Joseph Fiennes Talks Michael Jackson Controversy

When the news that actor Joseph Fiennes would be portraying Michael Jackson in a TV movie Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon broke, there was a ton of hysteria and controversy that followed. Fiennes is a caucasian actor, and because the TV movie was going to portray Jackson in his later years, this gave the actor permission to portray the famous icon. Some did not agree with this logic.

Now, the actor, who’s currently promoting his new biblical film Risen, has decided to explain just why this version of Michael Jackson works, despite the two being different races. For Fiennes, this is about colorblind casting, which is something the actor is familiar with, because of his background in the theater.

While he called the discussion “sensitive” for obvious reasons, Fiennes defended the creative choice of playing the “Billie Jean” singer. In an interview with the Associated Press, the actor said the following.

“If it promotes stereotyping, then it’s wrong. I made a distinction that the Jackson project doesn’t do that.”

That said, like everyone else, Fiennes had a similar reaction to when he was first approached to play the role. “It was a shock. I thought someone had got it wrong.”

He continued, bringing his own experience in the theater to explain his choice in taking on the role.

“Twenty years ago I worked for the National Theatre as a dresser. I saw a brilliant actress do Marilyn Monroe. Two critics refused to see it because she was black. I was working it from behind the stage and I couldn’t understand it because she was Marilyn for me. It was a lack of imagination on their part.”

In the middle of the outrage, a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey interviewing Michael Jackson had resurfaced. In the clip the two are discussing race, and despite the stories that pinned Jackson as erasing his African American roots with cosmetic surgery, the singer said that this couldn’t be further from the truth. He got into the subject of someone from another race portraying him one day:

“I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am, That’s like you [Oprah] wanting an oriental person to play you as a child. Does that make sense?”


As the Inquisitr noted, the only other time a white actor has portrayed Michael Jackson was in the context of a sketch comedy. On Saturday Night Live, Amy Poehler wore a black curly wig and took on the role of Michael Jackson. It sounds like when the news of Fiennes’ role in the TV movie was announced, many jumped to conclusions that this would be a serious biopic of sorts, when in fact, it sounds like a very tongue in cheek project that more or less examines celebrity, rather than Jackson’s life as a performer.

In an interview with am New York, he echoed these statements. For the actor, it came down to the context of the material and the time period of when they were going to show Michael Jackson. In the TV movie Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, Fiennes portrays the singer in the last few years of his life. The three icons take a road trip together after the 9/11 attacks leave them stranded.

“In terms of Michael, this is the last few years of his life that we’re looking at him. This is a 20-minute TV comedy and it’s a very moving TV comedy. For me, on the page it was less about Michael Jackson and was really about three dysfunctional people.”

[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]