—especially after the full version came out. They realized how good he really was as that character. And Criterion made a whole big thing of it (in 2005), bringing out this real elegant DVD package. (Note: Anchor Bay also put out an unabridged DVD version of the film in 2003.)
David Bowie and director Nicolas Roeg discuss Bowie’s proposed soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth during a Criterion Collection documentary:
PKM: Well, thank goodness you had the perseverance to get the full version of the movie out into the world.
Candy Clark: I’m so glad that it happened. When I really believe in something, I can sell it. I’ve always been very good at sales. I was just horrified (by the cut-up version). Nic’s movie was such a work of art, I was just waiting for my opportunity to go back in and get that director’s cut… the complete version; and luckily I had a good idea—and the head of Cinema 5’s PR department listened to me! But, no, I never gave up on it.
Davis Bowie, “Word on a Wing”, from STATION TO STATION (1976), inspired by Bowie’s experiences during the making of The Man Who Fell to Earth:
Special thanks: Barbara Vetter and Susan Campo