Josh Freeman talks MJ 'Thriller' shoot

For ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 18 Music Issue, we persuaded 14 athletes to re-create some of the most memorable album covers. As part of our supplemental coverage on Playbook Sounds, we will be running behind-the-scenes interviews with each athlete, as well as their own personal playlists.

• Athlete: Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB

• As: Michael Jackson on "Thriller" (1982)

How did this come about?

I have always been a huge fan of Michael Jackson. Loved him since I was little. Our fullback, Erik Lorig, his older sister Analeis and I were hanging out in California, and she said that I need to be doing more things. She always says to me: "Why don't you ever do anything fun?" I'm telling her, "I don't really get out that much." Lo and behold, she knows somebody who was connected to this project and said, "Why not Josh for this?" At the time I had a big ’fro, which looked like the MJ ’fro. It's a little different today, but it just kinda fit and here I am.

Do you realize how much you looked like him?

I hadn't realized. How people view and perceive you is always different than how you view yourself. You're like, I don't look like him, because you look at yourself every day -- but after seeing some of those pictures, it's pretty crazy. I've gotten "Little Michael" and I've gotten "Tito" quite a bit.

Describe the transformation process.

In the makeup room, it all started with the hair. You gotta get the hair right. Once we got that tackled, then it was about getting the outfit right, and once we got that right, we moved to makeup and just trying to shade so I more resembled Michael: his jawline, how his nose is shaped. The little subtleties that allow your face and the expression to look like him. After a few pics, I barely recognized myself.

How much do you know about MJ?

Me and my brother are big fans, I have a lot of friends who are big fans. When I was younger, I used to have this sweet little red jacket, and I went as Michael for Halloween one year. I had a mask. Just the way he took so many styles of music and almost created his own genre. His music really transcends everyday life.

What is your favorite MJ song?

"Black or White." Because I really am black and white. My father is African-American and my mom is Caucasian. I split right down the middle.

Favorite MJ dance move?

The moonwalk, that nice little tight spin, with a leg kick and a crotch grab to end it.

How concerned are you about the reaction to this shoot?

I am not concerned. It's gonna be tough to hold them back from wanting autographs; it's going to be fun. Can't wait for the creativity.

How would you sum up the shoot today?

All in all, it was a lot of fun. The best part was hanging with the little tiger. I own exotic animals, I have a bunch of snakes, I'm a big animal lover, so I wasn't afraid of the tiger at all. On our team, Doug Martin has an exotic cat ... so we're into it. What you don't realize is how difficult it is to stay propped up while balancing a tiger on your leg.

See more of the Josh Freeman shoot in the full photo gallery.

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