English Actor Joseph Fiennes on Being Cast as Michael Jackson: He Was 'Probably Closer to My Color'
"He was probably closer to my color than his original color," Fiennes said of Michael Jackson
“I’m a white, middle-class guy from London. I’m as shocked as you may be,” Fiennes told Entertainment Tonight of being cast as Jackson in a British TV movie.
“[Jackson] definitely had an issue – a pigmentation issue – and that’s something I do believe,” he said referring to Jackson’s light skin, which the singer has said was a result of a rare skin disease, vitiligo. “He was probably closer to my color than his original color.”
Fiennes called his appearance in the film “a light comedy look,” adding: “It’s not in any way malicious. It’s actually endearing.”
The 45-year-old actor will portray the music icon, who was African-American, in the drama based on a purported road trip Jackson took with Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. The TV movie will be broadcast in the U.K. by Sky Arts.
However, Jackson himself might not have been very happy with the casting choice. A 1993 interview has surfaced in which the music legend told Oprah Winfrey that he always wants to stay true to his identity as an African-American.
He addressed rumors that he wanted a white child to portray him in a ’90s Pepsi commercial, describing the claims as “the most ridiculous, horrifying story I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s crazy … Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American. I’m proud to be a black American,” he said then.
The movie, Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, is based on a 2011 Vanity Fair story that revealed Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackson rented a car and set out on a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles after they were unable to catch a flight out of the Big Apple due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The casting choice came as a shock to many, and social media was soon abuzz with news that a white actor had been cast as Jackson.
In fact, officials with Black Entertainment Television (BET) uploaded a tweet criticizing the decision as white-washing.
Orlando Jones took to Twitter to joke that’s he’s onboard with the casting, but “IF AND ONLY IF Angela Bassett is cast as Elizabeth Taylor.”
“BRILLIANT! Ordered my violet contacts & bathed in White Diamonds this morning, so I’m READY! Let’s do this!” Bassett quipped in response to the idea.
But Fiennes, while acknowledging that the casting decision may draw some criticism, told ET that he and Jackson don’t look that different.
Sky Arts previously defended the casting choice, telling PEOPLE that “Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish.”
“It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history,” the production company said of the movie in a statement.