In the late 90s, the two music icons and collaborators appeared in the long-forgotten Everybody Loves Sunshine
A Smash Hits journalist once asked David Bowie, “You’re not very good at acting, are you?” It’s not necessarily the fairest accusation – Bowie might not have been the greatest actor, but all of his screen roles were memorable, even when the films themselves weren’t. For every iconic leading turn (think of Thomas Newton, the alcohol-added alien in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth) or genius cameo (his brief, beguiling, and baffling cameo as the long lost Agent Phillip Jeffries in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me), there’d be a film like Everybody Loves Sunshine, a late-90s relic that saw the Thin White Duke appear alongside another music icon, drum’n’bass hero Goldie.
Everybody Loves Sunshine (or B.U.S.T.E.D., as it was called in the US) was an indie film directed by Andrew Goth and released in 1999. Bowie had released his album Earthling two years earlier; it was one of his most ambitious records since the Berlin trilogy in the 1970s, seeing him embrace the relatively young drum’n’bass scene and incorporate rapidfire drum breaks into his sound. A year after Earthling and Bowie was making those d’n’b links even clearer by working with Goldie on his (admittedly somewhat bloated) second album Saturnz Return. Putting the two friends and collaborators together wasn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination.
The film itself is set in Manchester’s Moss Side, with Goldie playing a gang leader, Terry, who’s out of prison and out for blood. Bowie plays Bernie, an old-school gangster trying to keep the peace. It’s set to a very era-specific soundtrack of jungle, dub, and trip hop. “When he was younger, when he was working with the East End gangs, there was more of a code,” Bowie said of his character. “Bernie probably liked Terry at one time but now he's become a bit of a loose cannon, a bit of a snapper. Bernie’s loyalty stops when the idea of code breaks down. In fact it’s more than loyalty, it’s a question of trust. There comes a point when he does draw a line and decides it’s time to get out.”
Bowie took the role on Goldie’s request. Filming took place on the Isle of Man. As Goldie revealed in his autobiography, at one point the production ran out of money, so Bowie – despite his comparatively small supporting role in the film – sunk £30,000 of his own cash into it. “I remember us sitting in this caravan on the Isle of Man – David’s wearing a suit, and I was in a trench coat,” he recalled. “There were some pretty serious Moss Side gangsters around on that set – some of whom are no longer with us – but I looked over at the Duke, and he was knitting. He said it chilled him out.”
The resulting film didn’t really take off. “Slow getting started, Everybody Loves Sunshine turned out to be slow in doing much of anything, and Bowie emerged with flying colours as the only major cast member who isn’t on screen long enough to disappoint,” Dave Thomson writes in Hallo Spaceboy: The Rebirth of David Bowie, a book focused on Bowie’s post-80s career revival. Goldie turned his celebrity towards a handful of acting roles around this time, appearing in The World Is Not Enough and Snatch, but it was short-lived. Director Andrew Goth directed only a couple of features in the subsequent decades. But the world is no worse off for the film’s existence, and given the tendency of filmmakers to cast Bowie in a meta role as Bowie-esque figure, it’s fun that he got to ham it up in a gangland flick.