David Bowie had a massive influence on classic rock music — as well as a huge influence on pop culture as a whole. He even inspired a Disney character. Here’s why an actor decided to take inspiration from Bowie’s character Ziggy Stardust for a role in a Disney film.
Why David Bowie inspired a character in a Disney movie
First, a little background. Our story begins with a movie that has nothing to do with Bowie: Disney’s Tron. The 1980s science fiction film takes place within a video game. It’s a far cry from Disney’s usual fare. It would become one of the studio’s cult classics.
In the 2010s, 1980s nostalgia became huge and Disney capitalized on it with a belated Tron sequel called Tron: Legacy. The sequel was heavily indebted to the 1980s-style aesthetics of the original film. In addition, one of the actors in Tron: Legacy — Michael Sheen — decided to draw inspiration from the superstars of the 1980s, Bowie. Specifically, Sheen told Film School Rejects he drew inspiration from Bowie while playing his character, Castor, a humanoid computer program. Interestingly, he took inspiration from Bowie’s character Ziggy Stardust — a character from the 1970s — rather than Bowie’s 1980s work.
Why Castor had to be ‘fluid’ like David Bowie
Sheen explained how his view of computer programs impacted his portrayal of Castor. “There are murky depths,” Sheen said. “I enjoy murky depths. Also, I like the idea ‐ because all the characters of the Tron world are programs ‐ I like the idea of thinking about, ‘If my character was a program, what sort of program would he be?’ and I like the idea of someone who assimilates everything around him and, a bit like a chameleon, is able to change in order to survive. Because of that, he’s a survivor. As all true survivors need to do, their loyalties and affiliations need to be fluid.”
In addition, Sheen explained why he drew inspiration from Bowie.“So there’s that kind of ambiguity, he explained. “I like the idea of a kind of character where you hear bits of pop culture, bits of other characters, all coming out of this one character. Again ‐ the idea of someone who’s a shape-shifter like Bowie. It sort of made me think, ‘If he’s a person, he’d be a bit like that.’”
Other famous figures who inspired Castor
In a separate interview with The Guardian, Sheen said he drew inspiration from numerous other figures while playing Castor. Specifically, he mimicked Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Old Hollywood actress Mae West, and Andy Warhol’s Factory. He wanted Castor to be a “pop cultural jukebox.”
How the public reacted to ‘Tron: Legacy’
So did audiences respond to the film? According to Box Office Mojo, Tron: Legacy earned over $400 million against a budget of $170 million. In addition, it inspired a short-lived television series. Tron: Legacy has a cult following — and it wouldn’t be the same without Bowie.