Michael C. Hall has played nearly every type of role, from a serial killer on TV’s Dexter to a drag queen in the Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But his performance as Thomas Newton in the recently wrapped New York Theatre Workshop production of Lazarus put him in unfamilar territory—singing for David Bowie.
The rock legend, who passed away earlier this month after a battle with cancer, co-wrote Lazarus with Tony winner Enda Walsh. The play is based on the sci-fi novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie himself played the title role in the 1976 film adaptation of the book and his Jan. 8-released album Blackstar contains music from the play.
“I knew the story was important for him and Ivo van Hove, the director, impressed upon all of us the urge and immediacy that he had for this story be told. It was pretty heavy,” Hall said when he sat down with InStyle Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival, where he premiered his latest movie Christine (in it, Hall plays a small-town news anchor—much more on that powerful film to come).
Though Hall was unaware of Bowie’s cancer diagnosis at the time production began, he said, “I think maybe there was some not fully consciously realized or acknowledged awareness, but we didn’t know. It was as gratifying and humbling an experience as I’ve had playing that part, telling that story and taking part in his final burst of creativity.”
Hall first met Bowie when he began work on the play and was put in the high-pressure position of singing Bowie’s own songs for him.
“It was incredible but he was such a generous person and did so much to put me at ease and sort of acknowledge the crazy task of singing David Bowie songs for David Bowie,” Hall said. “Before I knew it we were cracking jokes and laughing. He was singing backup vocals. It was amazing. It was one of the highlights of my life honestly.”
Sadly, Bowie died just a week and a half before the production wrapped, making those final performances even more meaningful.
“It re-contextualized the whole experience,” Hall said. “The resonance of the piece shifted and became clearer in a way and the experience with the audience was certainly completely informed by the fact that they were looking at something that was in some ways an epitaph.”
Hall’s admiration is clear and he views Bowie as an “example of someone who never rested on his creative laurels and once he executed a certain aspect of his vision of himself as a creative artist, challenged himself to do something different and to continually find new ways to mine your creative soil. I think he really walked the walk in that way,” Hall said. “Moving forward I certainly feel invited and charged with that as goal.”