Stardust’s Johnny Flynn: Bowie film was always going to be contentious

Actor Johnny Flynn has said he knew there would be “contentiousness” with his new film about David Bowie, adding: “We had to tread carefully.”

The Beast star, who is also a singer and songwriter, said he always expected there to be controversy over the film Stardust, in which he plays the musician on his first trip to America, before he created the Ziggy Stardust alter-ego and became a star.

He told the PA news agency: “I think we have been conditioned by those big sprawling jukebox musical biopics but it wasn’t that long ago when there was a spate of films like Control (starring Sam Riley as Joy Division singer Ian Curtis) and a few others about musicians that, for me, were much more interesting and looked at tiny moments in people’s lives that allowed you to understand them on a psychological level much more profoundly.

“This moment in his life is such an interesting way to understand him, after a string of failed singles, his album is not doing well, he hasn’t got the right paperwork (to get into the US), he’s the opposite of what we think of him as.

“He’s essentially a failure at this point and also won’t talk about these dark themes of his record and where does that all come from, and feelings of being an imposter and when you notice him talking in this period you realise that is who he really was so I just found all of that really interesting.”

The film does not feature the singer’s music and was made without the blessing of his estate – and when trailers for the film first emerged, they were met with some concern from fans.

Flynn said: “In this age of Twitter and kneejerk reactions and people grabbing onto headlines and Chinese whispers happening, I knew that we would have to get this really really right because of the circumstances of these recent biopics, and the story that we were doing was without the state’s blessing on using the music and things like that – not that we ever wanted that, but I knew that we had to tread very carefully.

“As was bound to happen, some of that stuff has been taken out of context so people have had a very millennial, online reaction to it.

“But I’m just excited that the film will be seen now and that it can speak for itself because I knew that there was always going to be contentiousness around the idea of a film and that there would be a conversation around it but the balance of what needs to be said will happen once people can actually see the film.”

Director Gabriel Range added: “There is a sense because of movies like Rocketman (about Sir Elton John) and Bohemian Rhapsody (about Freddie Mercury), there was a natural expectation that this was going to be that, only in this case without his music, which doesn’t make much sense.

“Why would we bother doing that? And the American distributors cut a trailer that was very much for the American market and probably didn’t help in that regard because it probably positioned it and put a little too much focus on David as Ziggy, which is really not what the film is, it’s about how he gets there rather than the destination.

“Vertigo (the UK distributor) have done a great job of cutting a trailer that I think much better represents what our film is, which is a small quiet intimate look at a young man setting out on this musical journey.”

Stardust is available on digital platforms now.