Jaki Brown describes casting the five-hour ABC miniseries “The Jacksons--An American Dream” as the “casting job of my life.”

The casting director had to cast 15 actors to play the Jackson 5, to cover three different stages in their lives. The actors not only had to look the part, but they had to be able to lip-sync and dance to the 38 Jackson hits that are the backbone of the miniseries.

“That was the thing that was the toughest,” said Brown, the casting director of such Oscar-nominated films as “Boyz N the Hood” and “Stand and Deliver.”


On top of that, the cast had to be approved by the family. Videotapes of each casting session went to producers Jermaine Jackson and his wife, Margaret Maldonado Jackson, and then to the Jackson parents, Joseph and Katherine. Michael Jackson also had approval of the three actors who would play him.

“I always had an extra set of unspoken advisers,” Brown said.

Brown said her office walls were covered with huge photographs of the singers at various stages in their career. “If I saw someone on the street who looked like one of the Jacksons, I would perk up,” she said.

The casting started in Los Angeles with a huge publicity blitz. “We instigated a post-office box and one could send a little snapshot or an audio or videocassette,” she said. Every day, her office received hundreds of pieces of mail from all over the United States. “I can’t say it produced as many people as I hoped it would,” she said. “I constantly reminded the producers, if there is another Michael Jackson in the world, I think we would have known of him.”

No one was hired from that publicity blitz; Brown had better luck with casting calls in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. “I can say I probably saw close to a couple of thousand kids,” she said. “I could have seen a few hundred for each role but for the Michaels, it was double that.”

Most of the three sets of actors who play the Jacksons have some type of previous acting experience. Jason Weaver, 12, who plays the second Michael, was featured in the 1990 movie “The Long Walk Home” and the short-lived ABC series “Brewster Place.”

Before his audition in Los Angeles, Weaver, who also does his own singing of pre-Motown songs in the miniseries, watched and listened to tapes of Michael, learning all of his moves. “It was just like clockwork when I went into the audition,” Weaver said. “There were so many kids there. I just said to myself, ‘I can do it.’ (I pretended) I was in a big auditorium by myself and I got it pumping. It was so great. (Michael) picked me over 300 kids.”


Weaver is a big fan of Michael. “He has worked hard since he was a little kid,” he said. “When you have somebody as talented as that and they worked as hard, they deserve the kind of publicity and respect he has.”

The hardest part to cast was the third Michael, which covers the “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” period.

The man who would get the part, Wylie Draper, a professional dancer and Michael look-alike, had taken some acting classes in college but had never acted on screen. A casting woman in Pittsburgh knew Draper and recommended him to “Jacksons” director Karen Arthur. “She knew I resembled Michael and could dance like Michael,” Draper said. Brown tracked Draper to a cruise ship out of San Pedro, where he was performing in a musical revue.

Brown recalled it was the very last weekend of casting when Draper arrived. “He walked in and my heart stopped,” Brown said. “When Mrs. Jackson came and she saw him, she started crying. He did his routine of a kind of Michael Jackson takeoff and we knew that was it.”

Draper said he began dancing like Jackson after his “Off the Wall” album was released. “I was in the sixth grade,” Draper said. “My friends in the neighborhood, we used to dance like him.”

Though he never met Michael, Jackson always saw dailies of Draper’s work. Draper said that when he first got the part, “I was kind of scared for myself to try to play him. I didn’t know how I was going to act (as Michael).”


After dealing with the initial panic and his lack of film experience, he said the miniseries turned into the best experience of his life. “I am a professional dancer, (but) I always wanted to act and do movies and stuff like that. I got a chance to do pretty much what I wanted to do.”