The Men in Black are back — but these aren’t the galaxy defenders you remember, not exactly.
Yes, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones have both returned to their iconic roles of Agents J and K, two of the finest alien investigators the universe has to offer. But J is not the same bright-eyed rookie introduced oh so many years ago; he’s a seasoned veteran now. And don’t even get us started on Agent K, who has changed so much that a whole new actor is stepping in to play him in the upcoming summer action flick!
Nearly a full decade has passed since the last “Men in Black” movie was in theaters. But the threequel itself has been a fixture in headlines throughout its production: Between time-traveling tales, a one-two punch from Jones and Josh Brolin, and reported problems with the film’s script, “Men in Black 3” has certainly been on every film geek’s radar. But don’t let all of that confuse you. Director Barry Sonnenfeld tells MTV News that not only is “Men in Black 3” the most “emotional” of the series, it’s also the most “surprising.” In other words, if you think you know what the film is all about, take it from the man himself: You don’t know anything yet.
MTV News’ Summer Movie Preview week continues today with an interview with Sonnenfeld, who spoke openly with us about the film’s story, reports and rumors surrounding the production, and how “Men in Black 3” paves the way for a brand-new take on the sci-fi franchise.
MTV: A long time has passed since we’ve seen the Men in Black on the big screen. What does it mean to you, bringing them back after so many years?
Barry Sonnenfeld: It feels really great. I’ve been on the movie for a little over two years though, so I’m looking forward to some vacation, too. [Laughs] It was really rewarding. I’m really excited for people to see the movie. So I guess I’m tired, and happy.
MTV: Why return to this universe now after all this time? What made sense to you about exploring the world of “Men in Black” again?
Sonnenfeld: I think the important thing is to have a new, different story to tell. We didn’t want another regular caper where some alien just comes down to threaten Earth, and the Men in Black have to solve it. The big idea — and it was actually Will’s idea, while we were shooting “Men in Black 2” one night for an exterior shot. He said to me, “Barry, for ’Men in Black 3,’ Agent J needs to go back in time to save Tommy Lee Jones’ [character] from some event that’s happened decades earlier. He needs to learn something about Tommy’s character that he didn’t know before.” That was the genesis. Ten years later, we’re about to come out and show the world what that meant.
MTV: Time travel is clearly a big element to the story, but there’s more: We’ve seen photos of the typical weird aliens, we’ve seen Josh Brolin as a young Agent K, and we’ve seen Jemaine Clement as this crazy, motorcycle-riding villain. From a distance, we see all these parts, but perhaps we still don’t have the full scope of what your movie’s about. So, tell us: What’s happening this time around?
Sonnenfeld: In the first act, Agent J is a bit fed up with how closed K is as a person, how he feels he needs to open up and communicate more, but it’s not happening. K says to J, “You know how I live such a happy life? I don’t ask questions I don’t want to know the answers to.” At the end of the first act, Jemaine’s character, Boris the Animal, breaks out of prison and finds a guy who has a time device. He says he’s going back to 1969 to do something to the man who shot off his arm — because Boris only has half an arm — and of course, that man is Agent K. At the end of that first act, Tommy’s character disappears, and no one remembers that he ever existed… except Agent J, who realizes that someone went back in time and did something to Agent K. So he has to track down who gave Boris the device, and travel back to 1969 with one warning: He has to stay away from his old partner.
MTV: Which, of course, he does not listen to.
Sonnenfeld: What happens, actually, is he gets arrested by Agent K — now Josh Brolin — in 1969. The second and third act is all about tracking down Boris and Will renewing his friendship with a different K than the K he knows from 40 years in the future. What’s really cool is that J is constantly wondering why this guy who seems sort of open and happy became the sort of curmudgeon that has been his partner for the last 14 years. He makes a discovery about that. So, “Men in Black 3” is by far the most emotional of the movies. It has a really surprising ending.
MTV: Everyone is very excited to see Brolin as K. Can you tell us more about his take on Tommy’s character?
Sonnenfeld: Yeah, what’s great about the movie is you’ve got two great actors, both Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, playing the same character and being the same character, but being 40 years different in time. So Josh’s challenge was how to not impersonate Tommy, but to be Agent K, you know what I mean? What’s really interesting is that Josh can’t veer away from Tommy so much that you go, “That’s no fun, I miss Tommy.” And he can’t be so much like Tommy that you wonder why he’s so angry in 1969. Will Smith said to me one day, “What’s so interesting about this movie is that Josh Brolin is so good playing Agent K, and Tommy is so good at playing Agent K, that you almost don’t realize there’s two different actors in the role.”
MTV: You mentioned that this is the most emotional of the “Men in Black” movies. What’s interesting to me is that the villain this time around is played by someone who is traditionally viewed as a comedian. How does Jemaine’s villain factor into the emotional aspect of this film? Is he more on the comedy side, or can we expect a more dramatic performance?
Sonnenfeld: Jemaine delivers a totally villainous performance. If there’s any comedy at all, it’s just through frustration. [Laughs] The great thing about Earth is that it can be a frustrating place for aliens. We don’t think clearly, we’re not logical all the time. But Jemaine is not on board this movie for comic relief. His performance is really strong and really villainous. Think about it: If you had not seen the first “Men in Black,” and people had told you that Tommy lee Jones was funny, you wouldn’t have believed it. This is the same thing — no one is trying to be funny. I want my actors to be real. If it’s a funny situation, I want it to be funny. But I don’t want anyone to play to the comedy. Let the audience find the comedy; I don’t want to tell any [of the cast or crew] where it is. So, Jemaine does not deliver a comedic performance. While there are moments of humor that the audience will find funny, Jemaine himself is not being funny, if you get that.
MTV: There have been lots of reports about issues with the script and issues with the shoot. Set things straight: Can you give us a sense of your experience making this film?
Sonnenfeld: First of all, I don’t know that I’ve ever been on a shoot that wasn’t stressful for the director. I think all movies are stressful in different ways. What was reported on this one was that we took a several-months hiatus to work on the script. As it relates to that, that concept was built into the shooting schedule. We wanted the next movie Will Smith was in after a long time where he wasn’t in movies to be “Men in Black 3.” We also wanted to shoot in New York, which had a tax incentive that was about to expire. It didn’t expire, but we didn’t know it wasn’t going to expire, because New York state legislature had to vote it in again, and we weren’t sure that was going to happen. So we started the movie with a full script and with a really great first act — but the second and third needed work. We built in a two-month hiatus so we could continue working on the script and not need an eight-week reshoot. So that’s what we did. The truth is, the great thing about the movie, is that there was no stress between myself and any of the actors. We all got along very well. You don’t ever want a director and a movie star who see two different movies. But we all were working with the same ideas in mind. We knew the characters, we knew the history, and we were very much in sync.
People don’t know this, but the end and plot of the first “Men in Black” was changed after we shot the picture, months and months and months after shooting. We had cut the movie and were ready to mix it and everything. But I took one scene and got a phonetics expert to change what the two aliens were saying — they were speaking English, and we changed it to an alien language, and subtitled what they were saying. That totally changed the plot of the movie. So, we did not have to do that on this movie. We got [the story] right the first time; it just took a long time to get there. The movie is really good, and it looks great. I think it’s going to be fantastic in 3-D, too.
MTV: Wrapping up, you talked about how the ending of this film is “surprising.” As much as you can tease, do you view this film as an ending to the “Men in Black” trilogy? Or are there ways to continue the story?
Sonnenfeld: The fantastic thing about “Men in Black 3” is that it totally closes out the trilogy, it answers questions that you didn’t even know you should be asking, it leaves you emotionally warm and sad and happy, and it could also reboot the franchise. But I can’t even begin to tell you how to interpret all of that. [Laughs] But I would say this: If your interpretation is that “Men in Black 4” will only star the worm guys and Frank the pug, you are wrong.
MTV: Hey, I’d pay money to see that movie!
Sonnenfeld: Yeah? Well, maybe I’m wrong! [Laughs] Just wait. It’s going to be great.
Are you excited for the next “Men in Black” movie? Tell us in the comments section below!
It’s Summer Movie Preview Week, and MTV News will be bringing you exclusive interviews, clips and photos for the most anticipated summer movies . Get ready to gorge on inside looks at “The Avengers,” Robert Pattinson’s “Bel Ami,” Kristen Stewart’s “Snow White,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and more!