Joseph Fiennes, the actor known for starring in the faith-based films "Luther" and "Risen", has come under fire after it was announced he would play Michael Jackson in a TV production for the UK's Sky Arts.
The trailer for the upcoming special, titled "Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon" from Urban Myths: A Brand New Collection of Comedies, hit YouTube on Tuesday, showing Fiennes - a white actor - in the role of Jackson opposite Stockard Channing as Elizabeth Taylor and Brian Cox as Marlon Brando.
The special is based on a 2011 Vanity Fair article alleging that Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando road-tripped to Ohio shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
"I sense the danger," Fiennes' Jackson tells Channing's Taylor in the clip as they drive along.
Not all fans are thrilled with the decision to cast Fiennes as Jackson, accusing producers of "whitewashing" the black musician. While admitting he didn't see himself as the obvious pick to play the late pop star, Fiennes explained that color shouldn't necessarily be a factor in this case.
"I'm a white, middle-class guy from London," Fiennes told Entertainment Tonight. "I'm as shocked as you may be."
He added, "[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."
Ben Palmer, who directs four episodes of the upcoming satirical comedy series, also said the decision to cast Fiennes was based on performance rather than physical appearance.
'We were casting Michael Jackson in 2001 and that obviously is a challenge in terms of the physical resemblance,' he told The Guardian. 'We were really looking for the performance that could unlock the spirit, and we really think Joe Fiennes has done that. He's given a really sweet, nuanced, characterful performance.'
While he does not identify as a Christian, Fiennes has appeared in a number of faith-based films over the past decade. Last year, he played Clavius, a Roman centurion tasked with finding Jesus' body when it goes missing three days after the crucifixion, in the film "Risen". Also in 2016, he played Scottish Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell in the "sequel" to "Chariots of Fire", and played Martin Luther in a 2003 biopic of the church reformer.
Explaining why he continues to appear in faith-based films, Fiennes said that all the individuals he's played in such movies are "very magnanimous, attractive figures."
"To have a chance to follow in their shoes, as it were, just for a film? I love that. I don't know why," he told Christianity Today.
When asked whether he identifies more with Luther and Liddell - insiders in Christianity - or Clavius, a skeptic, Fiennes told Relevant Magazine, "I think I lock onto human condition, then the condition leads me to the intellectual or the spiritual. But there's one thing that doesn't change and that's human condition; certain people can conquer elements of their conditions, and others are slaves to them."
He added, "I do like the journey of a person I can tangibly identify with as another human being. I'm less drawn to superheroes but more to spiritual beings that have to evolve by raising the bar and evolving themselves. Whether that's Clavius or Eric Liddell, I'm drawn to that self-introspection and dialogue, and I think many of us are. Whatever our faiths, there's an inner dialogue all the time, and I think this film promotes that dialogue."