The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Brett Ratner on Michael Jackson: 'You felt like God was within him'


My father loves to brag to his friends that while his son is a big-shot Hollywood reporter, it was his father who actually met Michael Jackson. Until he retired a few years ago, my dad had a store called the 24 Collection on the Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach that specialized in fashion, jewelry, art and one-of-a-kind oddities (I still have a clock set into a Cuban cigar box with a portrait of Fidel Castro on the clock face). One day Brett Ratner, who grew up in Miami and whose mother was a regular customer at the store, called my dad and asked if he could bring his pal Michael Jackson by to look around. As he often did as a courtesy for celebrities who might be annoyed or hounded, my father closed the store that afternoon and put the staff at Jackson's disposal.

"Michael walked around every inch of the store, feeling things, smelling things," my father remembers. "He'd ask questions about what this was or that was, where it was from, how we found it. I made sure the staff didn't intrude on him, although one person did ask for an autograph, which made them an ex-employee right away. But Michael was just off in his own world, curious about everything he saw."

I think my dad got his hopes up when he saw that Jackson was also accompanied by an aide who had a zippered envelope full of cash. But the King of Pop never bought anything. After spending an hour in the store, he just thanked everyone for letting him look around and left.

I called Ratner this morning to ask him how he became such fast friends with Jackson. It turns out that they met in 1998 when Ratner was finishing his first "Rush Hour" picture. One day, Chris Tucker was doing a scene and broke into a wild, Michael Jackson-style dance. The sequence was so funny that when Ratner had test screenings of the film, it got one of the biggest laughs in the picture. But because it was an obvious Jackson impression, Ratner knew he had to clear it with the pop star before he could put it in the movie.

That presented a problem, since Jackson was so reclusive that even Ratner, one of the great celebrity schmoozers of our time, couldn't get to him. He even called Jackson's Neverland ranch but never got anywhere. Then he got lucky. "My editor was talking to the projectionist who ran the final screening and it turned out that he was Michael's personal projectionist," Ratner told me today. "So I gave him the print and asked him to play the beginning of the second reel for Michael, which had Chris' dance in it."

Two days later Ratner picked up the phone and heard the soft, feathery voice of Michael Jackson. So what did Michael say? Keep reading.

"Michael said he'd watched the whole movie and loved it, especially the scene Chris did with his dance. He said, 'You have my permission to use whatever you want.' " That was great, but Ratner needed something in writing. When he asked Jackson to sign something on a piece of paper, Jackson simply invited him up to the ranch. "So I drove up there and walked in, with all his giraffes and other animals, all out there to greet me." Ratner recalls. "I ended up staying at the ranch and we just became great friends. We both had this huge, almost childlike fascination with movies and music and all kinds of entertainment."

Over the years, Ratner and Jackson spent an enormous amount of time together. They would film each other, with Jackson asking Ratner about how he became a film director and Ratner asking Jackson about how he became an entertainer. "I have hours of footage of us, sitting around in our pajamas, with me asking him about what kind of music he loved as a kid, what kind of books he had on the wall as a kid. When you were with him, you really felt like God was within him. He was an amazing, superhuman kind of person, but he always treated you as an equal. He would be your friend and he never asked for anything in return."

One of their favorite activities was to have dance-offs in the game room at Jackson's house. Jackson would put on a record, usually a song by his sister, Janet, and unleash some awesome dance moves. Then Ratner or Chris Tucker, who would sometimes come along, would play Michael's records and dance along to them. I asked Ratner if that felt a little like a mere mortal playing one-on-one with LeBron James. "Hey, I wasn't self-conscious. I'm a pretty good dancer. It was just fun to do it together."

When they weren't dancing, Ratner and Jackson would watch movies together. He says they must've watched the original version of "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" 50 times over the years. "I know that people looked at Michael and thought he was strange, but to me, he was fascinating," Ratner says. "He was the most inspirational person in my life. His one dream was to cure all the sick children in the world. And when I'd say, 'Isn't that impossible?' Michael would just start to cry. He was very emotional about things that moved him. I guess you'd have to say he was a pure innocent in a world that wasn't so innocent anymore."

Photo of Brett Ratner by Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (45)

The comments to this entry are closed.

This was a great story to read, especially as so many people have taken MJ's tragic end so hard. Good to know he had some true friends around him. I saw one of Brett Ratner's "Shooter Series" informal interviews of Michael in which he asked a lot of good questions about what inspired him, how he created his music, etc. and from what I understand this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what footage exists. (Don't quite get the camera angle, though!)

I hope Mr. Ratner makes this footage available someday--it's a valuable piece of history, especially now that this legendary and beloved artist has died.

Lovely story. It's so lovely to hear people say wonderful things about Michael. He was bullied, lied about, misrepresented, misunderstood and misjudged by the media and by the gullible public. Michael was a truly genuinely good man and because that's such a rarity in today's vile world, people just don't understand when someone really is truly good. RIP Michael. Always a victim of people's ignorance, greed and jealousy. Shame on you all.

That's a nice touching story... I always thought Brett Ratner was a cool guy, and now I'm sure of it! :)

Great article. It's great that some members of the media publish articles that are truth and stop with the speculations and bad press about Michael Jackson.
I hope one day people will talk only about the great things MJ achieved. He was a great performar, singer and an humanitarian. In the last 20 years the press turned against him and started to destroy him. It's my personnal opinion that all jornalists and media who ever printed rumors or an fake stories about MJ have blood in their hands. One day, justice will be done and all these people who destroyed Michael Jackson image will regreat lying about MJ life but now it's too late, because he's gonne. It's my opinion that he would have lived longer if the press would have left him alone to live a normal life. RIP my idol.

I enjoyed reading this beautiful story about Michael and his friend Brett Ratner. I believe if more people could enjoy that child like nature that is in us all, the world would be a better place.What is wrong with the world today is everyone is so serious and never stopping to smell the roses.People are so busy that they never stop to climb a tree,have a water balloon fight,watch a cartoon or just enjoy a day like when you were a child.Michael showed us that no matter how old you are that it is ok to climb a tree, have a water balloon fight or just watch a cartoon.Michael let us know that just the simple things can bring so much happiness if you will just stop and enjoy life like you did when you were a child.It took someone like Michael who never had a childhood to remind us who did have a childhood to never loose that part of our life that we enjoyed so much.Life is short and happiness only comes around one time- Reach for the stars and enjoy everything life has to offer.Michael was the greatest entertainer that ever lived- He was an ICON. We will never see another entertainer like him- Music and dance will never be the same.Michael was a kind person he shared his wealth with others through his charities.Michaels fans will miss him dearly because he was one of a kind and, there will never be another entertainer like him. Michael was Peter Pan in his heart and he will be Peter Pan in the hearts of his fans. Gone too soon - Rest in peace Michael - You will be missed

That was a good story and it made me think - the world is no longer innocent - simple acts of gentleness, kindness can be misunderstood. I never really listened or watched Michael Jackson until his death - but I have to tell you this man-child was a genius and gifted beyond measure. I never believed those awful stories - he was just too open about it. People can believe what they want - it's a free world for some - I choose now to believe if he were a representative for God - just look how he was treated and scoffed at - THIS MAN loved the ones that make this world worth living - the children.

this is so beautiful. im glad michael had another REAL friend...these are the people who really cared for michael..and knew the TRUTH about him. and really..anybody who says michael was this and that is just lookinq for attention cus if you didn't know he was innocent when he was you know with more and more evidence. stop makinq stuff up people. you can never hurt a can try..but wont get anywhere:D love you michael and i miss you so much! heart HURTSSSS everytime i think of you not beinq here with in peace angel..i cant wait to watch This Is It. your final piece of art!

Hi Brett....never knew your Dad owned 24 Collection....i met him a few times...he had quite a collection of things through the years i remember visiting and going through it as if it was a collection of a pop culture. Of course my first infatuation with the store began when it was in Bal Harbour. And maybe even back on 163rd streetish??????Anyway, went to purchase tickets for This Is It...and saw your blog....had to respond. We as a family are looking foward to seeing Michael Jacksons Movie. I was lucky enough to meet him ( or should i say got a hello/ peace sign and energy) at The Forge upon one of his many visits to South Florida. On the day he died, we were in the South Of France celebrating my birthday with my family. They all knew i was sad.....i miss him and get a "thrill" when listening to his music. Please remember when we are living in heaven to come to my BDAY PARTY>>>>>Michael will be there....and hopefully DANCING!! x, Dana

A pure innocent in a world in a world that wasn't so pure anymore. This is so true. Tell everyone Brett. You were lucky enough to have hung out with someone amazing, and you must be pretty wild too - if he trusted you enough to film him. Let the world really know who this beautiful soul was.

Michael deserves that much.

I hope Brett will release some of this footage he filmed of Michael sharing his memories as it has historical significance. If Brett wrote a book about Michael- it would be the one I would buy, because I know the information would be the truth.

« | 1 2 3 4 5 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Stay Connected:

About the Bloggers



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: