Men In Black 2 - Q&A

Review by Jack Foley

ONE OF the perks of being a film critic is being given the opportunity to sit in a room full of journalists with some of the world's top movie stars, listening to them field questions about their latest projects.

For Men In Black 2, distributors Columbia Tristar threw open the doors of BAFTA in London and welcomed stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle and director Barry Sonnenfeld for what can only be described as a laugh-a-minute question and answer session. Here, we pick out the best of the Q&A to give you a flavour of what time spent in the company of the Men in Black is really like...

How did Michael Jackson become involved with this movie?

Barry Sonnenfeld: I asked Michael Jackson to be in the first Men In Black; there was a scene where we showed all the aliens on a big egg-screen, we had George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Danny DeVito and Stallone and what we really wanted was Michael Jackson, and I asked him to do it, and Michael didn’t want to be considered an alien in Men In Black 1.
Then Michael said he wanted to be in Men In Black 2 so I had a conversation with him that began with me asking, ‘can you speak up Michael?’ He said he would love to be in Men In Black 2 wearing the black suit, that was all that mattered to him.

The outfit is clearly something that everyone remarks upon, but I image it wasn’t the coolest thing to wear on a cold night whenever they were shooting these scenes, because it always seems to be me that when we make movies, the director always seems to wait until the coldest possible night to shoot the stuff. Was that in fact the case?

Lara Flynn Boyle: (sighs) Yeah, the crew had scarves and mittens on and when I said something, they came back with ‘we’re not being paid the big bucks’ and I said that I’m not getting paid the big bucks either…
Sonnenfeld cuts in: $16 million wasn’t enough for you?
Boyle: It’s never enough.. But it was freezing that night!

One of the easiest things for Sonnenfeld was that, by the time of the second movie, you had realised that you were indeed funny. Is that the case?

Jones: Yeah, I’m funny! (pause for laughter). You see when I started out, I thought the first movie was about science fiction and sort of mystery and menace and required adventure and the manipulation of those types of elements. Comedy had never occurred to me until about halfway through the film when Barry explained it to me for the 100th time and then I caught on and figured out that if I did everything Barry said and stood close enough to Will, people would eventually think I’m funny. And I started getting away with it and I hope I continue to do so.

Again you’ve completed a double act with a hit movie and a hit record. I’ve seen the video for the latter and it looks just as complex and complicated as elements of the movie...

Smith: The entire video was done on green screen, there is almost nothing real in any of those scenes in the video; there’s certain elements of the performance, the dancers, but everything else is fabricated around it which is always bizarre. You don’t know what any of the things are going to be at the end of the process but it’s fun because when I finally see it, it’s like watching it for the first time with the whole audience. So I’m very happy to continue to make these types of films with all of my friends.

What do your kids think of the movies?

Smith: They all liked the movie. My 10-year-old loves it more than almost anyone. His Dad is a man in black and that is like the best thing in the world. He loves the cameras, the premieres and all of that, and he’s starting to like girls a little bit; so: ‘Dad, I need you to pick me up from school tomorrow’, he’s enjoying all of that stuff.
My four-year-old doesn’t really, he wants a really private life and Daddy all to himself, He had a scene in the movie, but Barry cut him out. So they had a two and a half minute scene…
Sonnenfeld (cuts in): Are you talking about racism in America?
Smith: We could talk about racism in MIB2 cos my black children are edited out…. But no listen, it’s gonna seem as though I’m bitter, you know, and that’s not the case. The entire scene with your daughter was wonderful… And then the scene with Tommy’s daughter, she looked really beautiful… and then just all the black children were cut out of the film. They didn’t remember their names, huh? (cue laughter).
Sonnenfeld explains: They were initially standing on grass, trying to attract a fire-fly, but we took that whole scene out because it involved putting black people in the beginning of the movie (more laughter). But then I realised I had to get them in this movie some place, and there was a scene in which Will, Tommy and Rosario [Dawson] were flying upside down through New York City and I said to the ILM guys, take the shot with the black kids standing on grass and, instead, map them in concrete and make it seem like they are in Manhattan.
Anyway, when I saw the first invention of that shot, they had not only taken these two black children in New York City, but they had two burnt out cars and loads of garbage, and I was like, why don’t you put some syringes in too?

At what point did you think MIB2 would be made?

Smith: I was always optimistic about the possibility of making this film. Again, I’m optimistic about the possibility of making Men In Black 3! I think that as long as people laugh in the movie theatres, there’s always the possibility to do another one. I think even more than Box Office, the laughter in the theatres leaves us room to make another one and I’m in if you guys are in (said, looking at co-stars).

Was it difficult, with everyone’s schedules, getting back together this time?

Jones: It was. People were making other movies and it feels like a long time. It’s more like three instead of the five, because of the year of pre-production at least; the thing had to be written and arguments have to be worked out about problems in the script, backs have to be stabbed, you know.
I wasn’t surprised at all about the concept about Men In Black 2, you really got to think about a sequel when you see the numbers hitting the $600 global, worldwide.

Given that this is the summer of the sequel, and that you will be starting Bad Boys 2 next month, is there any chance of any other sequels from you, Wild, Wild West 2 perhaps?

Smith: You know, I was talking to Barry about that. I would like to make a sequel of that film because I feel that people missed something. There is greatness in there, it was just missed a little bit. I would like to do it just to laugh at people.
Sonnenfeld: Will’s incredibly self-confident and arrogant.
Smith: We could do it Barry, I’m telling you. We only missed a little bit.
Sonnenfeld: Yeah, it was the casting.

How does it feel being upstaged by a dog?

Smith: I’m like a comedy whore, so wherever the joke can come from, I’m very happy to be a part of it. As long as the audience is happy, that is all that matters; wherever it comes from, I will take it.
Sonnenfeld: You’re wrong, in fact, because the reaction shot is always funnier than the action shot which is why, in this movie, Tommy is actually funnier than Will….
Smith: You see, it’s the racism man, it’s the racism! (more laughter)
Sonnenfeld: For example, when Frank the Pug is singing ‘I Will Survive’, the only reason that is funny is because Will Smith is in the background of that shot trying not to get angry. If that was just a shot of that dog singing ‘I Will Survive’, believe me, that would not be funny.
Journalist: I found it funny..
Sonnenfeld: I am the director and I’m telling you it wasn’t funny.
Smith: But you see there is a really advanced comedy math there; it takes a really heightened perception of comedy to understand the depth of what was going on, mathematically, with the jokes in that scene, Barry.

What would you use the de-neuraliser for, if you had the chance?

Smith: I’d use it for sex. That would be really great, you know, you wouldn’t have to work as hard and then when you were done you could deneuralise her and say, look, I was the best you’ve ever had….
Jones (cutting in): Or you don’t wanna call me…. Or you don’t want me to call you…
Lots of laughter….
Jones: That’s the highest and best use of the de-neuraliser.
Journalist who asked the question: I actually work for a children’s magazine…
Smith (gob-smacked and still laughing): Ok, ok, I would use it for my parents and I would tell that that my room was already clean.
Another journalist to Boyle: And what would you use this gizmo for, bearing in mind that it’s a children’s magazine?
Boyle: Ah well, I don’t like children…
Smith: I love this team….

Why do you think you and Will have such good on-screen chemistry?

Jones: Well that’s what it said in the script. These are two men in black, they argue and they were really good and… you know… that’s what it said.
Smith (agreeing): Wonderful, wonderful respect and admiration for each other and a comprehension of the comedy math that I spoke of earlier. We both understand how to fill a scene, how to play off of one another. I don’t think either one of us comes to the set, or to rehearsals, with preconceived notions of how the scene is going to be. We’re both willing to be open and flexible and move to give what the scene needs to work.

Is there anything you learned about Will Smith, while filming, that you think people should know?

Jones: Have you ever heard of the Make A Wish Foundation of the United States. It usually takes last wishes of children who are dying of the world’s ugliest diseases and (these people finance it); children will write in and say they want to meet Will Smith, for example, and this organisation is devoted to making these wishes come true. Will had a kid from the Make A Wish Foundation on the set, three maybe four times a week, and his family; at the same time he was making this movie. And that’s something they don’t know and I think they need to..

How was it getting back to comedy after Ali?

Smith: I was in a really serious state of mind. I’d been fighting every day, so I was really aggressive. I went from fighting, really, every single day to nothing. Barry was kind enough to let me punch on him a little bit and it took me about two weeks to settle down and get to the place where I could start to be funny again and the day that Tommy came on the set is when I felt that everything gel. At the first part of the film I was by myself and with Frank the Pug and it really took me a minute to get it together and when Tommy came back on the set, it just clicked. It probably took two and a half weeks to settle down and start to make some jokes again.

You had a record-breaking opening weekend in the States, but critics weren’t that impressed with the movie. Do you even care what they think?

You know what, all of these movies are like my kids and I just love them to death. Some of them go to Harvard and some of them barely can graduate high school, but I love them all desperately for different reasons and, no, I don’t really listen to reactions.

What’s it like acting with blue screen?

Jones: With blue screen, green screen or special effects such as fingers that snake around, it’s impossible unless you know how… And if you do know how, then it’s another day at the office. The trick is to use your imagination and, luckily, we are often called upon to use our imagination.
Smith: We pretend for a living so with the green screen, it’s really based on how clear the picture that the director has in his or her mind; and his or her ability to communicate exactly what is going to be there at the end of the film. If it’s communicated really clearly and you can pictures, you can usually get a pretty good picture, you’re not completely going in blind.

RELATED STORIES: Men In Black 2, the Indielondon verdict. Click here...
The comedy elements behind the Men in Black success story. Click here for story...