It’s no secret that the Star Wars franchise has not been kind to its cast. If you’re one of the luckier ones, you’re able to move on from the series and keep your acting career alive. Some actors and actresses just fade into obscurity. But others have to live with playing some of the most reviled characters in film history.
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That’s the cross that Ahmed Best has had to bear ever since he was cast as Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Best, along with Jake Lloyd, who we’ll get to later, was one of the principal cast members who was savaged by critics for his performance in the film, and as a result, his hopes for a Hollywood career fell apart.
But Best has actually battled back from the blow that Star Wars dealt him and his career and is nursing a comedy career in short films and TV. But he still has plenty of thoughts to share about the role and how it affected him, plus an amusing anecdote about who was originally slated to play Jar Jar: Michael Jackson.
Best actually revealed that the King of Pop wanted to nab the role in a Reddit interview last year, but he never fully explained the story behind it. In this new interview with Vice News, he goes into more detail:
"“Me, Natalie Portman, 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]. 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 afterparty. 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 makeup like “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.”"
What’s more amazing, that Jackson almost played Jar Jar Binks, or that Natalie Portman went to a Michael Jackson concert? Or perhaps it’s the idea that George Lucas was so committed to his vision of a CGI Jar Jar that even Michael Jackson couldn’t sway his mind.
But that’s not even the most interesting part of the interview. Best is very candid and has clearly made his peace with the tough times he endured after filming Star Wars, and the experience has given him plenty of appreciation for his time in the spotlight. He’s also defensive of Jake Lloyd, probably the only other actor who suffered more hate and emotional bludgeoning for the film than Best:
"“Fortunately, I was in my 20s. I wasn’t eight years-old like Jake, who I think took it worse. Jake had it far worse than me. I’m a 20-year-old from from the Bronx; I’ve seen and I’ve done things that were a lot harder than criticism in that newspaper. Although it hurt me emotionally and it was hard to take at the time, it wasn’t debilitating for me. I just put my shoes on and went back to work. But Jake had a difficult time.”"
The article also covers a seldom-discussed aspect of Best’s performance as Jar Jar: his performance as Jar Jar. While most of the hate is reserved for the character’s speech and clumsiness, it’s easy to forget that the character was one of the pioneering motion capture effects of the time. Best helped contribute to that work, and he’s developed an interesting position on the state of the industry and how it should be treated in Hollywood:
"“It’s very difficult to say that a motion capture performance is purely an individual acting performance. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the animators, the software designers, and the actor. I think each one informs the other, and I think to have one without the other does a disservice to all of the software developers and all of the animators who actually bring that thing to life.”"
Anyway, you should check out the whole interview when you get a chance. Best also talks about what it was like auditioning for George Lucas and how he thinks the perception of Jar Jar as a racial stereotype was misguided. Who knows, maybe it will make you hate the Gungan just a little less.