There have been a number of insightful pieces written about Bryan Singer’s original X-Men movie as the superhero origin story turns 20 years old. They have touched on everything from casting to costuming. Today, things get darker. The Hollywood Reporter takes a deep dive into the rampant allegations of sexual misconduct and disorganized production maneuvers on Singer’s set. And leading off the scathing report is the news that pop icon Michael Jackson pitched himself for the role of Professor Charles Xavier.
Yeah, we’re just as confused by this as you are.
THR begins its report with this bizarre casting nugget, and uses it as a primary example of the type of unpredictability that was swirling around Bryan Singer’s production offices during X-Men. At the time, Singer was his successful directorial debut The Usual Suspects and its uneven follow up, Apt Pupil, when he tackled Marvel’s mutant family. And the trade notes that Singer wasn’t an X-Men fan, though producer Tom DeSanto was a die-hard follower who agreed to help him pen a treatment.
Singer’s lack of understanding of the team might explain why Michael Jackson was even allowed to come by and pitch himself for the role of Professor Charles Xavier, the team’s leader.
According to the report, Michael Jackson came to the Fox offices and showed off a short film entitled Ghosts, in which the pop singer plays an old, white mayor who leads a crowd of protestors who dislike a performer who enjoys performing magic tricks for children. It’s… different. Here, if you want to see the short film Ghosts in full:
Michael Jackson apparently figured this was enough visual evidence to play Charles Xavier on screen in X-Men. And when producer Lauren Shuler Donner decided to bring this up with the singer, it went down like such:
I said to him, 'Do you know Xavier is an older white guy?' And Michael said, 'Oh yeah. You know, I can wear makeup.'
Reading the behind-the-scenes account on the original X-Men, is miraculous that the movie turned out as good as it did. The Hollywood Reporter explores the various allegations that have plagued Bryan Singer over the course of his career (allegations that the director continues to deny). They also lay out the string of high-profile screenwriters that contributed to the various phases of the X-Men script, with everyone from Joss Whedon and Ed Solomon to Christopher McQuarrie taking a crack at the mutants.
But X-Men, both creatively and financially, did succeed. It established that corner of the Marvel storyline, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a thing. It launched a franchise that produced a number of winning X-Men films (and Wolverine spinoff films) and a handful of whiffs. We’ll be excited to see where the legacy of the X-Men continues to go when these popular characters transition to the MCU, as soon as the MCU is able to get back on the treadmill and keep running.