Ahmed Best was the guy who ended up playing the much-derided character and he recently talked to Vice about meeting the late pop star who wanted his job.
In a Reddit interview, you mentioned that Michael Jackson originally wanted to play the role of Jar Jar Binks. Was that a joke?
That's what George told me. Me, Natalie Portman, and George's kids—we were at Wembley arena at Michael Jackson's concert. We were taken backstage and we met Michael. There was Michael and Lisa Marie [Presley]. George introduced me as "Jar Jar" and I was like, That's kind of weird. Michael was like, "Oh. OK." I thought, What is going on? After Michael had driven off, we all go back up to a big afterparty. I'm having a drink with George and I said, "Why did you introduce me as Jar Jar?" He said, "Well, Michael wanted to do the part but he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup like 'Thriller.'" George wanted to do it in CGI. My guess is ultimately Michael Jackson would have been bigger than the movie, and I don't think he wanted that."
It was probably for the best, all considered. "Phantom Menace" came out in 1999, and Michael Jackson would be gone just 10 years later, leaving a legacy that would not include Jar Jar. Ahmed talked about how poorly Jar Jar was received and his reaction to his co-star and the movie being criticized:
When was the first time you can remember being genuinely hurt by the negative reactions to Jar Jar Binks?
It didn't happen until the New York press junkets. The first person who kind of gave me an idea of where it was going was a writer from The New York Post. I didn't really think much about it because I always felt like the The New York Post was a paper that fed off of that type of energy, that type of negativity. Growing up in New York you know which papers give you the news and which papers give you the gossip and the Post was definitely heavier on the gossip side than anything else. But I was really surprised that everyone picked up on that afterwards. It's a very American thing to take somebody down when they're at the top and a lot if it had to with that; people really wanted to see George crash and burn. Unfortunately, this character was so new, so experimental; he became a lightning rod for all that. It was me, and it was [original Anakin Skywalker] Jake Lloyd who took a lot of the heat for the movie. Fortunately, I was in my 20s. I wasn't eight years-old like Jake, who I think took it worse. Jake had it far worse than me. I'm a 20-year-old from from the Bronx; I've seen and I've done things that were a lot harder than criticism in that newspaper. Although it hurt me emotionally and it was hard to take at the time, it wasn't debilitating for me. I just put my shoes on and went back to work. But Jake had a difficult time.
Did you find yourself ever having to jump in and defend him like a big brother?
I did. Earlier I did. Say what you want to say, but leave the kid alone, let him grow up. The amount of vitriol he took as an eight-year-old was just wrong, and it affected him.
Kinda feel bad now... but it's fair to have a negative opinion of a character, especially when there was SO much expectation and hype and excitement for a return to "Star Wars" and many fans were left disappointed by Episode 1. It's definitely not about wanting to see George Lucas crash and burn. However, there are still many Jar Jar fans and defenders out there, and hopefully Ahmed thinks of them and not the critics.
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