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That time Michael Jackson lobbied to play Professor Xavier in X-Men

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Aug 3, 2020, 2:10 PM EDT

Though its commercial success has since been overtaken by dozens of other superhero blockbusters from several major studios, 2000's X-Men remains one of the most important and influential superhero movies of all time. Since the film turns 20 this year, we're all reflecting on the good and the bad of its massive legacy, and that includes a few glimpses at what might have been had a few things gone differently. For example: Once upon a time, Michael Jackson was lobbying to play Professor Charles Xavier.

In response to the 20th anniversary of X-Men, The Hollywood Reporter recently published a lengthy piece detailing director Bryan Singer's behavior on the set of the film, which executives described as something that "created a monster" now that much of Singer's other behavior, including alleged sexual assault, has been brought to light. The story is full of fascinating and often strange details from the making of the film, including word that the King of Pop once wanted to play the leader of the X-Men. According to the story, Jackson arrived to meet with Singer and the producers for X-Men one day, fully prepared to discuss the possibility of playing Xavier in the film.

"I said to him, 'Do you know Xavier is an older white guy?'" X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner recalled. "And Michael said, 'Oh yeah. You know, I can wear makeup.'"

To prove that he had no problem with makeup transformations, Jackson even brought along a clip from his short film "Ghosts," which was written by Stephen King and Mick Garris and directed by Stan Winston to promote the song of the same name in 1996. Though the clip featured Jackson transforming into an old white man for a key scene in the film, producers were not convinced, and according to THR's report Jackson was never a serious candidate for the role.

In SYFY WIRE's own retrospective interview with producer Ralph Winter, he confirmed that the production team met with Jackson, and also added another famous face who lobbied for the Xavier role: basketball legend and Steel star Shaquille O'Neal.

"Michael Jackson came in and wanted to be Charles Xavier. Shaquille O’Neal came in. He wanted to be Xavier. I remember Shaq walking through the door. I shook his hand and my hand disappeared. The guy is enormous," Winter recalled. "There was good conversation. Then Michael Jackson came through. Not shaking hands at all, of course, but very pleasant and polite. He was fascinated with Charles Xavier as well."

Of course, the producers ultimately went with a more conventional choice for the role and cast Patrick Stewart as Xavier. Stewart would go on to reprise the Charles Xavier role in four more films, culminating in Logan, and earned critical acclaim for his performance.