Artie de Cruella is an incredible tribute to David Bowie
Cruella introduces Disney’s first openly gay character, Artie, and also pays homage to musician David Bowie, who influenced him.
Cruel features Disney’s first openly gay character, Artie, and also pays homage to musician David Bowie. Portrayed by British actor John McCrea, the owner of the vintage store has a glam rock aesthetic, which thematically aligns with the main London setting of the 1970s. In a 2021 interview, McCrea reveals that not only Bowie influenced Disney character Artie, but that the iconic artist is also a major inspiration to him in general.
In the film, Artie sports shaggy blonde hair, thick makeup, painted nails, and quirky clothes. The character immediately forms a bond with Emma Stone’s Estella Miller, an aspiring fashion designer who eventually becomes Cruella de Vil. Artie regularly conspires with Cruella to create chaos, make art and be original – concepts specific to the London glam rock movement and the punk rock movement that followed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In particular, it was David Bowie who inspired a generation to be original and authentic themselves.
In Cruel, Artie is stylized as Bowie’s early ’70s Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous character from the 1972 album The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders of Mars. Aesthetically, the two characters have similar preferences when it comes to hairstyle and makeup, with McCrea adopting basic Ziggy manners. In Cruel, Artie informs Estella that he is indeed having issues on the streets about his appearance, but he doesn’t care what other people think of him. Bowie has taken the same approach with his career, evidenced by his innovative style. Bowie not only wrote about a character named Ziggy Stardust, but instead took on the character, which was inspired by English rock singer Vince Taylor. During an interview in May 2021 (via Gay time), McCrea explains how Bowie and T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan influenced by Cruella Artie:
“I remember when I first auditioned. [Marc] Bolan was given as a reference, so I had it in my head a lot. When I went to the audition I wore this shirt as outrageously as I dared, something I would never wear on the streets. I actually borrowed it from my friend because I didn’t even have anything so outrageous, and put it in the audition toilet. I thought of David Bowie to Mark Bolan, but David Bowie is on my mind all the time no matter what I do – even if I’m just at Tesco. So I couldn’t escape it. “
Before Cruel, McCrea has portrayed other androgynous and transvestite characters in previous roles. He appeared as a younger version of drag queen Loco Chanelle in the musical Everybody’s talking about Jamie, and also portrayed Angel on stage in Rental. While these characters are quite unique, with their own personalities and worldviews, they are indeed linked by glam rock sensibilities that Bowie made popular in the ’70s. In fact, McCrea reveals in the above. Gay time interview that Artie was originally a drag queen, and explains why this detail was omitted:
“Interestingly, in one of the first scripts he was a drag queen. But then that idea changed because everyone realized that it was more important, like I said, than it’s a lifestyle choice for him – it’s not a performance. But yes, he’s fabulous in every way. I think it’s important to say he’s queer because obviously a lot people dressed like that back then who weren’t necessarily queer, but in my head he always was. “
In Cruel, Artie’s performance channeled the spirit of ’70s rock. More importantly, he embraced the spirit of David Bowie. The film focused on Estella’s journey to realize that she was and always had been Cruella on the inside. But Artie is to be commended for living authentically in a time when androgyny was even more judged than it is now, inspired by Bowie, who did the same. Artie isn’t just a gay store owner at Disney Cruel, he’s not just a fan of 70s rock either. He contains multitudes and finds his inner strength by loving himself first and foremost.
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