John Landis It was amazing working with Michael at the time because it was at the height – it was like working with The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania or something, it was extraordinary being with him, because he was just ridiculously famous. It was like being with Jesus I used to say, because people used to see him and go into hysterics. Also, Michael’s friends – it was so nuts. It used to be like, ‘Michael, William [son of Walt] Disney’s on the phone,’ or Fred Astaire, who Michael had known very well since he was a kid. ‘Mike, Henry Kissinger’s on the phone’; ‘Mike, President Reagan’s calling.’ Bizarro shit all the time.
My favourite moment during the making of Thriller, and one of the few times in my life I’ve ever been speechless, was when we were shooting the graveyard set in a meatpacking plant in East LA, a dodgy neighbourhood, by a freightyard. And we’re shooting away and Michael’s assistant comes to me and he says, ‘Michael would like to see you in his trailer.’ And I was like, ‘OK, I’ll be out in 20 minutes.’
So I go out – and it’s like 3.30 in the morning – and there’s a Winnebago out there and there’s loads of security there, so I step up and I knock, and Michael’s like, ‘John, do you know Mrs Onassis?’ and it was Jackie Kennedy…
John Landis: We had a première – which was a riot – because Michael wanted a première. I’ve been to the Oscars and I’ve been to the Baftas, I’ve been to the Emmys, I’ve been to the Golden Globes, and I’ve never been anywhere like this première. It was incredible. There was everyone from Diana Ross and Warren Beatty to Prince. It was nuts. Amazing… got a standing ovation and all that stuff and they’re shouting, ‘Encore, encore,’ and I said ‘Encore? There is no f—ing encore!’
Then Eddie Murphy got up and shouted, ‘Show the goddamn thing again!’ So they sat and they watched Thriller again. Why not?
It was just amazing, it was just amazing…
Marty Thomas (props assistant on Thriller): It was a long job and it was secret, you know? I remember we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and not to tell anybody what we were filming, not to tell family or anything… very, very rare for music videos back then. What they would do is print up maps to the location and leave them around, but they were false locations. Somebody from the press would sneak on set and steal these maps and they were just sort of locations of the shopping mall that’s closed, way way out in the Valley.
I was having lunch and Michael came and sat at the head of our table to talk to somebody else. It was just a crew table, and usually he was pretty separated – in fact, they told us at the start of the shoot, if anybody talks to Michael, you’re fired. So he sat down and we’re like, ‘Oh, God,’ and he started talking with us, and he had with him a mayonnaise and beansprout sandwich, and he said, ‘Anyone wanna finish this?’ and I said, ‘I’ll finish it!’ So he gave me half of his mayonnaise and beansprout sandwich.
I ate a few bites and after he left I didn’t finish it, and one of the guys said, ‘Why’d you take that?’ I said, ‘Actually, I just want to be able to say when I’m 80, I just want to say, I ate half of Michael Jackson’s sandwich.’ Like, mayonnaise is supposed to be so bad for you now – he won’t eat meat, but he’ll eat all that lard.