Actor Joseph Fiennes says he was “shocked” to be cast as Michael Jackson in a TV show for Sky Arts.
Joseph Fiennes plays Michael Jackson in the comedy about a supposed road trip taken by the singer, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Some fans have reacted angrily to the casting, but Joseph Fiennes said he thought Michael Jackson was “probably closer to my color than his original color”.
Sky Arts said producers had “creative freedom” in the casting.
Joseph Fiennes said he believed Michael Jackson – who died in 2009 – had a “pigmentation issue” with his skin, so the issue of race should not come into play.
However, the actor told Entertainment Tonight: “I’m a white, middle-class guy from London – I’m as shocked [about the casting] as you might be.
“It’s a light comedy look. It’s not in any way malicious. It’s actually endearing. And the more I actually looked at Michael – it’s great, as an actor, to have so much to copy and look at in interviews – the more I kind of fell in love with him.”
Describing the plot of the 30-minute program – titled Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon – Joseph Fiennes said: “Michael and two of his best buddies, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, happened to be in New York the night before 9/11.
“It was a concert Michael was giving, and Brando was introducing him on stage.
“I don’t know if this is an urban legend or if it’s true, but the three of them couldn’t get out because air space was shut down, so the three of them jumped in a car and went on a road trip.”
Stockard Channing, who is best known for her roles in TV drama The West Wing and musical Grease, is playing Elizabeth Taylor in the comedy with Brian Cox starring as Marlon Brando.
There has been a backlash on Twitter to the casting, with some using the hashtag #whitewashing and others claiming they thought the story was actually from satirical magazine The Onion.
CNN entertainment reporter Chris Witherspoon posted a 1993 Michael Jackson interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he discussed rumors he had wanted a white child to play him in a TV commercial, telling the presenter: “Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American (…) I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am.”
Angela Bassett, who played Tina Turner in biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, joked on Twitter she had “ordered violet contacts” and was “ready” to play Elizabeth Taylor after Sleepy Hollow star Orlando Jones suggested she play the actress.
The story about the road trip first came to light in a 2011 Vanity Fair article, which quoted a former employee of Michael Jackson as saying: “They actually got as far as Ohio – all three of them, in a car they drove themselves!”
Marlon Brando was said to have annoyed his friends by wanting to stop at nearly every fast food restaurant they passed on the way.
However, one of Elizabeth Taylor’s assistants dismissed the claims, saying the actress had actually stayed in New York and visited Ground Zero in the days after the attack.
Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon will be broadcast later this year as part of a series on unlikely stories from the history of arts and culture.