If you thought King of Pop Michael Jackson had a strange life, things are about to get even weirder now that he's long gone. Britain's new Sky Arts production company has cast a white British actor, Shakespeare In Love's Joseph Fiennes, to play the black superstar in a new movie.
That choice is unlikely to play well in the United States where many black actors and actresses including Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett and director Spike Lee have said they would boycott this year's Academy Awards ceremony because of the lack of diversity in those nominated for awards.
And the film's plot is equally bizarre as the casting : it tells of a road trip taken by Jackson and movie legends Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor supposedly taken when all flights in the United States were cancelled following the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Vanity Fair first ran a story about the long, strange trip by the trio of superstars in 2011, reports Britain's The Guardian. Now Sky Arts has cast 71-year-old American actress Stockard Channing as Taylor and Scottish actor Brian Cox, 69, as Brando, alongside Fiennes, the 45-year-old brother of Ralph Fiennes.
Confirming the casting choice to the WENN entertainment website, he said: "I got the script the other day, It's a challenge.
Fiennes contradicted reports that the movie would be a drama.
"It's a comedy. It doesn't poke mean fun, but it's a story, possibly urban legend, whereby Michael, Marlon Brando, and Liz Taylor were all together the day before 9/11 doing a concert," he said. "Airspace was shut down and they couldn't get out and Michael had the bright idea to go to hire a car and drive."
The Guardian said there are doubts that the trip actually happened. While Taylor was known to be one of Jackson's best friends - flying to Singapore to support him after he postponed a 1993 performance at the National Stadium following reports of charges of having molested a child in the US - one of her assistants has reportedly denied the Vanity Fair story.
A former Jackson employee, however, claimed the road trip actually did occur after the pop icon invited Taylor and Brando to a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden and then were unable to fly back to California after the 9/11 attacks.
"They actually got as far as Ohio - all three of them, in a car they drove themselves," the Huffington Post reported the employee as saying, noting that an increasingly obese Brando made them stop at numerous fast food outlets along the way - an obsession which is said to provide some of the lighter moments in the road trip movie.
In addition to his role as a young William Shakespeare in the 1998 film that won seven Oscars including best picture, Fiennes has starred in notable films such as Elizabeth, opposite Cate Blanchett and TV shows such as American Horror Story and Camelot.
"It's a fun, lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek road trip of what celebrity of that kind is like," The Guardian reported Fiennes saying of the script written by Neil Forsyth. "But also it's rather beautiful and poignant about their relationships."
While the choice of a white actor like Fiennes to portray the African-American pop star is already raising eyebrows, Jackson is well-known to have undergone plastic surgery to give himself more Caucasion facial feature and had h is skin whitened as he aged.
In addition, the casting is not totally without precedent. In director Todd Haynes 2007 biopic, another music icon, Bob Dylan, is played by six different actors including an African-American boy and a Blanchett, an Australian woman.