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‘A Knight’s Tale’ Director Reveals Heath Ledger Came Up with David Bowie Dance Idea Himself

Filmmaker Brian Helgeland says it was impossible to turn down a Heath Ledger pitch.

Heath Ledger, "A Knight's Tale"

Heath Ledger, “A Knight’s Tale”

Everett Collection

Heath Ledger’s medieval comedy classic “A Knight’s Tale” is officially 20 years old as of May 11, 2021. Vulture marked the occasion by discussing the movie’s memorable David Bowie dance sequence with writer-director Brian Helgeland and cast member Shannyn Sossamon. It turns out the scene had been planned and rehearsed using KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight,” but Ledger much preferred David Bowie’s “Golden Years.”

“When Heath wanted to sell you on something, you could tell in a second,” Helgeland said. “He would assume this kind of boyishness to him; he’d become nine years old, like out of a Dickens story, like the Artful Dodger.”

Ledger’s pitch to use “Golden Years” instead of “Get Down Tonight” was hard to resist. As the director remembered, “Heath got this big grin on his face. He goes, ‘It’s the same tempo. It’s going to work.’ He said, ‘Don’t come to rehearsal today. Let us get it right and then come down. We’ll do both of them and you decide.’”

Helgeland added, “He was like, ‘It’s so inescapable that it should be ‘Golden Years’ that there’s no way you can disagree with me.’ He just laid it all out like a legal case.”

Choreographer Stuart Hopps ended up backing Ledger’s pitch. “At the time, I thought that the Bowie choice was a good one,” he wrote in an email to Vulture, “and although the dance patterns remained much the same, the choice of music meant I could give the dance routine a more modern feel and get the actors to let go more and swing more.”

Ledger’s passion for using “Golden Years” is just one of the reasons making “A Knight’s Tale” continues to resonate for Helgeland. “I never saw someone like that,” the filmmaker said of the late actor. “Everyone just fell in love with him — guys, girls, everybody. Just everyone loved him, and he loved you back.”

As for Ledger’s experience on the film, Helgeland said the actor used to tell him that the movie “felt like a photo album of how much fun he had making it. Every scene, he could remember what funny stuff happened that day and whether we did this scene hung-over.”

Head over to Vulture’s website to read more on the 20th anniversary of “A Knight’s Tale.”

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