Michael Jackson was desperate to play Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars and suggested he used “prosthetics and full make-up”.
The part eventually went to Ahmed Best, who played the character for the first time in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and the two subsequent movies. Jar Jar Binks was a seven-foot tall orange Gungan who spoke in a strange patois and was completely dreamt up via CGI. He also divided fans and was ravaged by critics.
Ahmed didn’t know what was in store for him when he signed on, although he did come to realise that the King of Pop had been eyeing the role.
“That’s what George [Lucas, director] told me,” he told vice.com. “Me, Natalie Portman [co-star], 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, Michael’s former wife]. 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 after-party.
“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 make-up like [in the video for his track] 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.”
Some would say Michael had a lucky escape with what came next, as Ahmed was widely savaged by the press. It was initially a big shock to him as he expected the character to go down well and had been excited to land a part on one of the most prestigious movie franchises going.
Looking back, the actor believes many wanted George to fail which is why there was so much negativity surrounding the project. Ahmed feels Jar Jar was “so experimental” that people didn’t know how to react to him, and he also feels bad that child actor Jake Lloyd – who played Anakin Skywalker – was also slammed.
Ahmed brushed the jibes off, explaining he is from the Bronx and it takes more than harsh words to hurt him. But he struggled with how upset it made his little co-star.
“I did. Earlier I did,” he replied, when asked if he ever felt he had to step in to protect him as a big brother would. “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.
“I think people are smart enough when they meet me to not go too far because I am who I am and I come from where I come from. At the end of the day, acting is fun but I will knock you the f**k out if you step out of line. That’s just where I come from. Respect is a big deal.”
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