X-Men is, in many ways, one of the most influential movies of the 2000s. It helped kick off the current era of superhero movies that are still dominating Hollywood. And, as it turns out, it could have been a whole lot different had things gone another way. Michael Jackson, the pop star behind Thriller, had campaigned quite seriously to play the role of Charles Xavier, aka Professor X. And he wanted to do it wearing whiteface.
A new report did a deep dive into the chaotic nature behind the scenes of the franchise, specifically relating to director Bryan Singer. Early on in the piece, it's revealed that Michael Jackson met with Singer and a group of producers working on X-Men in 1999 with the aim of convincing them that he should play Professor X. It's said that Jackson was wearing sunglasses and refused to shake hands with anyone. But that's just the start as things got far more weird and elaborate. Producer Lauren Shuler Donner had this to say about it.
"I said to him, 'Do you know Xavier is an older white guy?' And Michael said, 'Oh yeah. You know, I can wear makeup.' "
Michael Jackson then proceeded with an elaborate presentation that included a short movie titled Ghosts. It sees Jackson playing a white mayor in his 60s who is "railing against a well-meaning performer who entertains local children with magic tricks." It seems Jackson was quite serious about trying to land the role. Though the report notes that 20th Century Fox, that produced the franchise until Disney purchased most of Fox's media assets last year, never truly considered Jackson for the part. Ultimately, it went to Patrick Stewart, who played the role off and on for the better part of two decades, with his tenure coming to an end in 2017's Logan.
Context is important in understanding how odd this all was at the time. Not only did Michael Jackson not seem to be a good fit for a major superhero movie, specifically Professor X, but the King of Pop was not in a good place at that time. As one unnamed executive put it, "Michael was already in the thick of all his allegations by X-Men." Jackson had come under fire for several highly publicized sexual abuse allegations against minors. This was documented last year in HBO's documentary Leaving Neverland. So, not only would it have been an odd choice, but undoubtedly a controversial one as well, to say the very least of it.
This also isn't the only time Michael Jackson flirted with Marvel. Previous reports revealed that Jackson wanted to buy Marvel in the 90s when the company was in financial trouble, but the idea was ultimately shot down. Jackson had designs on playing Spider-Man and buying Marvel would have provided him a path to do just that. You can read the whole piece about the complicated history behind the X-Men franchise via The Hollywood Reporter.