In this epic science fantasy drama, Michael Gothard was eventually cast as European Space Agency Director, Dr. Bukovsky.

Bukovsky appears in the first half of the film, directing investigations into three transparent caskets containing naked aliens, found on the burned-out remains of the joint US/European Shuttle, Churchill.

In trying to rescue a security guard who is having the lifeforce sucked out of him by a newly-awakened female alien, Bukovsky is also attacked, by “the most overwhelmingly feminine presence” he has ever experienced.

He is later involved in the astronaut Carlsen’s debrief, but - having been drained of some of his lifeforce, and distressed by the loss of control - he never really recovers.

Having announced the arrival of the alien spaceship in earth orbit, he suggests that - like the vampires of legend - these space vampires are bringing their earth with them,
Bukovsky isn’t seen again.

He is later said to have died “like the rest”, though in the absence of evidence, it is tempting to think that he might have just gone for a quiet smoke and a lie down!

The film divides opinion, with reviews ranging from the “so bad it’s good” variety to “flawed genius”, with Jungian and Freudian readings, and suggestions that this was a parable about AIDS.

The film won the 1985 Caixa de Catalunya for Best Special Effects (John Dykstra), and was nominated for the 1986 Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, and Best Special Effects.


Casting

Michael’s friend Sean McCormick tells of how, when he last saw Michael, “he had just lost the lead role in the Toby Hooper film 'Space Vampires' [released as 'Life Force' on June 21, 1985] to American actor Steve Railsback, and it crushed him. I think it was one of the straws on the camel's back that started his six or seven year darkness.”

Former girlfriend, N.B remembers, “I think there was talk about Michael getting another part in that film Lifeforce. I am pretty sure he talked about the crooked ways in which people (actors) got shuffled about and got made redundant or put to minor roles than was originally foreseen. He was angry, but didn't want to do anything about it. He hated going to places where you could socialise with directors and producers. He wasn't that kind of a person who wanted to ingratiate himself in order to get a job.”

Per an uncredited contributor to IMDB, Anthony Hopkins and Terence Stamp were the original choices to play Colonel Caine. Michael Gothard screen-tested for the role, but after meeting Peter Firth, director Tobe Hooper decided to give Firth the role, and gave Michael the role of Dr. Bukovsky instead.

A.S., the daughter of one of Michael’s close friends, confirms that both roles were supposed to have been on the cards for Michael.

"I don't remember if Michael talked to me about it, or to my father while I was around, but I remember that Michael was supposed to get the role of either the Commander of the mission [a role that went to Steve Railsback] or Colonel Caine [eventually played by Peter Firth], but was shuffled into the less important role of Dr Bukovsky.

He didn't blame the other actors at all, but ‘the business’: the producers, and the fact that actors had to play the political game - 'prostitute themselves', as he put it - to get on. He hated that actors had to go to parties, and stitch other actors up. Michael would NOT play the game. He felt actors should be cast on their merits, but that now they had become pawns, and talent didn't count for much.

I'm only surprised he didn't pull out, but perhaps his contract made that impossible, otherwise he would have no hesitation in telling a producer where to go. I’m sure the disappointment over that film helped push him further away from acting."

~~

Michael had worked with Peter Firth before, on "Arthur of the Britons", where Firth guest-starred as Corin in "The Pupil."

Personal statement

In correspondence with Belsizepark, Mathilda May, who played the alien vampire girl, (and was supposedly embarrassed by the film), says of Michael Gothard: "I remember him as a lovely person; a gentleman ..."

Watch on Youtube

IMDB entry
The following piece was added to ‘Wikipedia talk’ on 17 November 2011 at 13:53 by someone calling themselves The Runewriter - evidently a Swedish person, sex unknown.

A lot of what they say about Michael is accurate, and not widely known, so The Runewriter had clearly met him, and got to know him. Michael’s former girlfriend N.B. thinks the person might be a Swedish woman called Kerstin, who was living at Michael’s house in Shirlock Road in 1984.

However, some of what The Runewriter says cannot be confirmed.

“In the spring of 1984, Michael Gothard came to Stockholm to stage a minor role in a film called ‘Starman’, where he was originally cast for the title role. However, due to some intrigues, he was replaced by Jeff Bridges.

In the film you can see that the mechanical dolls, supposed to show the Starman taking the shape of a human being, are based on Michael Gothard’s traits. He would have been perfect to embody this alienated personality trying to survive by adapting to the life on earth.

Instead he was to stage a researcher in wheelchair. Anyway the film a year later was promoted with Michael Gothard’s name in capital letters, as if he still was playing one of the leading characters.1

So he had a lot of hours off in Stockholm and went to a performance of ‘King Lear’ staged by Ingmar Bergman at the Dramatic Theatre.2

Michael Gothard was an intellectual man who knew his Shakespeare by heart, and probably he was the only one in the film team who bothered to attend a theatre performance in Swedish. I happened to sit behind him and got the whole story about ‘Starman’, and it really astonished me.

I visited Michael Gothard in London, and learned to know him as a warm, intelligent and humorous character that made original remarks and comments about things going on.

I will never forget what he said about the centre of Stockholm, that used to be a place with old houses – among them palaces from the 17th and 18th centuries. When Michel saw the brutal city renewal from the 70s he would go: "I didn't think Sweden was in the war!" I had to inform him that the stupid Swedes had destroyed their city.

Talking about war, Michael told me he had suffered through the Blitz as many other Londoners, but during those – also to grown-ups scaringly dark years – he was parted from his parents.

Michael Gothard, although working for the commercial film industry, was a culturally critical person, he was a member of the peace movement, he was against nuclear power and politically leftist.

A film he recommended to me from those times was ‘My Dinner with Andre’, not interesting for its camerawork, but for its way of explaining the social situations of actors.

He told me that he in the beginning of his career had been offered a job at RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I asked why he hadn't tried this, and I must say I never really understood his answer; it was something about not repeating yourself.
But I thought film actors had to repeat the scenes all the time ...

Before Michael Gothard chose to work with his language as an actor, he had also volunteered as journalist at local papers.3

He was a witty and funny letter writer.

Michael Gothard was a multi-talented person, he played the saxophone, he was also sketching what I remember as abstract pictures, and he closely followed his times, describing himself as a news addict.

Coming from a country famous for its suicides, I also want to add, that of course the cause of death throws its shadow on a person’s life, but it doesn't mean that the life itself was a very dark one. At least Michael and I had a lot of fun together, and I wish our friendship had lasted longer.

What also bothers me are some stories about the less serious parts of the film industry Michael told me. He said actors could sometimes get killed and their death then masked as a suicide or an accident, so they wouldn't have to pay the actor.

Anyway, if he took his life it wasn't an action against us that loved him, it was due to very sad and tragic circumstances. Depression is a disease with as big a risk of death as some severe forms of cancer, and it has to be treated by specialists, sometimes even in hospital. What a tragedy that there was no one there to take him by the hand and lead him to the hospital.”

~~

1 While the mechanical bodies could be said to look like Michael, there is no sign of him in the film. Either his role was cut completely, or there has been a misunderstanding or misremembering by The Runewriter. I can find no trace of Michael Gothard’s name on the Swedish poster for “Starman.”

However, Michael was said to have been in the frame for two other roles in “Lifeforce”: those of the hero, Col. Tom Carlsen (eventually played by Steve Railsback) and Col. Colin Caine (eventually played by Peter Firth) before he was eventually cast as Dr. Bukovsky.

As they posted this many years later, it seems possible that The Runewriter's memory is a little unreliable, and that he or she has got these two films mixed up.

Neither of the two productions were filmed in Sweden, so presumably Michael had gone there during a break in, or at the end of, the filming of his scenes in "Lifeforce."

2 The Ingmar Bergman production of King Lear mentioned by The Runewriter was first performed on 9 March 1984.

3 Childhood friend Baz encountered Michael working as a trainee reporter for the Kensington Post in 1961.
Frank Finlay, who plays Dr Hans Fallada in "Lifeforce", receiving his CBE, awarded in the new years' honours list of 1984.

Frank Finlay receiving CBE

Michael Gothard can be seen back right.

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