Kimberly Hardin on Casting ‘Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland’

Navi Michael Jackson Neverland

“The actor either has to learn how to develop their interpretation of who their character is, or study someone who is of that nature already.” – Casting Director Kimberly Hardin

One of the most difficult real-life figures to cast in a film or movie is likely Michael Jackson — not just because of the visual aspect because of Jackson’s ever-changing looks, but because so much isn’t known about his tumultuous life in the spotlight. For casting director Kimberly Hardin, who cast the TV movie Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland about Jackson’s final years, finding the right actor to play Jackson was difficult. Hardin spoke about finding the right actor and determining what that actor needed to succeed with Emmys.com.

Hardin previously cast an actor for a young Jackson in the 1992 ABC miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, but casting an actor to portray the older, more controversial Jackson was more of a challenge. In fact, Hardin cast Navi, who isn’t an actor, but a well-known Michael Jackson impersonator.

Navi had prepared for his role not just through his impersonations, but also through actually working as a body double for Jackson while he was still alive. Hardin explains how that helped him in his audition, saying, “It’s what every actor does for every role. The actor either has to learn how to develop their interpretation of who their character is, or study someone who is of that nature already. I’ve seen actors playing crack addicts that will go and hang out at a crack house. I have heard of actors doing it all to dive in and make it as real as possible. But if you’re portraying someone you don’t know, where do you go as an actor? I think that was the biggest challenge for a lot of the actors who came in to audition.”

For example, Hardin points out that since this film wasn’t about Jackson on stage, Navi could not simply re-do his act to win the part. She continues, “This story is not about Michael as a performer. It’s about Michael as a man. But we as the world don’t really know who Michael the man was, we only know the performer. So there were a lot of people who knew how to dress like him, and be like him, and dance like him but that was not really what was required for this particular job.”

While Hardin has proven herself to be an expert in scouting talent — she has helped the careers of dozens of stars — she notes that casting decisions aren’t up to her alone. She points out, “I’m always happy for the talent when they succeed, because I knew they had it. Ultimately, however, the casting director’s job is to serve the director’s vision. “Every project is different because you have a different creator. We just present the paint for the director to be able to put their array of colors on the canvas. I have my creative ideas of who I think is right for the role. I share those ideas with the director, then the director chooses who she wants and then takes it to the producer, who chimes in, and then we present it to the network. Every process is a committee.”

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