In the eight years since Michael Jackson’s sudden death on June 25, 2009, a flood of books were released by those close to him documenting their life with The King of Pop. One of those books was Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard. And now it’s also the first to become a movie — Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland airs Monday, May 29 at 8/7C on Lifetime.
We spoke to the star of the film, the British-born international Michael Jackson impersonator Navi, who worked for nearly 30 years playing Jackson, including a stint working as a decoy for the King of Pop himself. We discussed Navi’s past connection to Jackson, how he prepared for the role and what audiences will learn from the movie.
You are a Michael Jackson impersonator but then you also went on to work as a decoy for him. What was that like?
I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan. Being an impersonator as a fan and working is great — but when the person that you impersonate recognizes you and then uses you themselves as a decoy coming out of hotels, for promotion of albums and tours… I even performed at his birthday party in New York and Los Angeles. I basically worked for Michael as a decoy, so to have all those opportunities and to be invited to Neverland? It’s surreal. It’s a dream.
So being an MJ impersonator and not an actor, how did you prepare for this role? Were you intimidated to take this on?
The 28 years of performing as MJ was worth nothing in comparison to preparing for this film. As an impersonator, what I do is I go in front of an audience but you’re hearing his music, you’re watching his dance moves, and you’re watching his creation. I just drop into place. So I was nervous about doing the role because I’ve never acted. I lost 20 pounds to try to get as close to his weight as possible. I had to have a vocal coach to get my American accent. And of course, I had to have an acting coach. I’m very grateful to Lifetime, because they didn’t go with an actor. They knew the image was very important to the fans.
What did you learn about Michael doing this movie? And what new things will fans learn about him that we didn’t know about him before?
This film will be the first time you will see the real side of Michael Jackson, the man. And it’s a story that needed to be told. In this film, he’s with women. As Michael, I’m quite intimate, kissing in the backseat of his car with a woman that he’s been seeing for a couple of years. People don’t know he did this regular stuff. So I’m glad we show that. Of course I knew like everybody else that he had money problems, but I didn’t know things were that bad. The movie shows how a lot of his money problems were because of his manager and bad management that were meant to look after his affairs.
In addition to revealing that Michael Jackson had a normal love life, what does the film ultimately say about him as a person and his life in his last days?
You’ll find out how much of a prisoner he was [of fame] and how he didn’t want his children to be exposed to the same things that ruined him. Ultimately, this film will let people know he was a human being, he loved God, he loved his children and he was trying to create a home for his family. This movie is the best thing to happen for Michael’s name in the last ten years. I did this for Michael.
Catch Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland on Monday May 29 at 8/7C on Lifetime.