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Joseph Fiennes opens up on Michael Jackson casting controversy

Joseph Fiennes is responding to controversy over the news that he will play Michael Jackson in an upcoming comedy. The outcry stems from the fact that Fiennes, who is white, will portray the black icon in the one-off, half-hour Sky Arts comedy, "Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon."

The special will follow the supposedly real-life story of how Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Marlon Brando took a road trip to leave New York after the 9/11 attacks.

Fiennes said he was also surprised to be cast as the legendary pop star.

"I'm a white, middle-class guy from London," the 45-year-old actor told ET. "I'm as shocked as you may be."

Still, Fiennes said it's not so far off for him to play the singer.

"[Jackson] definitely had an issue -- a pigmentation issue -- and that's something I do believe," he said. "He was probably closer to my color than his original color."

He also added that people may be taking the issue too seriously. "It's a light comedy look," he said. It's not in any way malicious. It's actually endearing."

Fiennes called the comedy "off the wall."

"But the writing is a delight," he continued. "And the kind of interaction between the three of them is funny, and also full of pathos. It's people who are so iconic, but also can be detached. You know, you can get detached from society. So it's examining that kind of wonderful and mad detachment."

On Wednesday, the announcement of the cast (Stockard Channing plays Elizabeth Taylor and Brian Cox plays Marlon Brando) sparked a social media firestorm, with Twitter users crying foul over Fiennes' casting as the iconic black musician. Activist DeRay Mckesson wrote, "They seriously couldn't find a black actor to play Michael Jackson?"

But Fiennes is happy to portray the legendary singer.

"The more I actually looked at Michael," he said, "The more I kind of fell in love with him."

It's possible that Jackson himself would have been unhappy with the choice. As reported by Vlad Duthiers of CBSN, in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, when Winfrey said, "There was a story about you wanting to have a little white boy play you in a Pepsi commercial," Jackson had a strong response.

"That is so stupid," he answered. "That's the most ridiculous, horrifying story I've ever heard. It's crazy. I mean, why? Number one, it's my face as a child in the commercial. Me, when I was little. Why would I want a white child to play me? I'm a black American. I'm proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride in who I am and dignity."

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    Andrea is an entertainment producer at CBSNews.com