Michael Jackson is the ‘King of Pop’, the man who made the biggest-selling album in history; a man whose dance routines and tunes have entranced people in every corner of the globe, from Johannesburg to Jakarta, from London to L.A.
But he is also an enigma. A child star with his siblings in the Jackson Five, he comes from an immensely talented family and, as youngest son [Randy is younger ;-)], carved for himself the most successful solo career of all of them. He is one of the few world-famous children who have gone on to become world-famous adults; and now he is reinventing himself again, as a film star.
Despite his fame, despite the fact that he has been performing, creating and improvising almost since he was old enough to walk, Jackson is shy of publicity. He may have hordes of fans and photographers surrounding him whenever he steps out in public, but he is an intensely private man who lives with his family on his fairy-tale Neverland ranch in California. In this rare interview, he talks candidly to Magdalena, the ‘Gold Girl’, about fame, the burden of his childhood stardom, his view on the media, and his future in film.
Magdalena: Do you most see yourself as a musician, an entertainer or an entrepreneur?
Michael: Probably all of the above, because I love entertaining and I always will love entertaining. I love becoming a slave to rhythm. Because dancing is about interpreting the sounds and accompaniments of the orchestra. You know, you become the sound, you become the bass, you become whatever you hear, and you do it bodily. But I try not to get so caught up in it all that you don’t think about your future. So many great entertainers have just been taken in the past, and they ended up lonely, sad and broken. I’ve always said to myself, I never want to be that way and I’m going to try my hardest to learn about the business side, support myself, invest my money, save. Who knows what tomorrow brings? You want to be protected financially so you can support yourself.
Magdalena: Would you like to be remembered as a great entertainer?
Michael: I love movies and I love art — and an architect is an entertainer, the guy who builds a rollercoaster is an entertainer. He knows where to build the slopes, and the big anticipation when you go up… He makes you go, “Oh my God!” when you get to the top before you come down. It’s just the same as structuring a show or a dance.
Magdalena: Does it ever become a burden to be one of the most recognized stars in the world?
Michael: There’s nowhere in the world I can actually go and have privacy. The thing that hurts the most is the fact that your privacy is taken away from you. To use the silly expression, you live in a fishbowl, but it’s true. I do disguises… People know them all, it’s very hard, very hard.
Magdalena: What kind of disguises?
Michael: Fat suits, buck teeth, glasses, afros, prosthetics, make-up jobs, everything. Just to sit in the audience and experience it the way an audience would experience a show; I want to feel how they feel.
Magdalena: Do they find you out?
Michael: Sometimes, yes. In the beginning, no. Then they start looking me in the eyes. I put these things on and then they start looking behind the glasses… Girls are very smart, you know. You can trick a guy quicker than you can trick a girl. Women can just pick it up. They know the way you move your body, the way you walk, the way you gesture. I hear them go, “Look at the way he moves his hand”, or “Look at the way he was walking”, and I think, “Oh no.”
Magdalena: If you were invisible for a day in London, what would you do?
Michael: Oh boy. Who would I like to slap? Let me see [laughs]… I think I’d find one of the tabloid paparazzi and kick his ass, ‘Moonwalk’ style. I’d really like to knock them off one of those little scooters they ride around on, I really would, knock the cameras right out of their hands. They’re so annoying. I’d go for them first, yeah. They drive you nuts. You can’t get away from them. It’s terrible.
Magdalena: Who has inspired you the most professionally, and who do you relate to?
Michael: Probably Walt Disney; because when I was little I grew up in an adult world. I grew up on stage. I grew up in night clubs. When I was seven, eight years old I was in nightclubs. I saw striptease girls take off all their clothes. I saw fights break out. I saw people throw up on each other. I saw adults act like pigs. That’s why to this day I hate clubs. I don’t like going to clubs — I did that already, I’ve been there. That’s why I compensate now for what I didn’t do then. So when you come to my house, you’ll see I have rides, I have a movie theatre, I have animals. I love animals — elephants and giraffes and lions and tigers and bears, all kinds of snakes. I get to do all those wonderful things that I didn’t get to do when I was little, because we didn’t have those things. We didn’t have Christmas. We didn’t have sleepovers. We didn’t have school, we had private school when we were touring. I didn’t go to a state school. We tried it for two weeks and it didn’t work. It was very difficult. It’s hard growing up a celebrity child. Very few make that transition from child star to adult star. It’s very difficult. I relate to Shirley Temple. I met her in San Francisco and I sat at her table and I cried so bad. She said, “What’s wrong Michael?” I said, “I love you. I need to be around you more.” She goes, “You’re one of us, aren’t you?” and I said “Yes, I am.” Somebody else said, “What do you mean?” and she said, “Michael knows what I mean.” And I know exactly what she meant — to have been there as a child star and to have graduated to have succeeded in making that transition to fame as an adult is very difficult. When you’re a child star people don’t want you to grow up. They want you to stay little for ever. They don’t want you to work afterwards. It’s very hard.
Magdalena: Tell me more about your interests in theme parks — what is it about them that interests you?
Michael: My favorite thing about theme parks — and I have a pretty good outlook on it because I’ve traveled the world many times over — is I love seeing people simply come together with their families and have fun. It really does bring them closer together. I go for fun, but I also go to study. I go after hours to most parks because I can’t go in the regular hours. They’re kind of like a ghost town.
Magdalena: I hear you have some ideas for a theme park in Las Vegas?
Michael: I’ve done many projects in Las Vegas, and what I think I’ve done is I’ve widened the demographic there. Because when I was a little kid — I was no more than eight years old — my brothers and I would go to Las Vegas, and at that time kids weren’t even allowed to walk on a casino floor. So we used to stay up in our rooms, bored, with nothing to do while everyone else gambled. There was only one place for kids in Vegas at the time, called ‘Circus Circus’. It was a hotel and the theme they had there was clowns. So there was a trapeze man and there were chimps doing the little unicycles. When I got older we played Vegas a lot — we performed there many, many times — and I thought about it and I said, “It’s really not fair that there’s nothing here for children,” so I started to conceive a couple of ideas for certain hotel owners. And now it’s like the family-themed vacation kingdom, it really is.
Magdalena: Who are your favorite people?
Michael: I love people who have really contributed to the pleasure and happiness of the planet and mankind, people with light — from Walt Disney to Gandhi to Edison to Martin Luther King. These are people with light, people who really cared about children, bringing families together, and love. That’s what I try to say in my music and in my songs. If you go to one of my concerts, my shows, you will see 200 000 people swaying, holding candles, saying, “We want to heal the world,” and “We love you.” I’ve seen it around the world from Russia to Germany to Poland to Africa to America. We’re all the same. People cry in the same places in the show. They get angry in the same places in the show, they get the pathos in the same places.
Magdalena: Was Fred Astaire your friend?
Michael: Yes. Fred Astaire was my neighbor. I used to see him every day when I was riding my little motorscooter. He always told me, he would always say when I was a little kid, “You’re gonna be a big star.” He told me that he thought I was an incredible entertainer and a great mover. And he always used to say, “You’re the best,” and I’d say, “No, you’re the best.” I remember the first time I did the ‘Moonwalk’. Fred called me at home. He was screaming on the phone, raving. He said it was the best performance he’d ever seen. I said, “Oh, come on.” He said, “Michael, you put them on their ass.You’re a hell of a mover. You’re a hell of a dancer.” I said, “Well, coming from you, I don’t need any awards.” Because I was nominated for an Emmy for that performance, and I didn’t get it, but it didn’t matter to me because Fred Astaire said he loved my performance, and that’s all the award I needed.
Magdalena: If you could work with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be?
Michael: If I could work with anybody it would be Charlie Chaplin, who I love so much. Also, Laurence Oliver was a genius, really.Those two guys, I think. And also the king, Brando.
Magdalena: Last year you put together a short film, ‘You Rock My World’, with the assistance of Marlon Brando. What was it like working with the master?
Michael: Brando is a good friend of mine. He’s very much like me. He doesn’t go many places. He comes to Neverland or he stays in my house in Mulholland Drive, or he goes to Tahiti. His son worked for me for more than 20 years, and his other son was in my class in private school. He’s just a giant. You see, Brando’s smart, because when he works with me he always says, “I know what buttons to push to get emotion from you.” He knows me so well. He knows how to get me ticked off, so he’ll say certain things to get me really geared up. He’s a genius. He’s a king. He’s the last of that generation. He’s a brilliant man, a lovely person. I love him and he’s my good friend.
Magdalena: You had a cameo in ‘Men In Black II’, was that fun to work on?
Michael: The ‘Men In Black’ project really was a lot of fun because I introduced myself as the new guy.
Magdalena: It was obvious from the video of ‘Thriller’ that you have a great interest in the visual arts.
Michael: Everything I do I like either to direct myself, or work closely with the director — we co-direct and come up with the ideas together. If you look at ‘Ghosts’, it says co-written by Michael Jackson and Stephen King. We wrote it on the telephone, Stephen and I — he’s a lovely guy, he’s amazing. We wrote it on the phone, just talking together.
Magdalena: Who are the figures in the movie business you most admire, and why?
Michael: I just love Robert De Niro. I think he’s such a multi-faceted actor. He can play anything from a comedian to a priest to a psychopathic killer to an idiot to a charming uncle to just anything. And of course, any of the great dancers.
Magdalena: Who would be your ideal leading lady, and why?
Michael: An actress? [laughs] You and I should do a film together. Let’s do it, I’d love that…
Magdalena: There was talk of you going to the moon to perform an authentic ‘Moonwalk’ here. Is there any truth in this?
Michael: [laughs] There is some truth in it. It’s not a rumor. I’ll just say that.
Magdalena: You outbid Paul McCartney for the Beatles archive. What was so special about it?
Michael: No, I didn’t, he didn’t bid for it. It was for sale and I liked it and I bought it, like buying a piece of art.
Magdalena: Tell me more about your passion for children’s charities. Which organizations do you support?
Michael: Well, I have a charity for kids that I created myself, called ‘Heal the World’. And whenever I do a concert or anything pertaining to entertainment, I give a certain amount to ‘Heal the World’ — you know orphanages, hospitals, kids who need a lung or a liver, we’ll find it, we’ll pay for the surgery. On tour, I do as many hospitals and orphanages as I do concerts. We go to 12-years-olds and we take boxes and boxes and boxes of toys, a bunch of Michael Jackson posters and paraphernalia. They love it.
Magdalena: How much more do you feel you want to achieve in your life?
Michael: I’m never satisfied. There are so many different avenues and so many different things that I want to do. I’ve done a lot, but I don’t think it’s enough, which is why I don’t put up any awards or anything in my house. You won’t see any awards in my house, I put them all away in storage. Because if you get caught up in that, you start to feel like, “Oh, man, I did it.” There’s so much more, so many more mountains to climb.
Magdalena: If one of your children came to you and said, “Dad, I want to be a pop star,” what’s the best advise you could give them?
Michael: The best advise that I would give them is it’s a lot of hard work, and be prepared, because it’s not all joy all the time. And that you’ve got to have rhinoceros skin, because the bigger the star, the bigger the target. The tabloid press are bastards, and you’ve got to have rhinoceros skin to deal with that kind of ignorance mentality. They do it simply to sell papers, because bad news sell, not good news. They simply make it up. If they don’t have anything, they just make it up. I’m nothing like the way the tabloids have painted me out to be, nothing. Nothing like that. They’re the ones who are crazy. They’re ignorant. I always say to my fans “Let’s have a tabloid burning. Let’s make a big mountain out of tabloids and just burn them.” The real fans who love me know that garbage isn’t true. They know. They’re smart.
Magdalena: Have you always wanted to do film? If your family had not been such successful musicians, would you have turned to it earlier in your life?
Michael: I’ve always wanted to do film, but the tours got in the way. That’s why I want to take several years off just doing film. I’d like to get six great movies behind me, and then I’ll do a little bit of touring, then I’ll do more filming.
Magdalena: What kind of ideas do you have for film?
Michael: I have ideas for film and movement and dance and things that people have never seen. I can’t wait to just surprise people. That’s why I’ve been dying to start a film production company, and I’m very excited that that’s what we’re doing with ‘Neverland Pictures’. I get to just have a clean slate and play and create and sculpt.
Magdalena: Tell me a little bit about the werewolf idea in your films, and how does it relate to video?
Michael: I haven’t read the script yet for ‘Wolfed’ — it’s one of the movies that we’re going to be making and I’m really excited about it. I’m so happy to be working with Sammy Lee. We’re doing some great projects together in film, and I’m really excited.
Magdalena: And ‘Wolfed’ will be the first film?
Michael: As of now, our schedule says that ‘Wolfed’ will be the first film. That’s going to be fun. I want it to be really scary. Rick Baker wants to do all the visual effects. He has seven Academy awards. Rick is very excited about it too — he did ‘American Werewolf in London’. He won an Oscar, and he said, “Michael, that was nothing.” That’s nothing compared to what he can do today. And he did ‘Thriller’ and he said of that, “It’s nothing.” He can go way beyond that. He did all the Eddie Murphy films, ‘Clumps and Nutty Professor’ and all that ‘Men In Black’ stuff, too. He does all that.
Magdalena: So tell me how you would like to be remembered?
Michael: How would I like to be remembered? As a person who came and brought light to the world, some escapism. Also as the ‘voice for the voiceless children’, because I love them. I’m living for the children. If it weren’t for the kids, I would throw in the towel. A baby, a child — now that’s amazing. They’re little geniuses, you know, little geniuses. They really are.
Magdalena: Do you enjoy being a father?
Michael: It’s my favorite thing. I love it. I love it. I love it.
Magdalena: The other day I saw you pick up your daughter when she was sleeping. You just picked her up, and I could see the joy in your face…
Michael: Oh, I love them. The Jacksons have a lot of kids. I have a lot of nephews and nieces. There’s a lot of us!
Magdalena: What is your relationship with your brothers and sisters?
Michael: I love my brothers and sisters. When I’m with them we laugh. It’s like a different version of yourself. We can just laugh and giggle and talk about old times. We’re not together as much as we’d like to be. We’re all busy. We’re all in show. We’re always doing something. If I’m in town, Janet’s out of town. If we’re both here, my brother’s somewhere else. Everybody’s running around, you know.
Magdalena: Are you a family man? What do you like doing with your family?
Michael: My personal family? My Children? We love just sitting together, talking, shooting the breeze. We sit by the lake. I take them for a walk every day at my house. We sit by the lake and we throw rocks in the water and we just talk.
Magdalena: What do you think is the deepest form of love someone can feel? And have you felt it?
Michael: Wow, I think that’s really a matter of opinion. Have I felt the deepest form of love? I don’t know what would be the deepest… [long pause] and interesting question… [repeats question a few times]. I love my children very, very much, and I always look in their eyes and tell them that — I think that’s the most important thing.