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Joseph Fiennes says playing Michael Jackson ‘was a wrong decision’

<i>Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Turner</i><br/>Joseph Fiennes
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Turner
Joseph Fiennes

By Lisa Respers France, CNN

(CNN) — Though the project was never released, Joseph Fiennes being cast to play Michael Jackson in 2017 created a whitewashing controversy.

Now the actor is expressing regret for taking the role of the music icon in an episode of the anthology series “Urban Myths.” The pulled episode was about Jackson, Marlon Brando (played by Brian Cox) and Elizabeth Taylor (played by Stockard Channing) supposedly taking a cross-country road trip after 9/11.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Fiennes addressed the backlash to his casting.

“I think people are absolutely right to be upset,” Fiennes said.

“And it was a wrong decision. Absolutely,” he said. “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,” Fiennes added. “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.”

Due to the uproar, the episode was pulled before it aired, something Fiennes took partial credit for during his interview.

“I asked the broadcaster to pull it,” he said. “And there were some pretty hefty discussions, but ultimately people made the right choice.

Fiennes had initially defended the decision in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

“It’s Michael in his last days when, I have to say, he did look quite frankly rather differently than when we grew up with him in the ’80s or earlier,” Fiennes said then. “The decision with the casting and the producers – I wrangled with it, I was confused and shocked at what might come my way, and I knew the sensitivity, especially to Michael’s fans and to Michael’s family. It doesn’t negate who he was.”

In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson rejected the idea of having a white actor portray him onscreen. Winfrey had asked him about reports that he wanted Pepsi to cast a white actor to play him as a child in a commercial.

“That is so stupid,” Jackson said at the time. “That’s the most ridiculous, horrifying story I’ve ever heard. It’s crazy.”

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