• Renny Harlin had pursued David Bowie to play the antagonist in
    , but schedules did not align.
  • Harlin’s reasoning for wanting to cast the iconic musician in the role was to craft a villain who would be ”
    something special
    “, feeling that Bowie fit the mold perfectly.
  • Despite Bowie’s potential, John Lithgow’s scenery-chewing performance made him the perfect choice for the role.

With just over three decades since the movie first hit theaters, Renny Harlin reflects on how David Bowie was almost cast as the villain of Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger. The 1993 movie saw Stallone starring as Gabe Walker, a former mountain climber and rescue ranger who must overcome his past trauma of losing his girlfriend during a rescue attempt when a group of thieves attempt to rob a U.S. Treasury plane flying through the Rocky Mountains. Also starring John Lithgow and Michael Rooker, the movie saw generally favorable reviews, but was a box office smash, grossing over $255 million against its $70 million budget.

During a recent interview with SlashFilm for The Strangers: Chapter 1‘s release, Harlin was asked about the casting process for Cliffhanger‘s villain. With Lithgow having noted in a prior interview that Christopher Walken was previously attached before he came onboard, the director went on to reflect on his near-casting of David Bowie for the role of Eric Qualen, namely that it “was very close” to happening, only for his hopes of landing Bowie to fall through. Check out what Harlin shared below:

[Y]our protagonist is only as strong as the antagonist, the bad guy. If the bad guy is a loser, then there’s nothing heroic for the hero to do. And I always look for something special, something to make […] the bad guy [not just a] mustache-twirling guy who is just going to blow up the whole universe with a nuclear weapon — and loves doing it — but to find something special.

My dream cast to play the bad guy in Cliffhanger was David Bowie. And I pursued him hard. I remember going to New York to meet with him and talking about the movie endlessly, [and] it was very close, but I think maybe he had a tour or something happened that the schedules didn’t work out. So David Bowie didn’t play the bad guy.

Why Lithgow Was Ultimately The Perfect Choice For Cliffhanger

At the time of the movie’s development, Bowie had found himself primarily focusing on his music after the ’80s saw him branch out into the world of acting in a major way, namely with his iconic turn of Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth. When also factoring in his turns in Tony Scott’s The Hunger and John Landis’ Into the Night, there was clearly plenty of opportunity for the late Golden Globe nominee and Emmy winner to make for a compelling antagonist to Stallone’s hero.

On the other side of the coin is the fact that Lithgow’s performance as Qualen in Cliffhanger ultimately remains one of the better-received elements of the movie. The two-time Oscar nominee took the opportunity to chew up every bit of scenery he was given as the psychopathic leader of the group of thieves, keeping audiences both hooked and thrilled as he frequently proved to be both an intelligent and brutal adversary to the central character.


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The physicality required for a Stallone-led movie also made Lithgow the more feasible choice for Cliffhanger‘s villain. While one could argue that Bowie’s more slender build would have proven a more unique subversion of this formula, it did come during the height of Stallone’s blockbuster stardom, when audiences both expected and wanted to see him go up against the next big, imposing action villain. As such, while Bowie would likely have made for one of Stallone’s more fascinating antagonists, Lithgow was ultimately the better choice.

Source: SlashFilm

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