Joseph Fiennes Says He Regrets Playing Michael Jackson: “I Asked the Broadcaster to Pull It”

Joseph Fiennes Michael Jackson
  • Save

Joseph Fiennes Michael Jackson
  • Save
Photo Credit: Sky Arts

Actor Joseph Fiennes explained in a recent interview that he regrets playing Michael Jackson in a 2016 episode of a dramatized anthology series: “I asked the broadcaster to pull it.”

During a recent in-depth interview with The Guardian, actor Joseph Fiennes regrets his decision to play Michael Jackson in an episode of a dramatized anthology called Urban Myths for Sky Arts in 2016. The episode told the fictionalized tale of Jackson embarking on a post-9/11 road trip with Marlon Brando (Brian Cox) and Elizabeth Taylor (Stockard Channing). 

Fiennes’ face was “caked in makeup” to make his skin appear even lighter — “possibly the only time an actor could be accused of both blackface and whiteface at the same time,” writes The Guardian’s Stuart McGurk. Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris, even tweeted that the portrayal “honestly makes me want to vomit.”

“I think people are absolutely right to be upset,” says Fiennes, reflecting on the role now. “And it was a wrong decision. Absolutely. And I’m one part of that — there are producers, broadcasters, writers, directors all involved in these decisions. But obviously, if I’m upfront, I have become the voice for other people.” 

“I would love them to be around the table as well to talk about it. But you know, it came at a time where there was a movement and a shift, and that was good, and it was, you know, a bad call. A bad mistake.”

Sky Arts pulled the episode before broadcast, explaining in a statement that the decision was made “in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson’s immediate family.”

“And, just to say,” Fiennes adds in The Guardian interview, “I asked the broadcaster to pull it. And there were some pretty hefty discussions, but ultimately people made the right choice.”

Fiennes also discussed pushing back while filming The Handmaid’s Tale when he felt a rape scene involving his character was “particularly egregious.” He lobbied against the scene, sending the producers a series of long emails to support his case.

“It’s a different collaboration,” he says, explaining the difference between starring in a long-running TV show and making a one-off film project. “You get more of a voice if it’s been running a few years on television. In film, you’re locked off. When the politburo says that’s it, that’s it.”