“I think outrage is good, as long as it doesn’t get into a violent shouting match,” Fiennes recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “These conversations are really important and they shape our industry. It’s vital to have them. I kind of welcome it. You can’t do this and not welcome it.”
The half-hour TV special, titled Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, follows a fictional road trip taken by Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
After noting that, as a white actor, he wrestled with the implications of playing the African-American pop star before taking the part, Fiennes explained why he feels color blind casting is healthy in film.
“It’s important because all actors bring something fresh and new. We’re looking for imagination and interpretation, and it doesn’t steal anything away from the true identity of that person. It might offer something new and fresh and funny; as long as it doesn’t become disenfranchising, racial or rude or stereotypical,” he said.
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Fiennes also said that he believes the reaction to his casting would have been different if minority actors were offered the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
“The thing is, the playing field is not fair right now, and that’s absolutely evident,” Fiennes admitted. “This is quite right, why people are up in arms. I’m a full believer in making the playing field fair. When it is fair, we can have a conversation about this project and it wouldn’t cause outrage.”
But given the current debate on diversity in Hollywood, Fiennes said he feels the conversation is especially pertinent.
“The reaction is important – I’d never shy away from that. I share this industry with my brothers and sisters right across the board, and I only want a level playing field.”
The Shakespeare in Love actor stressed that Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon is not attempting to tell Jackson’s life’s story.
“It’s not a biopic, and it’s not Michael in his younger days,” Fiennes clarified. “It’s Michael in his last days when, I have to say, he did look quite frankly rather differently than when we grew up with him in the ’80s or earlier. So it’s as Michael as we last remembered him and how he looks.”
The comedy will be broadcast in the U.K. by Sky Arts, who defended the casting in a statement to PEOPLE. “It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history,” a rep said. “Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set.”