Total Film recently jetted off to Cancun for Sony’s annual sun-drenched press conference. Among the many films being temptingly waved before our eyes was Men In Black III, with stars Will Smith and Josh Brolin and director Barry Sonnenfeld on hand to discuss the sci-fi threequel.
Here’s the full transcript from the press conference, so you can discover what the trio had to say about the film (while also dealing with some frankly bonkers questions). If the movie's quickfire banter has half the spark of this chat, we should be in for a treat.
And if you want to see the video footage from the press conference, head on down to the bottom of the page.
Check it out…
Barry, why revisit Men In Black?
Will Smith: “That’s a good question. Had he known… [laughs]”
Barry Sonnenfeld: “Well, you know, the truth is, we were doing Men In Black II and one night Will Smith came up to me and said – he calls me “Baz” – he said, “You know, Baz, I got an idea for Men In Black III. I think that like I should go back in the past and do something that has to save Agent K and like by doing that, like we learn secrets that we didn’t learn and J learns secrets about K and it would be great to do like a time travel version.” And I said, “Let’s get through II.”
“It’s great to be back. It’s great to work with Will and Tommy and Josh is a phenomenal addition. You know, Will and I always said that the only way we could screw up is if we didn’t, in the past, have someone that was so good that you didn’t miss watching Will and Tommy, ‘cause the movie is about that great relationship. And the truth is, we also, once we started to work with Josh, said, poor Josh. No one’s gonna know he’s in the movie ‘cause they’re just gonna think they’re watching young Tommy.”
What are your all-time favorite moments from the past?
Smith: “Wow. All time favorite.”
Josh Brolin: “What moment in her life would you go back to?”
Smith: “Um, all-time favorite moments in mankind. That’s interesting. We had this conversation on the set. I think like, for black people, it’s like better now than ever. You don’t want to go backwards. Yeah, for me, I think Ancient Egypt, if I did. Ancient Egypt was really great. How the hell those damn pyramids got there.”
Sonnenfeld: “Well, those were aliens. Well, the truth is, Will only exists in the present. He’s not a going-back-to-the-past guy.”
Smith: “That’s deep. That was quantum. That was quantum.”
Sonnenfeld: “In my case, I would never have asked Debbie Reinisch out on a date, but that’s another story.”
Brolin: “Yesterday. I want to remember yesterday. I had a few Margaritas and I don’t remember and I’d like to go back to yesterday and find out why that happened and how it happened.”
Josh, how did you create the character without making it an imitation?
Brolin: “I mean, look, in all seriousness, there’s a chemistry that they have that I’ve been – I think we all are huge fans of, you know? So when you’re asked to do a role to sever the chemistry of this iconic duo and there’s very few iconic duos out there – there’s like Danny Glover and Mel Gibson and then Will and Tommy and there’s very few that have had that kind of chemistry that’s worked so well.
“So I was looking to, in my career, very soon, and I thought, well, let’s do this, then, and see what happens. The fear that came up in me when Barry asked me to do this was massive and, I think, for all the right reasons, because it’s like going into a warehouse of instruments that were patented that really didn’t work very well.
“So you’re trying to play an instrument that was never meant to be played. I loved it. Thank you very much. So, you know, you’re trying to play it and it’s going, [makes sounds]. You go, no, I don’t want to play this one. And then suddenly you figure it out and you add some things and, you know, there’s also the added element of Barry and I going back and forth and what is it gonna be like when he’s young? Is he happier? How much happier is he, you know, before this kind of traumatic thing happened in his life? You know, was he super-happy? Is it a huge transition? And then, also, the fact that I’m twenty-nine.
“I mean, that’s a joke. But, you know, them inserting the scene in there, you know, “looks like you got some road miles on you,” it all kind of works out. So it was difficult. I came actually down here to Mexico and got a very small hotel room and turned off my phone and I had a computer and Garage Band and I looked up a lot of different videos that were meaningless in the end and what it came down to was watching MEN IN BLACK over and over and over.
“The thing is, I think the trap is to do everything like this or whatever – you know, I can’t even do it now. It’s just like – blocked it out. But to do everything exaggerated where it wasn’t that, you know? I didn’t want people to be watching Josh doing Tommy the whole time.
“I just want – you know, after five minutes, my hope was that you could just watch a really good movie and get over the fact that I was playing Tommy."
Smith: “What was really interesting for me, and it’s terrifying because there’s a certain rhythm and chemistry that you develop after you’ve worked with someone a certain amount of times, you know? It’s like a great lover, you know, where you just fall in sync and you just know the things – it’s okay? Or, you know, and then you get a new girlfriend or new boyfriend and…”
Brolin: “And it starts all over.”
Smith: “But what was interesting, it was almost identical. Like the chemistry was just identical – the rhythms, the intonation, because it’s tennis when you’re in a scene with another actor and some guys go to their backhand on certain shots and it was just really identical. I was amazed at how the first day, first scene, it was – there was nothing that I had to do differently. It was the exact, almost, interaction as with Tommy Lee Jones.”
Sonnenfeld: “And I wanted to say something about the first scene because I’d read in an unfortunate magazine that after we shot the first scene with Will and Tommy I broke into tears. The truth is, I did break into tears. The reason, however, I broke into tears was tears of joy that I watched the first scene of Will and Tommy together, which is a scene where Will is being interrogated at Men in Black Headquarters by Josh and I was weeping because it had worked. See, I can cry because I’m happy or sad, as they’ll tell you, and I was weeping because, oh, my God, we’ve got a movie and no one is gonna say…”
Smith: “But, in all fairness, you cry when you get hungry, you know.”
Sonnenfeld: “Yes, but I don’t see what your point is.”
Will and Josh, what did you do to prepare each day?
Smith: “I’m a child of hip hop, so there’s old school hip hop sort of always grounds me, you know. Melle Mel, that’s my guy. Melle Mel, rock him, so, for whatever reason, it helps me return to my roots and to my essence.”
Sonnenfeld: “For me, it’s Public Enemy.”
Smith: “Public Enemy. Yes. Pretty much a hip hop head. I can tell by the jacket that you’re a Public Enemy fan.”
Brolin: “I think it is country western. I grew up – my mom was from Texas and so I grew up with that old school country western – Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and all that. I remember I told my dad – I don’t think he took it very well – but I said, you know, when my dad said that he was getting married to his most recent wife and, you know, long term – I don’t say that with any – it’s not funny. And I said, “Wow, you know, Barbra Streisand.” I didn’t really grow up with Barbra Streisand music, but I said, if he had married Johnny Cash, that would have really been something to me. I’d have been really proud of that.”
Barry, is there an official sunglasses style for the film?
Sonnenfeld: “Oh, no, it definitely changes. In fact, Josh’s glasses in ’69 are different than Will’s in 2012. A whole different technology. As a neuralizer changes, you have to have different filters in there to prevent the neutralization rays getting back into your eye. It’s so obvious, really.”
Will, how has the Men In Black series affected your career?
Smith: “It was really the movie that – it was right after Independence Day, so Independence Day was the fluke and then Men In Black was the, oh, well, wait a minute, you know, maybe he’ll hang out with us for a little while. You know, for me, it was the first opportunity to play comedy on that level. It’s a really strange world in Men In Black and it’s very difficult. You won’t see a lot of fantasy comedies, right? There’s something about the comedy fantasy that it dissipates and it’s a difficult mark to hit. So, for me, it was a really wonderful lesson in comedy and in performance. And with Men In Black III, we sort of went slightly more – not dramatic, but it’s – how would you describe it? It’s like the story is more emotionally centered than the other two films, and we didn’t shy away from the maturity of the ideas, but didn’t lose the fun and the comedy. So, for me, it’s been probably the most tricky franchise that I’ve worked on and educationally it’s one of the best movies and one of the best franchises I’ve ever been around.”
Sonnenfeld: “Really the only franchise.”
Smith: “No, no, no. Bad Boys.”
Sonnenfeld: “Oh, yeah. Bad Boys.”
Smith: “Bad Boys. Okay? Sonn, I have other friends.”
Sonnenfeld: “That’s not what you told me.”
Josh, what appeals to you about the laconic roles?
Brolin: “I don’t know. I mean, I did No Country For Old Men and, to me, that’s more laconic than any character can be without not being in the movie, you know? So this was really verbose for me. You know, I get what you mean. You know, it’s that – the great thing is, is that I’m not funny without Will. I can’t be funny alone, you know? So it’s Will that makes me funny.”
Smith: “Oh, Josh.”
Brolin: “It’s true, man. It’s true. It’s only sex, yes. And, so, you know, when you have extreme characters like this, you have to have the diametrically opposed character in order for it to make it work and whole. Okay?”
Smith: “You know, what was exciting to me, also, about doing this is how risky and dangerous and almost foolish it was to try to make Men In Black and introduce a new actor to play the, you know…”
Brolin: “The actor that existed in the last two really successful films. It’s stupid.”
Smith: “Yeah. I blame you. But it was really – I loved being that aggressive. That was one of the things that we talked about is, we can’t be safe. If you’re gonna do another one, you have to do it for a reason other than, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if? – you know? So you want to reveal something about the characters and I loved that there was an idea of how detrimental secrets are in relationships, you know? So I loved having some other ideas going on and being dangerous and being risky and aggressive with the franchise.”
Sonnenfeld: “And the truth is, really, as funny as Will makes Josh, as funny as Will makes Tommy Lee Jones, Josh and Tommy Lee Jones make Will funny. You need George Burns and Gracie Allen. You don’t want two guys playing Gracie Allen and you don’t want two guys – I don’t want to see the comedy with Josh and Tommy.”
Smith: “We’re all friends here. Why don’t you speak your truth, Barry?”
Sonnenfeld: “The truth is, they’re only funny because I’ve directed them to be funny. And any questions about comedy could only be directed at me. Thank you, Will. That’s what Will and Josh were trying to say, but I needed to articulate it for them. Thank you.”
Will, what is your favorite moment in any Men In Black?
Smith: “You know, it’s funny. The relationship that Barry and I have, and the distinct, quirky comedy of Men In Black actually is Barry Sonnenfeld. There’s a strangeness and a slight twisted sense of humor that Men In Black has that is distinctly Barry Sonnenfeld. So I think there are things off-camera that are so insane that I think when Jada was pregnant with Jaden -”
Sonnenfeld: “Oh, when you broke my fist or when I broke my -”
Smith: “You broke your fist on me, okay? And that’s different. It’s different, Barry. But…”
Sonnenfeld: “That’s different than the rotator cuff that you -”
Smith: “So what happens – somehow – and I think it’s just the nature of our relationship every time we work together, Barry ends up in the hospital. But he overreacts. He overreacts.”
Sonnenfeld: “Or when you knocked me unconscious when the inflatable gloves went bad.”
Smith: “We had inflatable boxing gloves so we’re playing with the inflatable boxing gloves and I’d just done Ali. So they’re this big. The gloves are huge. So we’re doing this and we’re playing and we’re playing and we’re playing, and I punched him and the glove popped and -”
Sonnenfeld: “Knocked me unconscious. Because you’re supposed to go like this and Will goes like that to my – but can I tell one thing before we leave? Because here’s the question that hasn’t been asked - that you haven’t see the movie in 3-D, but what I wanted to tell you is that this movie in 3-D is weirdly like a totally different experience. And I promise to every one of your readers, and you’re gonna have to go out to see it to prove I’m right, is the single best-looking, funniest 3-D movie that will ever be. It’s really extraordinary and it’s as if there are two movies. There’s the 2-D movie, which is fantastic and then there’s this other movie you should see…”
Brolin: “So you have to see both. You have to see one and then take your friends to see the other one.”
Sonnenfeld: “It’s really extraordinary and it’s really – this whole 3-D thing, I think Jim Cameron’s gonna pick up on it after he sees Men In Black III, but it’s really extraordinary. And working with these guys and Tommy and Jemaine and Michael Stuhlbarg and Emma – it was just thrilling and fun for all of us.”
Smith: “I appreciate you and I love you and Josh. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication.”
Sonnenfeld: “Thank you, Will.”
Smith: “Thank you all.”
Men In Black III opens in cinemas on 25 May 2012.
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