Friday 25 May 2018

Shooting star

David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones is soaring in his own right as a first-class director, but his success is all part of a master plan, he tells Will Lawrence

Will Lawrence

It is somewhat fitting that David Bowie's son should make his name as a film director with a movie that could be categorised as a kind of space oddity.

In 2009, Duncan Jones -- Bowie's only child from his first marriage -- left his calling card with the excellent sci-fi movie Moon, a still and eerie picture shot almost exclusively with one actor, Sam Rockwell. Now the 39-year-old director is back with his second picture, the bigger-budget Jake Gyllenhaal movie Source Code, and again he's dipping into the realm of mind-bending sci-fi.

"I love sci-fi," begins Jones, who uses his father's actual surname. "There's something really unique about that genre in that you can find such variety in the type of sci-fi that you do. I think Moon and Source Code are a good case point. Moon does have some humour in it, but it's quite hardcore sci-fi and quite personal, while Source Code is more acceptable, and is a bit more of a popcorn movie."

While Source Code is lighter than Moon in tone, and much faster paced, it still explores similar themes, not least the question of identity. "The question of identity is something I find fascinating," continues Jones, "and the idea that the person you think you are is very different from what other people see you as."

In Source Code, this idea takes on a tangible form with Gyllenhaal playing a US serviceman who is sent back in time on an eight-minute loop to try to prevent a terrorist attack on a train. He arrives back on the train in someone else's body, living someone else's life, and has the prescribed number of minutes to prevent the explosion before he's sent back into his own time. He tries and fails, repeating the loop with increasing proficiency as he bids to solve the dilemma. The film plays as a high-paced sci-fi thriller, a blend of Chris Nolan's epic Inception and the TV series Quantum Leap.

"There's a romance angle, some comedy, a thriller, a bit of a mystery," says Jones of his new film. "To me, the script felt a classic thriller, too, like a Hitchcock movie. We tried to get a Hitchcockian vibe to it."

While Moon was very much Jones's story, Source Code sees him direct a script brought to him by Gyllenhaal who had seen, and loved, the director's debut movie. Jones's new film, however, still sits firmly in his self-plotted career path. "I've had this really long-term plan about what I want to do, and it's not just to make a feature film," he explains.

"It has to be a specific type of feature film and Moon was stage one. It was my calling card to prove that I could make a film. Stage two was Source Code, to prove that I could work at a bigger budget with the Hollywood system and with big-name actors." Gyllenhaal is supported on screen by the likes of Oscar-nominee Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan.

"Now, though, I feel as though I'm at the point where I can really make the films I want to make: to be able to work on a bigger budget on a sci-fi project that I've written myself. It's been a very long-term plan."

He is currently working on his third project, but is not yet able to reveal its content. It will, however, be another sci-fi project. "You know, I am not worried about staying in the same genre," he says. "I love science fiction and grew up reading books by the likes of George Orwell, JG Ballard, Philip K Dick, and, of course, the comic 2000 AD."

Jones's passion for film developed at an early age. "When I was about seven or eight years old," he recalls, "my dad and I used to make these little films, one-stop animations, with an 8mm camera, and I used to splice and tape everything together."

When Bowie divorced Jones's mother, former model Mary Angela Barnett, their then-nine-year-old went to live with his father and he has fond memories of his dad's work on film. Bowie, of course, starred first of all in Nic Roeg's highly stylised 1976 sci-fi The Man Who Fell to Earth, before appearing as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, and as Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners (both 1986).

"Labyrinth was really special," Jones remembers. "I saw Jim Henson and all his people in this incredible environment. They built the Goblin City and you could walk around these sets. I remember being so excited. And also the Absolute Beginners set; it may not be considered a great film, but it was the most amazing set. The director rebuilt all of Soho, from the 1950s, and it was dazzling.

"That gave me a real taste for shooting and directing and also for that kind of visually ambitious affair. However, I stayed away from it for a long time."

Indeed, Jones went to Gordonstoun School, in Scotland, and there, he says, he "got distracted by sports and girls". Proficiency in sport, he laughs, was his rebellion against his dad. He proved an able student, however, and found himself on a path to academia, studying philosophy and going on to complete two-and a-half years of a PhD in the subject in Memphis, Tennessee.

"I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do, and I was pretty unhappy, but I didn't know how to get out of it," he says. "And my dad actually was the one who helped. He was working up in Montreal in Canada with Tony Scott and he said, 'Why don't you come up and clear your head a bit?' Tony Scott was incredibly cool; he talked to me about how he got started in film, working in the advertising industry, and I decided that at this point I wasn't going to back to graduate school."

With one critically applauded movie under his belt and a potential box-office hit opening today, things are looking good for Jones. "I realised that I didn't have to stick to one path and I was able to jump out of that and into something that I'm really passionate about," he says. "Now, I just feel very fortunate."

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