Since David Bowie's death on Jan. 10 much has been written about the late British rock icon's varied interests and achievements — but one of his lesser-known projects was starring in a family fantasy film shot in the Lower Mainland in 1998.

David Bowie

Bowie in a still from the movie Mr. Rice's Secret. (Nicholas Kendall)

In Mr. Rice's Secret Bowie, then 51, played the role of Mr. Rice, a whimsical 400-year-old man who befriends a terminally ill boy and leads him on a treasure hunt to unearth a secret.

Much of the film was shot in a Victorian house in New Westminster in 1998, and the film was released in 2000.

"[Mr. Rice] recurs at various points in the movie and is an amazing presence," said the film's director Nicholas Kendall, a filmmaker and instructor at Capilano University's School of Motion Picture Arts.

'A real gentleman'

Kendall said that Peter O'Toole was originally slated for the role, but when that fell through the financiers managed to secure Bowie for the role, because he had read and enjoyed the script.

"We started shooting before he got there, and the crew were saying, 'Is David Bowie really going to be in this movie?'" Kendall laughed.

He said Bowie was "great" to work with and the only condition the star had was that the set location was kept secret so he wouldn't be deluged by paparazzi.

"He was a real gentleman from the beginning, very receptive, very open, very good with the young cast."

'Very approachable'

Kendall added that he was surprised to find that the megastar could be "kind of shy, a little introverted."

"I've heard him talk about how in order to perform he adopted these characters, but the man himself was much more low-key and very approachable," he said.

"He was very interested in the art. He even talked about how in some ways he wished he could clone himself and one person could go and do the performing, and the other could do all the other things he was interested in, because he had a lot of interests."

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Vancouver actor Billy Switzer and David Bowie on the set of Mr. Rice's Secret in 1998. (Nicholas Kendall)

For a person who achieved so much in the years of his own life, Bowie's advice to the terminally ill boy as his character Mr. Rice are particularly poignant in one scene in the movie:

"All people, no matter who they are, they all wish they'd appreciated life more. It's what you do in life that's important, not how much time you have."

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Vancouver filmmaker recalls directing David Bowie in small Canadian film