While filming Basquiat, the 1996 film from director Julian Schnabel, Jeffrey Wright was tasked with slipping into the world of the artist Jean Michel Basquiat. If the nature of the role wasn’t creative enough, he was on set working alongside David Bowie, who was cast to play Andy Warhol. Soon, the lines between the different forms of art at play — film, music, painting — started to blur. During a recent appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, Wright recalled Bowie playing unreleased music while on set.
“I remember one day we were in the hair and makeup trailer — Gary Oldman was in the film as well — we’re sitting there and David walks in. He goes, ‘You want to hear some music?’ We’re like, huh? His music. We’re like, yeah, David Bowie, we will tolerate your music. Yeah, sure. Put in your little disk there.”
The record he selected is what would eventually be released under the title Outside in 1995. Produced with Brian Eno and David Richards, it marked Bowie’s 20th studio album.
“Some of the music is featured in the film because it’s kind of reminiscent of the story in some ways. His guitarist was named Reeves Gabrels and he plays this really abstracted beautiful stuff,” Wright added. “And we’re listening to it, and we’re like, woah. And David is sitting there air-guitaring to his own music. And it was like the cool guy at school found some obscure record somewhere and brought it in — except the cool guy was David Bowie.”
The actor, whose latest film, American Fiction, was recently released, also recalled being near starstruck by his first encounter with Bowie. “He meant the world to me. There were periods in my life where his music was the soundtrack,” Wright explained. Their first meeting happened before filming started. Wright had been holed up in Schnabel’s studio sharpening his skills as a painter to get into the mind of Basquiat.
“I’m down on this canvas one day and the door opens and in walks David Bowie,” he remembered. “And he walks in and I’m down there. He kneels down next to me and he says, ‘Do you mind if I watch?’ And I said, well, I think I’m gonna have to get used to it.”