Joseph Fiennes to Play Michael Jackson in 9/11 Road Trip Comedy

Joseph Fiennes Michael Jackson
REX Shutterstock/Charles Sykes/REX Shutterstock

LONDON — Joseph Fiennes, who was BAFTA nominated for “Shakespeare in Love,” is set to play the late singer Michael Jackson in “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon,” a one-off, half-hour comedy ordered by U.K. pay TV network Sky, the company confirmed Wednesday.

Stockard Channing will play Elizabeth Taylor and Brian Cox will take the part of Marlon Brando in the show, which re-enacts a road trip the three friends allegedly made following the New York terrorist attacks in September 2001. In an attempt to get home to the West Coast, the trio are said to have driven from New York to Ohio, with frequent stops at fast-food restaurants, at Brando’s insistence. The trip was written about in an article in Vanity Fair. Some of Taylor’s friends claim she did not make the trip.

Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Fiennes conceded the incongruity of a white actor being asked to play an African American singer. “I’m a white, middle-class guy from London … I’m as shocked as you may be,” he said. “[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.”

Fiennes also recently told WENN: “It’s a lovely thing about Michael’s relationship with Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando. It’s a fun, light-hearted tongue-in-cheek road trip of what celebrity of that kind is like. But also it’s rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships as well.”

“Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon” was written by Neil Forsyth, and is directed by Ben Palmer, whose credits include “The Inbetweeners Movie” and “Man Up.” It is being produced by LittleRock Pictures, which was founded by Ralf Little and Zoë Rocha. Little is best known as an actor in the comedy “The Royle Family.” Rocha was previously chief operating officer of Stephen Fry’s Sprout Pictures. She produced “Moone Boy,” directed by and starring Chris O’Dowd.

“Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon” will air later this year on the Sky Arts channel. Phil Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, wrote about the upcoming show in a blog post for Huffington Post last month (see link).

In a statement, a Sky spokesperson said: “‘Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon’ is a Sky Arts comedy which takes a light-hearted look at a reportedly true event; Joseph Fiennes is cast as Michael Jackson. It is part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history. Sky Arts gives producers the creative freedom to cast roles as they wish, within the diversity framework which we have set.”

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  1. Pottering says:

    Were Bob Dylan fans this irate when he was portrayed by Cate Blanchett and Marcus Carl Franklyn?

  2. Alexandria says:

    In the 1990s, Michael Jackson specifically stated that he did not want a white actor to portray him in a movie. The actors playing Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando are both white, so why not cast a black man to play Michael Jackson? This is a prime example of why actors of color continue to struggle to make a living in the film industry in both the U.S. and Great Britain. If black actors can’t even portray other black people in movies, then what recourse do black actors have? Thank God for Idris Elba, David Oyelowo, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and other black British actors who continue to be role models for other actors of color.

  3. T'omm J'Onzz says:

    can’t wait to hear from those criticizing the criticism of the Oscars lacking diversity. #MichaelSoWhite

  4. So I guess everyone here is adamantly against Idris Elba playing James Bond. Or is this skin color thing only a one-way street? (For the record, I think it would be great; I just think you all have sticks up your a**es.)

  5. Kira says:

    Michael Jackson’s skin color has nothing to do with whether he was black or not. He had a skin disease that attacked his pigment. The fact that Joseph and everyone involves with this show thinks it’s funny, just points out how fucking offensive and ignorant this is. Since race is just a suggestion, we should get Eddie Murphy to play all four of the Beatles. Ya know, for comedy’s sake.

  6. Betty A says:

    who cast this project? I’d love to see them walk the perp walk. massive insult to all Persons of Color, white, pink, brown & black. shame.

  7. Bill B. says:

    Very bizarre, but it might work. Jackson was certainly not black in his later life (he was near ghostly looking) and Stockard Channing just might be a fun as an over the top Taylor and Cox is a very fine actor. Interesting.

  8. Lisa says:

    What in the world? Bizarre.

  9. BigSioux says:

    Between Michael Jackson’s chronic skin condition known as “Vitiligo” and his surgeries, he no longer resembled someone who appeared black. Vitiligo is the skin’s inability to produce pigment.

  10. hasdibravo says:

    It’s a deranged situation, but Joseph Fiennes only has to “look the part” to play Michael Jackson. Requiring him to be actually black would be racial hiring discrimination, hence illegal, as messed up as it sounds. I would have been fine with this, if Elizabeth Taylor and/or Brian Cox are cast with PoC actors, but that did not happen either. So now, we have a situation where you have a TV movie that features a well-known black character, but very limited appeal to black audience. Joseph Fiennes need to step up and embrace his inner blackness.

  11. Chris says:

    I don’t get this–A white English kid is playing Michael Jackson? In black face? Am I missing something?

  12. MKC says:

    How’s that for diversity! A white dude playing Michael Jackson. Good for Joe, breaking the color barrier.

    • desertland says:

      The only freaks in the Jackson story were the mentally ill parents who coached their puppets to accuse MJ for the mighty dollar. MJ was the exact opposite of a pedophile he was hypersensitive and emphatic ever since he was a kid, shy, very easy to embarrass, ashamed of his body because of his skin condition, only attracted to females but not much interested in sex at all.
      And there is no pedophile in the world who is defended by dozens of kids including by those who slept in his room hundreds of times.
      You apparently knows nothing about him and have been brainwashed by the media.

    • Chris Porter says:

      You’re so ignorant. Have some respect for the dead.

    • Annie says:

      This is not unusual. There are countless examples of white actors portraying characters who are black. That is something that has been happening throughout history. White actors using blackface goes back to minstrel shows, and was done a lot before and after the Civil War. What is not common is black actors portraying characters who are white, characters who are based on real people who are white, or characters who were written to be white. I could go into why this does not happen, but I doubt that you would get it.

    • Chris says:

      I cannot for the life of me begin to understand how a group of producers could think this is a) the best casting choice; b) a great idea; c) a casting that, given the problems of diversity in the industry, will not face an immediate and vociferous backlash and; 4) who the fxxk is going to watch this?; 5) are we being punked?

    • Spider says:

      Technically, it’s a Brit playing Michael Jackson… So happy to see the film industry embracing diversity!

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