Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is, in a word, weird. It’s visually stunning, often hilarious, ambitious as all hell…but deeply, profoundly, cartoonishly weird. This is a movie where Milla Jovovich is running around wearing oversized band-aids and speaking in broken english, where Gary Oldman’s performance as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg is just this side of Looney Tunes territory. And then there’s Ruby Rhod. The frenetic, squeaky-voiced, androgynous talk-show host made Chris Tucker a household name, but it turns out there was another well-known personality originally slated to fill Ruby Rhod’s outlandish shoes: the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
The Brooklyn Museum has a new exhibit featuring the work of artist/costume designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who, in addition to working on The Fifth Element, also includes films such as The City of Lost Children and The Skin I Live In. The folks at io9 hit up the event and capture some very cool relics from a Fifth Element that might have been, concept designs for the Ruby Rhod costume Gaultier created for Prince when the musician was still attached to the project back in the early ‘90s.
The exhibit also included Gaultier’s first-hand account of showing the art to Prince…and Prince’s unexpected reaction to it.
One of the thousand costumes in The Fifth Element, I took my inspiration for many of them from my own collections. Filming was originally planned for 1992, with Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson and Prince in the leading roles but due to a lack of financing the project was put on hold. At that time, the role of Ruby Rhod, the outrageous media personality finally played by Chris Tucker, had been given to Prince.
When the singer was giving a series of concerts in Paris, Luc Besson wanted us both to meet with him to show him my sketches. Prince had already attended my runway shows, but he came and went very quickly every time, so we had never been formally introduced. While I was waiting for Luc in his office, I saw this huge bodyguard appear, with Prince trailing behind him. As Luc hasn’t yet arrived, I thought he must have wanted me to meet with Prince alone, so we could get to know each other a little bit. In broken English, and with my strong French accent, I tried my best to make conversation, something like ‘Hell-O Prin-ze, welcome to Par-isse! So for ze role I sink…’
I showed him my drawings, but he didn’t say a word. I had had an idea for a really funny costume with netting which quite long body hair would pass through, and I had done front and back versions of it. So then I explained to Prince: ‘Eet eel fake ‘air, you know, and eet eel beaucoup, beaucoup, airy, vraiment fun, and ze back is made of sat, and on ze back were eez ze faux cul, you know, a very big faux cul.’ and I slapped my buttocks to show him how the back of the costume would be designed.
Still not saying anything, Prince gave me this Charlie Chaplin kind of look. I could see that something had just happened, but I didn’t know what, only that he had indicated to his body guard that he wanted to leave right then and there. I thought he was going to go and see Luc. Later, Luc told me that Prince had been very surprised and amused — by my presentation, but that he found the costumes a bit too effeminate. And, most importantly, he had thought he head ‘Fuck you, fuck you!’ when I was saying in my terrible English accent ‘faux cul, faux cul’ [fake ass]! —Jean Paul Gaultier
Yes, you read that right: the Ruby Rhod outfit was “too effeminate” for freakin’ Prince. If designing an outfit that Prince dismisses as too effeminate isn’t one of the most impressive accomplishments you could have on your resume, I don’t know what is. Here are a few shots of Tucker as Ruby Rhod, to refresh your memory. (Assuming a thing like that could ever fade in your memory.)
Almost as intriguing is the notion of Mel Gibson as Korben Dallas and Julia Roberts as Leeloo. Bruce Willis played the former role in the final film, and Jovovich the latter. I can sort of see Gibson as Dallas, back in the days when he was doing a better job of disguising his real-life batshit insanity. But the notion of romcom darling Roberts as Leeloo is…not convincing, to say the least. Let’s just be glad that road remained untaken.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk will be on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum until February 23rd, 2014.