ROME • Joseph Fiennes has defended his decision to play Michael Jackson in an upcoming comedy, despite a furore over the casting of a white British actor in the role of a black American superstar.
Fiennes said on Thursday that he was "shocked" at being chosen for the role, but insisted he had no qualms about taking on "a wonderful role" in what was "just a satire".
He plays Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael And Marlon, an upcoming short, surreal comedy produced by British pay-TV channel Sky Arts that imagines Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando taking a road trip together in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York.
"Sky Arts, who are dedicated to half-hour comedies this year, have commissioned a series of comedies, one of which surrounds the road trip of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando," Fiennes said.
"I was shocked that they would come to me for the casting. You have to ask them as to why they would want to cast me."
The decision to give Fiennes the role has triggered suggestions that the mainstream media have learnt nothing from the row over the lack of black nominees for the major Oscars for the second straight year.
However, he suggested critics getting worked up about his casting were overplaying the importance of the piece.
"I felt this was a wonderful challenge. I read the script and it's very funny. It's a satire, it's just a 20-minute satire. It's a sketch about a story that could have been a legend or could have been true."
He was in Rome to promote his latest film, Risen, in which he plays a Roman officer investigating the disappearance of Jesus Christ's body after his crucifixion - the point at which Christian tradition maintains that he was resurrected.
The film has been given the blessing of the Vatican and Fiennes and his Swiss model wife Maria Dolores Dieguez met Pope Francis on Wednesday.
The actor is a fan of the Argentinian pontiff, his low-key, modest style and his efforts to modernise the Church.
Fiennes admitted that experiencing the Pope's charisma at close range was an emotional experience. "I tried to maintain a face that was calm and cool, but I blubbered like a baby," he said.