The last name “Jackson” comes with all sorts of opinions — some reverential, some not so pretty.
The four-episode documentary series “Janet Jackson” gives an intimate account of the star’s relationship to her family name over the course of her iconic – yet tumultuous – life and career, using astounding amounts of archival footage and interviews with Jackson herself. Benjamin Hirsch, the docuseries’ director, and executive producer Rick Murray sat down with Variety senior entertainment writer Angelique Jackson for a Variety Streaming Room conversation, presented by Lifetime, to explain how they handled Jackson’s story.
With more than 7,000 archival tapes and hours of interview footage, putting together the documentary proved to be a massive undertaking.
“Some of it was debating with Janet as well, who, by the way, thinks that most of her life is boring,” Murray said, explaining how they set about streamlining the storyline. “She’d say, ‘I just think it’s all boring, guys.’ I mean like, ‘Janet! No one’s seen this before! This is amazing, we could watch it for hours!’
One moment the filmmakers considered golden that Jackson didn’t immediately recognize, Murray shared, was the behind the scenes footage from the making of Jackson’s 1993 hit single “Again.”
“When she’s working with René [Elizondo Jr., her husband and] the music video director, she’s like, ‘Oh, I just don’t really see why…’” Murray recalled. “This is fascinating! This is an iconic moment that we’re seeing unpacked for the first time. So, some of it was convincing her to keep it in there.”
Jackson’s story, while full of empowering tales, is not without its controversy. But having the star involved as an executive producer proved instrumental in handling those instances with respect and providing new clarity.
“We hit every single beat that people know, whether it’s a controversial beat or a happy beat,” Murray said. “We just tried to hit it all and tell the whole story.”
Filming the documentary was emotional, as the they captured numerous personal moments with the superstar, including following Jackson to her small childhood home in Gary, Indiana.
“For me, the most emotional bit of the interview that we did was definitely when she’s talking about the passing of her brother [Michael], because obviously that was an incredibly difficult time for her,” Hirsch recalled.
The docuseries chronicles how close the siblings were as pop stardom challenged their relationships. Throughout the series, he notes, Jackson explains how she, Randy and Michael were the “Three Amigos.”
“He’d had these allegations against him. Some people say one thing about him, some people say another,” he explained. “But at the end of the day, he was her brother. It was incredibly hard for her to lose him. … It was incredibly emotional for her to talk about that and open up about the passing of Michael.”
Watch the full conversation in the video above.