Joseph Fiennes on Michael Jackson Role: 'It's No Less Offensive Than Anything on SNL'

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Photo: Sky Arts
Joseph Fiennes has no regrets about his controversial Michael Jackson role.
The 46-year-old actor played the King of Pop in an episode he described "satirical" (others called it "shameful") of Sky TV's Urban Myths -- though the piece was cut in January before airing.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Fiennes, who now stars on Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, reflected on the Internet's --and the Jackson family's -- uprising against his portrayal of Jackson, and said that if it were up to him, the episode still would have been aired.
“Well, it’s a satire, so we have to look at it through that lens. The depiction of the three characters [Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando] is very satirical, comic, lighthearted, to examine the disconnect of iconic celebrity,” Fiennes said. “But it’s good that people stand up for [what they believe], and I’m all for that. I’m all for that discussion, and it means a lot to me and my fellow actors to talk about casting, getting it right, getting it wrong, and then if there’s a mistake, to examine that mistake and talk about it."
"Maybe the controversy is good if it brings about discussion. But it is satire. It’s a 20-minute sketch, and it’s lighthearted," he added, before comparing his portrayal of Jackson to presumably Amy Poehler's imitation on Saturday Night Live.
“It’s funny, because not so long ago, there was an SNL sketch where an actress played Michael Jackson and no one batted an eyelid,” he pointed out. “It’s no less offensive than anything on SNL. That’s the level of offense.”
“Should we shut down the arts and directors and writers based on that, which has happened?” Fiennes continued. “If you don’t like the comedian, don’t go see him, but do you shut him and his satirical material down? Do you become a totalitarian state where you go, that’s offensive?”
While Fiennes agreed that blackface was "hateful," "abhorrent," he further insisted he didn't see his portrayal of Jackson (which included botched prosthetics) as satirical. “If it comes anywhere near that criminal and hateful sensibility, then I’m deeply regretful and embarrassed, but there’s a part of me that would love people to see it and get into a discussion," he said.
“No, [I don't regret taking the part]. In life, you can’t avoid getting into hot water. It’s all lessons and learning. As an actor, you take on roles, and nobody has seen it, so nobody can even have the full comment because they haven’t witnessed it," Fiennes shared. "But it’s all about discussion, and I’m up for having a debate, talking about it, and not shying away from it. If it brings about debate and helps change things for the good, then I’m all for it.”
ET sat down with Fiennes last year, where he called his portrayal of Jackson a "light comedy look."
"It's not in any way malicious," he said in defense of the project. "It's actually endearing."
See more in the video below.