Joseph Fiennes defends his casting as Michael Jackson in new TV comedy

'Shakespeare In Love' actor says the late singer 'definitely had a [skin] pigmentation issue'

Joseph Fiennes has defended his casting as Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon, a forthcoming TV comedy from Sky Arts.

Some commentators have criticised the decision to cast Fiennes, who is white, as the African American pop icon, but the Shakespeare In Love actor insisted he is an appropriate choice to portray Jackson.

“I’m a white, middle-class guy from London. I’m as shocked as you may be,” Fiennes told Entertainment Tonight before adding: “[Michael Jackson] definitely had an issue – a pigmentation issue – and that’s something I do believe. He was probably closer to my colour than his original colour.”

The one-off 30-minute comedy is based on an urban legend, entertainingly documented in a 2011 Vanity Fair article, which claims Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando fled New York City together in a rental car in the wake of 9/11.

According to the legend, Jackson had invited the Hollywood icons to his concert at Madison Square Garden and after the 9/11 attacks, when all air travel was cancelled, the trio decided to take a road trip to safety in California. “They actually got as far as Ohio – all three of them, in a car they drove themselves,” a former employee of Jackson later claimed. Along the way, they apparently made pitstops at several fast food restaurants.

Alongside Fiennes as Michael Jackson, Stockard Channing has been cast as Elizabeth Taylor and veteran Scottish actor Brian Cox (Rushmore, Troy) will play Brando. Journalist/author Neil Forsyth, the creator of cult BBC Four sitcom Bob Servant Independent, has written the script.

“It’s kind of off the wall, but the writing is a delight, and the kind of interaction between the three of them is funny, and also full of pathos,” Fiennes said of the TV comedy. “It’s people who are so iconic, but also can be detached. You know, you can get detached from society. So it’s examining that kind of wonderful and mad detachment.”

Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon will premiere on Sky Arts later this year.