Director John Landis on filming Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video
HollywoodNews.com: Vanity Fair writer Nancy Griffin, who was on set during the 1983 filming of “Thriller,” talks with director John Landis about Michael Jackson, and with Jackson’s co-star, Ola Ray, who reveals for the first time in depth the relationship the two shared offscreen.
Ray tells Griffin that she “had some intimate moments with [Jackson] in his trailer,” and takes pains not to reveal too much, according to Griffin, saying: “I won’t say that I have seen him in his birthday suit but close enough.” She describes their involvement as “a little kindergarten thing,” saying that she thought it “important for him to be around someone who would make him feel comfortable.” She describes their intimate moments as “kissing and puppy-love make-out sessions – and a little more than that,” but refuses to say more. “I’ve already told you more than I’ve ever told anyone!”
Griffin reports that Ray got romantic advice from Jane Fonda, who was shooting a workout video in the same studio where Ray got her make up done each day. Ray tells Griffin that “Miss Fonda said, ‘Be yourself-just be sweet and talk to him about things he might be interested in or like to do. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness, so you should talk to him about religion. Maybe he will want you to go to church with him one day.’?”
Ray, who has never spoken at length about Jackson before, tells Griffin that “every day, Michael came and sat and watched me. He was in awe of me. He was always in my face trying to learn to do things with makeup like I did.” Jackson asked Ray to give pointers to his own makeup person-“I have a shine on my nose that I can’t get off” Jackson told her. According to Ray, as she was advising Jackson’s make up artist on what to do, she said to Ray, “‘Girl, don’t you know that no matter how much powder I put on his nose it’s going to shine? Do you know how many nose jobs he’s had?’ Then Michael started laughing, because I didn’t know he had had nose jobs!”
After Jennifer Beals turned down an offer to co-star, Landis cast the unknown 23-year-old former Playboy Playmate. “I auditioned a lot of girls and this girl Ola Ray-first of all, she was crazy for Michael,” Landis tells Griffin. “She had such a great smile. I didn’t know she was a Playmate.” Jackson signed off on Ray, then reconsidered the seemliness of cavorting with an ex-Playmate and came close to derailing the casting. According to Landis, “I said, ‘Michael, she’s a Playmate, but so what? She’s not a Playmate in this.’ He went, ‘O.K., whatever you want.’ I have to tell you, I got along great with Michael.”
Ray says she watched Jackson switch from silly to businesslike with ease, and Landis tells Griffin that when he barged unknowingly into Jackson’s trailer while Jackson was meeting with Jacqueline Onassis (then an editor at Doubleday, and there to discuss Jackson’s memoir) the star coolly said, “John, have you met Mrs. Onassis?”
An assortment of luminaries dropped by the set to see Jackson, from Fred Astaire to Rock Hudson. Quincy Jones, watching the filming of the zombie dance, mused about Jackson’s ability to maintain his child-like quality, saying, “It takes a lot of maturity to control all that innocence.” Perhaps the most unlikely visitor to appear was Marlon Brando, who, Landis learned, was slipping acting advice to Jackson. One day when Landis admonished him for not knowing his lines, Jackson said, “Marlon told me to always go for the truth, not the words.”
Landis tells Griffin he dealt with Jackson as he would “a really gifted child, because that’s what he was at that moment. He was emotionally damaged, but so sweet and so talented.” Landis also describes the awkward situations as he found himself caught up in Jackson-family dynamics. One night when Joseph and Katherine Jackson visited the set, the director recalls, “Michael asked me to have Joe removed. He said, ‘Would you please ask my father to leave?’ So I go over to Mr. Jackson. ‘Mr. Jackson, I’m sorry, but can you please leave?’ ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m John Landis. I’m directing this.’ ‘Well, I’m Joe Jackson. I do what I please.’ I said, ‘I’ll have to ask security to remove you if you don’t leave now.’?” Landis says he had a policeman escort Joe Jackson off the set, which Jackson, through his lawyer, denies.
Ray tells Griffin that she thinks about Jackson every day, with considerable regret. “I just wish I would have had the opportunity to be a little bit more in his life. I bet he would have been happy with me. It would have taken someone like me who would not put pressure on him or play him for his money or anything other than that I wanted to be with him for who he was,” Ray says. “I had no other agenda than that.”
Ray has since abandoned Hollywood-“There were so many big-name directors who told me that if I wanted to do films I had to sleep with them,” Ray says-but recalls the shoot, and especially her co-star, with great fondness. “That walk with Michael, when he was dancing around me and singing, I felt like I was the most, I don’t know, blessed girl in the world. Being able to do that and being able to play with Michael, and having him play around me. I felt so in love that night. You can see it in my eyes. You can see it for sure.”
The July issue of Vanity Fair is available on national newsstands today. It is also available for download on the iPad.
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MICHAEL JACKSON = “THRILLER” MUSIC VIDEO