The Show Must Go On
The Bizarre Story Behind Paris Jackson’s First Movie
The long, wild road to Paris Jackson’s film debut just got wilder, Kevin Fallon reports.
Paris Jackson is in the hospital recovering from what’s been reported as an attempted suicide. When she is discharged, she has at least one thing to look forward to: her first starring role in a movie. But, as is the typical Jackson way, the experience has been—and should prove to be—anything but ordinary.
The 15-year-old daughter of the late Michael Jackson is signed on to play the heroine in Lundon’s Bridge and the Three Keys, an adaptation of a book by the same name. Despite her recent troubles, the film’s producers still plan on Jackson playing the part.
“I gotta say yes,” Dennis Christen, who wrote the book and screenplay is one of the film’s producers, tells The Daily Beast when asked if Jackson remains attached to the film. “It’s the first signs of trouble, and we don’t want to be the kinds of producers that say, OK, you’re out. We want to back her. She is right now our girl.”
This is just the latest hiccup for the film, which boasts a plot and distribution strategy that is, to say the least, unusual.
Lundon’s Bridge and the Three Keys is the first of five films planned, all of which Christen says Jackson is attached to star in. She will play heroine Lundon O’Malley, the daughter of a marine biologist. Her father is in partnership with another ocean biologist. That biologist is a dolphin. Through the dolphin, Lundon makes other friends in the ocean and leads them on a trek to find three keys to win a war against pollution.
This is the IMDB plot description: “Ancient sea-magic turns a dolphin into a human, an evil spell changes a teenage boy into a dragonfly and a once good jellyfish queen morphs into an evil fairy godmother.” Larry King; his wife, Shawn Southwick; and former *NSYNC member Joey Fatone will play supporting characters.
Christen breaks down the plot much more simply: “It’s about saving the planet.” And it’s that message that eventually helped Jackson win the fight—and it was a fight—to star in the film. “There are members of the Jackson family that have been from the beginning against Paris doing this film,” Christen says.
When Jackson’s casting was announced in December 2011, reports quickly surfaced on how controversial her foray into the spotlight was among her family. Her aunt Janet, in particular, was said to be “furious” that Paris was permitted to sign on for the film, as the family had apparently agreed to honor Michael’s wishes that his children stay out of show business until they turn 18. “You’re only a child once,” she reportedly told Paris.
“The other person we had to convince to agree was her grandmother Katherine,” Christen says. “She actually turned us down 10 times. Literally, 10 times: ‘No, no, no.’”
Jackson is said to have pleaded with Katherine to let her take the role, arguing that story’s environmental message would have been close to her father’s heart. “Lundon’s Bridge is about trying to stop pollution,” she said during an appearance on Ellen in December. “I know that my dad always wanted to heal the world, and I think it would be great to follow in his footsteps and try to just help the world.” Christen says it took a combination of Jackson’s incessant prodding and the help of Larry King, who campaigned Katherine on behalf of the film, to get her grandmother to finally agree after two years.
A call to the Jackson family for comment on Paris’s participation in the film was not returned.
Leading a planned five-film franchise is also, of course, no small task for an untested actress. As such, Paris went through 45 days of auditioning, which included attending acting classes that were paid for and monitored by the film’s producers. Speaking about the film on Ellen, Jackson seemed more than up to the challenge. “I love acting, it’s my passion,” she said, adding that she knew wanted to be in the business when she was “really little, because my dad was in the movie Moonwalker—I knew he could sing, like really well, but I didn’t know he could act. I saw that and I thought, wow, I want to be just like him.”
The original plan was to be done with shooting, which should take about three months, by the end of 2014, but the “present circumstance with our lead actress” puts that goal in question, Christen says. The filming start date is also contingent on the progress of the movie’s ambitious combination of live-action and animated production, which is still being finalized. “The look of the story is going to be very Avatar-ish,” Dennis says.
Also ambitious is the way in which Lundon’s Bridge will be distributed. The film’s release will double as a fundraiser for schools. The plan is to award 50 percent of all profits from the film and its merchandise to the school of the customer’s choosing. To maximize that dollar amount, the film’s first weekend of release will be offered exclusively to schools around the country to show in their auditoriums. Half of admission receipts go directly to the school; the other half will be returned to Paralight Films and C-It Entertainment, the companies behind Lundon’s Bridge.
“Over 80 percent of Hollywood’s customer base in this genre is sitting in those classrooms,” Dennis says. “If we market directly to the customer for the benefit of their schools, we’ve cut out the middle people. We’re giving the middle people’s commission to the schools. Imagine how great it would have been if Harry Potter had done this.”
With five films ahead of her, Jackson will be 22 or 23 years old by the time production on the Lundon’s Bridge series wraps—perhaps 25 or 26, Dennis concedes, if production on each sequel takes as long as this first one. Already, her image has been added to the book cover.
At the very least, she seemed more than happy to be devoting her time to this during that Ellen appearance. “Fifty percent of the profits of the movie and the book, it goes back to schools,” she said proudly. “I know a lot of schools, they can’t afford performing arts. They can’t do sports. And that’s the fun parts of schools. Like academics is boring.”