Joseph Fiennes Michael Jackson

Joseph Fiennes Talks Michael Jackson Role: 'He Was Closer to My Color'

Everyone on Twitter has an opinion about Joseph Fiennes (American Horror Story) playing Michael Jackson in an upcoming British TV production — including the actor himself.

But before we get to his latest comments, here’s a refresher for those going “huh?” right now: A 2011 Vanity Fair article alleged that Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando road-tripped to Ohio — California was their intended destination — shortly after the 9/11 attacks. That story is now being retold in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a “half-hour, one-off comedy” airing on the UK’s Sky Arts, with Fiennes playing Jackson, Stockard Channing (The Good Wife) playing Taylor and Brian Cox (War & Peace) playing Brando.

“I’m a white, middle-class guy from London,” Fiennes tells Entertainment Tonight. “I’m as shocked as you may be.”

Many people were outraged over the idea of a white actor playing a black character, especially considering the current scandal with the Oscars’ whitewashed pool of nominees, but Fiennes maintains that color shouldn’t be an issue in this case: “[Jackson] definitely had an issue, a pigmentation issue, and that’s something I do believe. He was probably closer to my color than his original color.”

In addition to defending his casting, Fiennes is also defending the production, which he calls a “light, tongue-in-cheek look” at what could be merely an urban legend.

“It’s kind of off the wall,” Fiennes admits, “but the writing is a delight, and the kind of interaction between the three of them is funny, and also full of pathos. … It’s not in any way malicious. It’s actually endearing.”

There are currently no plans for Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon to air stateside.

Your thoughts on Fiennes’ casting? Drop ’em in a comment below.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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66 Comments
  1. Grace says:

    It’s not about skin pigmentation–it’s about race. I’m sure there are plenty black actors who could play that part–why, in this climate, when there are already very frank and pertinent discussions about the exclusion of non-white actors, would anyone go and cast a prominent black role with a white actor? Come on.

    • colig says:

      now they know how we feel when they keep changing traditionally white characters to black or remake movie and tv shows with blacks.i know you are going to say Jackson was not fictional but really that’s not the point. Its Ok for blacks to take white roles but reverse and its a crime against humanity.

      • Tai says:

        It’s not a crime against humanity but when there are already so few roles of substance offered to actors of color, to give away roles that are portraying people of color is just pointless.

      • jazzyt2u says:

        Those characters are FICTIONAL sorry that does make a difference. Because if the writers were to write them today some might be black. BUT we are talking about a real person.

        • D says:

          i don’t know if i would call Michael Jackson “real” i don’t know why anyone would want to play that pedophile

          • Jack says:

            Why don’t you first prove your point before you accuse someone who, through the lack of any evidence ever, even in a Court, was proven otherwise, not guilty.

        • Mel says:

          Cate Blanchet played Bob Dylan in the movie “I’m Not There”. He is not fictional and happens to be male. Where was all the outrage for this casting?

      • I totally agree with your opinion. I don’t understand why this is still being done. We have Black actors in various shades I can think of one perfect person and it is not a white person.

      • Oh please what movie did we take from White people? Because if I am correct every dang movie had white actors Blacks were the help. How do you explain that, exactly name all the Black Actors who played fictional white roles? Cause I can tell you how many played roles that were real life Black hero’s who were played by Whites.

        • Tom says:

          I think the person may be referring to the remakes of some movies recently, such as Steel Magnolias. IMO, with those characters being fictional, race does not matter. MJ, however light he may have been in the end, was not white. No white actor would play Mandela, and actor of any other race would play Ben Franklin.

      • Ray says:

        There it is…white privilege.

        • D says:

          there it is racism against whites, i wish all racist would fall off the earth

          • Annie says:

            Then you’d fall right off with them!

          • Courtney says:

            Newsflash homie, you can’t be racist towards white people. I, as a white person, am politely asking you to check your privilege and educate yourself.

          • D says:

            @Courtney what a moronic and ignorant statement, you clueless people have been brainwashed by the PC crowd and it’s sad and pathetic, you have no idea what you are talking about anyone and EVERYONE can be racist. It’s just complete stupidity to think otherwise. White privilege is a made up term by far left libs that feel guilty about being white. There is nothing wrong with being White, there is nothing wrong with being Black, and the only Privilege in this world is based on wealth. Guess what I’m White and I’ve been a victim of racism which is why I hate racist. I went to an almost all Black elementary school that was around 95% Black and I was the only white kid, I was picked on because I was white, I was made fun of because I was white, I got into fights because I was white. My first girlfriend was Black and was made to break up with me because I was white. I was called racist slurs and called out because of my race (sure the slurs aren’t as bad as the N-word but being singled out like that hurts as a kid) all of this could have turned me into a racist but it didn’t, because my best friends were Black in truth almost all of my friends were black. I KNOW racism and prejudice against whites is just as real as racism against African Americans, Asians, Arabs, Jews and everyone else it’s completely ignorant to think it’s not. Look up the definition of Racism and educate yourself.

          • Jack says:

            You, an obvious racist, being of an ethnic minority of migrant decent says– ”wish all racist would fall off the earth” Right, you hypocrite.

      • liame says:

        Grow up! Your dribble is just as pointless your name.

      • Annie says:

        Please do not lump all us white people into your racist bubble. I applaud when there is more diversity on tv. Any white person who claims to not be racist, *should* applaud and encourage racial diversity in our media. If you get upset about it, then you are racist.

      • Michelle says:

        Comparing the race switch of fictional comicbook characters to a real life black man being played by a white guy…seriously? Wow, you’re not very bright at all…

      • Stacia Davis says:

        It’s bad enough you devils brainwash Blacks got em Bleaching their beautiful black skin away in exchange for what is Eww! But insult the race further by pretending to be somebody you clearly are not,surgery or not,yes he messed up his face in the latter years of his life but at least have a little bit of decency,He still was black,the Jackson five wasn’t white ,wrong family dude ,try the Osmonds

        • Brigid says:

          “Devils brainwashed blacks”? What devils? Dumbest comment ever and I am offended by your disgust of my skin color. Could you be any more hateful? Are you so gullible that you can’t think for yourself and let others dictate your life? How embarrassing for you.

    • D says:

      @ Grace Roflmao, i agree 100% however i bet you’d feel different if the roles were reversed and a black actor was playing a white role

    • Lucifer says:

      Michael Jackson was black until the 1990s, then he bleached his skin, reduced his nose and lips, and began wearing wigs – erasing all black features he was born with. The fact that people are still so ignorant to pretend he had a “disease” or completely ignore his transformation is beyond sad – it’s pathetic.

    • Exactly! He – and the bunch of them, it would seem – lack the life experience to properly address Michael’s brackground, actual skin pigmentation be damned (like they couldn’t find a black actor with lighter skin, anyway). And even if the UK producers somehow managed to miss the ongoing discussions happening all over the globe and EVEN the Oscar’s brouhaha, WHY IN GOODESS NAME WOULD YOU CAST A WHITE ACTOR TO PLAY ICONIC BLACK ICON LEGEND MICHAEL JACKSON? It boggles the mind, and I have lost what little respect I had for everyone involved (sorry Cox, you should have know better).

  2. Karen says:

    I agree with Mr Fiennes about the coloring of Mr Jackson’s skin. For the time in his life when this is supposed to represent, Michael was doing his best to present as a white man. This is one time when white was the best choice.

    • Tracee says:

      “Michael was doing his best to present as a white man.” This is an extremely ignorant comment. I know people with the disease and it is not a laughing matter to them, nor should it be to anyone with a soul. Jackson donated to several historically black colleges throughout his lifetime, WAS a black man and was TREATED like one.

    • Carm says:

      Michael did not look like a white man. He looked like a man who had bleached his skin. A black actor could have easily played a man with vitiligo who started to bleach his skin to match. There is no reason for a white man to play this role.

      • D says:

        he also got rid of his “black” nose and thinned his lips as well as other changes, come on stop being idiots, that had nothing to do with his “skin” condition

    • There are Black actors that have light skin and can act. So explain how the white British Man is going to portray MJ? Prince would have been a better choice (he being Puerto Rica and Black).

  3. Wordsmith says:

    I wonder: would it be better or worse to cast a black actor and then put Caucasian makeup on him to have him look like Jackson did at that time?

    • L says:

      This is also what I was thinking. Would a black actor have to ‘white-up’ for this? If a white actor ‘blacked-up’ it would never be tolerated.

  4. Scout says:

    Seriously?

  5. colig says:

    he was actually closer to the color of the character from the movie Powder.

  6. Larry says:

    Whenever it comes to casting, I usually side with the producers and director for their particular vision. In this case, I believe they cast Fiennes because they believe he is the best actor for this project.

    Just yesterday, Delroy Lindo got cast to be Dominic Fortune, a Caucasian character. I would hope to believe he wasn’t cast just to be diverse but because he is the best actor to portray this character. So if I’m willing to give the producers latitude in that casting choice -I have to do the same here with Fiennes as well. With the current talk about diversity, everyone is thinking every creative decision made is based on some sort of racial bias -but what if that is the last thing on producers minds? What if the real reason why Fiennes got hired is because he is talented and is the best actor to pull off the type of project the producers want.

  7. Drew says:

    The fact is, there is no good choice for anyone to play Michael Jackson. He had undergone such a drastic physical change over the course of his career that you would need entirely different actors to play him at any point in that life, and any one of those actors would probably need to rely on heavy makeup toward the end.
    This role proves what everyone should already know by now. Humans are humans. We’re all just ugly bags of mostly water. People shouldn’t get upset because an actor doesn’t come from the right place. Or, to put it another way… “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”

  8. Preacher Book says:

    You’re an actor, so you don’t turn down work. Don’t blame Ralph.

  9. Olivia says:

    Straight actors play LGBT, LGBT play straight, middle-eastern people play Latinos, anyone blond is fair game for a Scandinavian character, any redhead for an Irish, it only takes a fake accent (not necessarily good) to play [insert any nationality according to the US here], Asians are interchangeable like they’re all the same, 30-somethings play teenagers, and I could go on and on… This industry has very strange views of the world. As a gay woman myself, I roll my eyes a LOT. But sometimes the result is not always bad! A good script and a good performance can do wonders.

    The timing is off though, that I agree with.

    A white man, Michael Jackson was not. However, depending on the era, MJ couldn’t be played believably by a non surgically changed black person either looks-wise. It would actually erase a big part of his character and his internal struggles. So unless the industry stops portraying the artist forever (which would be a pity) MJ will always spark debate no matter who is cast to play him.

  10. Steven says:

    This is really one case where a white man is probably best to play this role. By this point in his life Michael was almost an albino. Putting a black actor in white face wouldn’t be right and there is a resemblence.

  11. Truly color blind casting, lol.

  12. liame says:

    SHAMONE? HEE HEE!

  13. JosiahBartlet4President says:

    Really disappointed this won’t air stateside.

  14. Rasha says:

    I was wondering what kind of dick would take the role of a celebrated black entertainer, one that’s obviously not for him, and now I know–a giant one. I hope the studio loses millions on this ignorant garbage.

  15. John Davis says:

    I really don’t care either way if he does good than great if not oh well, this doesn’t sound like a movie I would watch of a black person was playing Michael . What I don’t understand is people notion of black, I am very light with green eyes and I am black we are many different shades there are some black peoples who could virtually pass for white but they are black so I’m not buying they couldn’t find someone close to mj’s unnatural skin tone . I don’t know who would want to play MJ anyway, Joseph finnes is a decent actor, why on earth would he want to star in a lifetime type of movie. all I know is when my biopic come out it better not star someone who could never relate to my life my struggles or my upbringing lol

  16. Courtney says:

    YIKES. I definitely won’t be tuning in. There is already a lack of representation in the media when it comes to POC. The fact that they cast a white actor to play a black man is astounding. It would be one thing if it was a fictional character, but MJ was a real person. He deserves to not be white washed.

    • Alex says:

      But he looked white. He wasn’t born white sure but by 2001 his skin definitely wasn’t black. If this film was going to have flashbacks you’d have a point. If it was going to examine the disease he had, sure. But it’s not it’s a comedy road trip story that no one can confirm actually happened. And for those of you hoping they lose millions this is a TV movie. It doesn’t even cost a million to make but I can tell you now they’ve chosen now to stir up controversy to get attention. Similar to the announcement of a remake sequel whatever of labyrinth. No publicity is bad publicity. These comment sections are what they wanted. This thing would have flown under the radar without this story attached to it.

  17. Eran says:

    Sorry but are you all nuts? Get yourselves to Google Images and look up ‘Michael Jackson, 2001’. Regardless of whether it was a disease or intentional skin bleaching, the fact is Michael Jackson barely resembled a human being by 2001 and looked about as black as Anna Farris.
    It is exactly because this is based on a real person and a controversial one at that over the radical alterations in his appearance and colour that casting needed to make a point of getting someone who could somehow pass for the 2001 version of Michael Jackson.
    This isn’t about race! It’s about believability.

  18. Erin B says:

    Maybe it’s a creative choice like that Bob Dylan movie “I’m Not There” where Cate Blanchett played one aspect of his life. I don’t know the filmmaker’s intent, but just throwing out another perspective.

  19. Stacy says:

    Given Michael’s severe condition of vitiligo, I completely understand casting a white actor in this role. Racially, yes, Michael was a black man. But I think most people would agree that if they just saw him on the street without knowing his identity, he would not be identified as black – either by skin color or features.

  20. Jbj says:

    Can talk about the Joseph Fiennes is a poor casting choice simply because at best he is a mediocre actor, therfore he could not possibly be the “best actor” for the role? Brian Cox would be a better casting choice for MJ than him…heck Meryl Streep! Sure, she’s a white woman, but I can at least imagine her in the role. Joseph Fiennes, however, has never embodied a character, let alone one as complex as Michael Jackson.

  21. bill says:

    Hopefully we will get to a point where race does not matter in casting any roles. Ideally the role should go to the person who best embodies the character.

    I take as a positive sign the fact that one of the top shows on Broadway right now is Hamilton where a group of real white people are being played by actors of various races.

    As to who is the best person to play Michael Jackson, I don’t know. I was looking at a show where they had him back in the days of the Jackson 5 – he was a such a good looking kid. It was a shame that he could not see and accept himself as he was. Illness aside, it is obvious he had major surgery done to change his appearance. He lived his later years in an isolated world divorced from the realities of most of us.

    I don’t know that his life in his later years was relatable by anyone.

  22. Roger Cross says:

    Disgusting! In this day and age, this shouldn’t happen. As talented as Joseph is, there are many qualified actors who could and should play that part. He should turn it down!

  23. Cora says:

    The makeup artist tried hard as hell to make him look like Michael Jackson but he doesn’t look anything like him. I don’t care if they had to hire a white or black man as long as they favor Michael then I can believe it!! Although, they might of been better off hiring a light skinned black man for the role. The nose is too big and the upper mouth is too wide, etc. Plus as strange as this might seem Michael looked a bit peculiar from the norm but he was cute. I’m sorry but where are the Michael look alikes?? There has to be someone out there..ugh!!

  24. Cora says:

    I don’t care if the actor is white or black as long as he favors Michael Jackson. I can tell the makeup artist worked hard as heck to make him look like Michael but it just didn’t happen. He looks nothing like Michael. Maybe they should of hired a light skinned black person. The nose and the face don’t fit. Michael was cute and charming in a peculiar way.that’s lacking.