Mick Jagger’s bizarre film career

Ben Falk
Contributor
Mick Jagger in ‘Freejack’ – Credit: Rex_Shutterstock

It’s the 25th anniversary of spectacular flop – and the truly dreadful – ‘Freejack’, a sci-fi action film notable only for being Anthony Hopkins’ first film after becoming a megastar in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and as one of the few screen appearances of Mick Jagger.

Whether it’s playing an Australian folk hero, a transvestite nightclub impresario or the naffly-uniformed henchman in ‘Freejack’, the Rolling Stones’ frontman has had a weird cinematic career. We take a look back.

A 1970 debut in ‘Ned Kelly’

‘Ned Kelly’ – Credit: Getty

Albert Finney was director Tony Richardson’s first choice to play the legendary Australian outlaw (the one who famously wore self-made armour) in this 1970 film, but he wasn’t interested. Hearing that Jagger was thinking about a second career as an actor, the director met him. While he wasn’t sure the singer’s sinewy body was right to play an action hero, Richardson admitted in his memoir ‘Long Distance Runner’ that Mick’s “wicked battered ‘Irish’ face was perfect for Ned”.

Unfortunately, the director thought the star never truly inhabited the role. “He couldn’t understand the dues he would have to pay to look at ease in the saddle – or maybe he just got bored,” wrote Richardson later. “He couldn’t suspend himself and become a character.”

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Things weren’t helped by Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull – who was cast to play his on-screen love interest – being hospitalised in Australia following an overdose soon after arriving in the country. The film was a flop and could have ended Mick’s music career too thanks to an accident during shooting.

“Suddenly, during a take, Mick yelled and dropped his revolver,” remembered Richardson. “His hand was bleeding…On examination in hospital, we found that a piece of jagged metal from one of the guns that had been firing at him had, just like a bullet, pierced his hand, which had been only a few centimetres away from his eye and had also threatened his forefinger, the most crucial for his guitar-playing. Mick behaved impeccably and courageously.”

‘Performance’

‘Performance’ – Credit: Rex_Shutterstock

This drugs-soaked classic from 1970 features Jagger as a reclusive, highly-libidoed rock star, hardly a stretch. And indeed, he’s excellent in the role – lascivious and magnetic.

But it’s the myths surrounding the production of the infamous threesome scene between the rocker, Anita Pallenberg and Michèle Breton which have endured.

Camera operator Mike Molloy later told Bafta that real intercourse had taken place – some of the film that was taken to the lab allegedly disappeared and was shown as a porno in Holland.

The roles that never were – ‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘Amadeus’, ‘Fitzcarraldo’, ‘Laughter in the Dark’

In ‘Fitzcarraldo’ with Jason Robards

The singer tried out for the part of Mozart’s rival Salieri in ‘Amadeus’, for which F. Murray Abraham later won an Oscar, while he was to star alongside Bond girl Maryam D’Abo in a 1986 remake of Tony Richardson’s 1969 Nabokov adaptation ‘Laughter in the Dark’ but it got stuck in development.

In the late 1960s, he was also set to appear in a drama called ‘Up Against It’ originally written by cult playwright Joe Orton for The Beatles. Sadly, Orton was murdered during pre-production.

Jagger had also been the first to buy the movie rights to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but had sold them on. In 2015, a 1968 petition was offered at auction signed by The Beatles amongst other Sixties luminaries, protesting the casting of David Hemmings in the title role and arguing Mick should be the lead instead (Malcolm McDowell eventually starred in the film which was released three years later).

And then there’s ‘Fitzcarraldo’. Jagger spent three months in the Peruvian jungle shooting Werner Herzog’s crazy epic, playing an assistant character called Wilbur alongside original lead Jason Robards. It all went horribly wrong when Robards contracted dysentery and had to leave the production, to be replaced by Klaus Kinski. The delays meant that Jagger also had to quit to fulfil his touring obligations with the Stones. Some of his work, mannered but charismatic as you would imagine, can be seen in the documentary ‘Burden of Dreams’ which charted the tumultuous shoot.

The rubbish 80-minute self-indulgent ‘music video’ ‘Running Out of Luck’

‘Running Out of Luck’

Also starring Dennis Hopper, Jerry Hall as herself and er, Jim Broadbent, this insane 1987 romp sees Mick play himself, well, a pop star called Mick, who gets kidnapped in Brazil while shooting a music video and involves slave girls as well as the star dancing along to a Stones song to convince some locals he’s really a famous singer.

Generally perceived by the fans to be Jagger taking the mickey out of himself, it’s regularly described as “hilarious” online. Whether that’s intentional or not is difficult to confirm.

Essentially a feature-length video for the titular song, which featured on his debut solo album ‘She’s the Boss’ (1985), it’s clearly aping Prince’s similar venture ‘Purple Rain’, though far less successfully.

There’s no doubt it’s cheesy and odd and co-star Rae Dawn Chong, with whom Jagger shared a raunchy sex scene, subsequently explained some of her anxieties over it to Playboy. “I hated the whole love scene,” she said. “That was always a bone of contention. But I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with these guys, Mick and the director, Julien Temple. I was always promised it was going to be dark lighting, but when we got going, they took advantage of me.”

Trenchcoated henchman in ‘Freejack’

‘Freejack’ – Credit: Rex_Shutterstock

Set in the crazy futuristic world of 2009, Jagger is Vacendak, a mercenary with, it turns out, a heart of gold.

Vacendak is chasing Alex Furlong, a young racing driver who is yanked into the future so he can be the physical vessel for Anthony Hopkins’ disembodied essence. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

Jagger has a variable American accent and terrible costumes (even Mick can’t pull off a crash helmet), but because the whole film is rubbish, you don’t really notice.

On the plus side, the rock star can say he acted opposite Emilio Estevez, a dream for any performer.

Quality support in ‘Bent’ and ‘The Man from Elysian Fields’

‘Bent’

Cineastes generally agree Jagger’s most accomplished work on-screen has been done more latterly, in 1997 stage adaptation ‘Bent’ and 2001 drama ‘The Man from Elysian Fields’.

The former is more a glorified cameo, as a transvestite called Greta seen lording it over a gay orgy in Nazi Germany and subsequently re-inventing himself under the brutal regime as trilby-hatted George. He’s powerful and wry and tragic.

The latter is more nuanced, as Mick plays the owner of a high-end escort agency who falls for Anjelica Huston and hires Andy Garcia to satisfy the dutiful young wife of a famous author.

‘The Man from Elysian Fields’ – Credit: Rex_Shutterstock

He received some of the best reviews of his career, Roger Ebert saying he gave his dialogue a “brave insouciance”. A scene in which he professes his love for Huston and she rebuffs him is one of the few times you feel like Jagger has managed to strip the public mask of performer away from his face. It’s emotionally honest and sad – there are probably hundreds of real-life women who wish he’d said the same thing to them.

Mick Jagger: film producer

At the premiere of ‘Get on Up’ – Credit: Getty

Latterly however, Jagger has preferred to stay behind-the-scenes with his production company Jagged Films. Their output has been sporadic – wartime drama ‘Enigma’ in 2001, 2008 ensemble remake ‘The Women’ and 2014’s James Brown biopic ‘Get On Up’.

But their development slate looks a little more plentiful. It involves an animated musical about a single mother in New York set to the songs of The Rolling Stones and a movie about the early days of Elvis, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin McDonald called ‘Last Train to Memphis’.

Whether Mick fancies a turn in front of the camera, who can guess…

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