'Leaving Neverland' Subjects Talk Abuse Parallels, Burning Michael Jackson's Records
Wade Robson and James Safechuck, along with director Dan Reed, opened up to Billboard about what went into the making of their HBO doc.
Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the subjects of HBO's documentary Leaving Neverland, and director Dan Reed recently sat down for a cover story interview with Billboard, published online on Thursday. While speaking with the magazine, Robson and Safechuck — who in the film elaborate on the childhood sexual abuse they claim to have suffered at the hands of Jackson — opened up about reliving their stories for Reed's project.
Robson and Safechuck said that while they didn't know each other well as kids, they realized that, after watching each other share their accounts in Leaving Neverland, their interactions with the late King of Pop — who died at age 50 in 2009 — were strikingly similar. Robson first met Jackson at age 5 when he danced onstage with him in his native Australia, while former child actor Safechuck co-starred in a Pepsi commercial with Jackson at age 8.
"I don’t remember any feelings of jealousy toward James and his experience," said Robson, who explained in the doc that he felt pain and jealousy when Jackson showed attention and love to other young boys. "I remember feeling lots of shock. I mean, I had an instinct that there were going to be a lot of parallels in our stories. But to the degree that there are? That was mind-blowing."
For his part, Safechuck told the publication that he was "anxious" to hear Robson's story. "Yeah, I wasn't jealous. Because when we met as kids, I was being replaced by someone else, so my jealousy was with someone else. And by the time I saw the picture, I'd been through therapy, so I never had those competitive feelings with Wade," he said. "So it was more — it more felt good, like, 'I'm not alone.'"
Added Safechuck: "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the sex stuff was the same. But that was surprising. I didn't know any of the details, so I was kind of anxious to hear, what was Wade's story? And I didn't learn until I watched the picture. Even then, still, it was more like, 'Oh, good, somebody else went through exactly what I went through.'"
The men then talked about the one encounter they had with each other during their respective relationships with Jackson on the set of the singer's 1991 music video for "Jam."
"I was dancing in the video and James was there with Michael, but we ended up having an interaction — a really nice, friendly interaction and connection," said Robson, who went on to become a choreographer best known for his work with *NSYNC and Britney Spears. "We've realized we were in similar positions at that point in relation to Michael — there was a new boy there, and we were both kind of on the outskirts of Michael's attention and love."
Safechuck — now the director of innovation and technology at a digital advertising company — continued, "Yeah, it was like, there was this other boy there. And then Wade was instantly nice to me. So in that moment, I was like, 'Oh, good, somebody's being nice to me right now.' I needed that. That was a terrible weekend. So it was just this moment of happiness when we were able to just be kids."
Leaving Neverland ends with shots of Robson burning Jackson's records and memorabilia. Robson told Billboard that setting those items on fire was cathartic. "The burning of those things was what I needed to do at that early stage. And I remember, as I was doing that, I was looking at the fire and I started speaking to Michael. I said, 'Michael, I'm going to take these disgusting, horrible things that you did to me — I'm going to take your manipulation and your lies and your perversion — and I'm going to turn it into something good. I have no idea how. And I have no idea what that means. But somehow, I'm going to turn this into something good,'" said Robson. "And so then it's really incredible — I had never quite actually put that together until now — that those images are at the end of this film."
The interview ended with Robson, Safechuck and Reed commenting on the irony of Jackson previously pushing the men to pursue careers in filmmaking.
"You know what else is strange?" Safechuck asked Robson, to which he jokingly responded, "No, James. Tell me."
"He put this dream in us to make a film that would change the world, right?" said Safechuck. "Wow, yeah. Here you go, Michael," Robson commented.
Concluded Reed, "You did what he told you to do after all."
After Leaving Neverland's debut in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Jackson's estate called the film "a tabloid character assassination" and insisted it "isn't a documentary," while his family called Reed and the pic's two accusers "opportunists." Jackson's estate has since filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO and its parent company, Time Warner, claiming that the network has violated a non-disparagement clause from a 1992 contract covering the airing of one of Jackson's concerts.
Read Robson, Safechuck and Reed's entire Billboard interview here.