Pop superstar Janet Jackson reveals much more of herself than she’s ever done before in the Lifetime-A&E documentary series aptly titled Janet Jackson.
The singer-actress discloses why her first marriage, to James DeBarge, failed (his drug use); her dream as a young woman (to pursue business law, not music); and why she counseled Justin Timberlake to avoid public comment after the infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime show when he inadvertently ripped off Janet’s top, exposing her breast (she wanted to protect his career).
Contenders TV Docs + Unscripted — Deadline’s Complete Coverage
“Through this film, she’s been incredibly open and incredibly honest. And at times that has been very difficult for her,” Benjamin Hirsch, director of the four-part series, noted during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted event. “I admire her honesty and her ability to do that.”
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Jackson serves as an executive producer on the series. She tapped Manchester, England-based production company Workerbee, run by Rick Murray, to produce it.
“We met Janet over five years ago. She lives in the UK a lot these days — she has family here — and through a joint person we both knew we were asked to go and cover some behind the scenes footage of one of her tours,” Murray explained. “I sent my best director, Ben, and I sort of said in his ear before he went … ‘There’s something bigger that we can do with Janet.’ And we both love making movies, making feature documentaries, and we just thought there is a feature documentary here of her life that has not been told.”
Filming began in 2017. Hirsch says it took him a couple of weeks to gain Jackson’s trust such that he could ask her personal questions, the kind that would yield compelling material for the series.
“For me, it was being a little bit cheeky,” Hirsch recalled. “It was pushing my luck a little bit, which actually I think she quite liked that about me. That first interview I did with her she said she only had 30 minutes and we ended up chatting for three hours.”
Murray said, “There wasn’t an area or stone that wasn’t unturned by Ben, and I think she started to expect it from him.” Turning to Hirsch, he added: “You were persistent, and I think you always smiled. … Sometimes it was just waiting for that right moment, wasn’t it? And you kept repeatedly asking the questions to get those subjects covered.”
Murray, Hirsch and their team also drew from a trove of exclusive material Jackson shared with them.
“She sent us 7,000 tapes and just said, ‘This is my personal archive,’” Murray revealed. “She recorded everything, from the rehearsals at the Super Bowl that no one had seen before, through to the recording of [the music video] ‘Scream,’ in the studio recording Rhythm Nation, and no one had seen these tapes before. … It took us weeks and months to go through them.”
Check back Monday for the panel video, including Murray explaining why Jackson sent him “literally thousands of messages” through WhatsApp.
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