Nearly ten years have passed since Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones immortalized the wise-cracking tough guys, the Men in Black. Revitalizing such an iconic sci-fi comedy doesn't come lightly, and those involved with the third installment were careful to make sure this sequel had its own story and emotional pull. Josh Brolin joins the franchise as a younger Agent K, while R&B artist Pitbull takes his turn on the soundtrack. Smith, Brolin, and Pitbull recently sat down with Emmanuel Itier to chat about what it means to them to be involved in Men in Black III.
EI: It’s been almost 10 years since the first Men in Black came out. How is it being back with the franchise?
WS: What’s great about going back to a franchise like this is sort of the family component. It’s like you’re going home. It’s less of an outward adventure of something. It’s more like you are coming home. It’s a family reunion. You’re with people that you know and love and you feel safe. It’s warm -- but then the introduction of Josh made challenging and exciting, you know. He’s stepping into the shoes of Tommy Lee Jones.
EI: Whose idea was it to bring Josh Brolin in to play a young Agent K?
WS: I think that was Barry’s idea. Barry is friends with the Cowen brothers. I think Barry pitched the idea to the Cowen brothers and Josh had just finished No Country with Tommy. The Cowens were like you know you should meet Josh. He has a great Tommy Lee Jones. So, Josh came in and it’s uncanny. It’s magical how he’s able to capture the essence of Tommy without it being a caricature. It’s a tribute to the level of actor that he is.
EI: The third film resonates on a more emotional level than the first two. Was that the intention, returning to the series?
WS: The reason for us to even make a third movie is because we all felt that there was an idea at the center of it that was worth making a movie about rather than, hey wouldn’t it be cool and wouldn’t it be a big success if made the moving. All of those things are relateable - secret government agency on earth or in the universe, how those secrets actually damage the relationships between the agents, and then to go back and to clear it up. But, all of that covered with big, summer, blockbuster fun and aliens.
EI: What was the most challenging aspect of this particular installment?
WS: You know, time travel is so hard to get your head around. What you can do and what you can’t do and what changes. Wait, no we can’t do that because the scene we shot earlier we already said that. It’s just time travel really twists your mind up in a good way. But, it’s definitely challenging to tell a linear story. Whereas once you break the timeline it’s not linear anymore. It becomes like a tree. It’s a crack and there’s all of these possibilities that go off of that. I think we covered those issues in a fun way for the script with the fifth dimensional character, Griffin.
EI: Do you feel that reboot in a way of that franchise opens it for now number four, five, six? Do you feel it in you that there is more to explore?
WS: I think that based on the ten year break between the films, it’s almost a whole new generation of filmgoer. My daughter, when you know she went with me about four months ago to you know see one of the first cuts of this movie and she actually hadn’t seen Men In Black 1 and 2. So, you know she was ten. That is a whole entire new audience. I think for a lot of people, this will be as if it’s a first movie, not a third movie.
EI: Has the humor changed at all in the past ten years?
WS: I think it’s slightly more mature. We allowed the characters to grow with the actors. I think I am getting a little soft in my old age. There was a conscious effort to allow it to be slightly more mature without losing the fun and the silliness of the first two films. There is a very distinct Barry Seinfeld sense of humor that is a large part of why people appreciate this franchise.
EI: You join the Men in Black franchise as a younger Agent K, originally portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones. Did you choose to imitate his voice exactly?
JB: No you do, but the Tommy Lee is one thing. If you look at Tommy Lee in Three Burials and if you look at him in other movies, it’s not the same Tommy Lee as in Men In Black. Men In Black is very specific. So, having spent time with Tommy Lee, I thought -- once I said yes I got nervous because I go, okay I know this Tommy Lee, but then there’s that Tommy Lee, but then there’s that Tommy Lee.
JB: So, what I ended up doing is just watching the movie over and over. I didn’t watch the second one so much. The first one, the first one is very specific. He enunciates. So, I came down here to Mexico. I got a hotel room for like, three weeks. And I just listened to his voice and almost went crazy. Over and over and over and over and started to get it a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit there.
EI: We’ve seen you as George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W., and now Agent K. How do you begin to create your own version of a person or character that we are all so familiar with? Do you focus on the voice first?
JB: I’m not sure because each role is so different that you don’t know. You just start in compete fear and panic. It probably is the voice. I think that was the most important thing for me. Also, because Tommy does these things that are really exaggerated, you know how you doing? Good. And then, but sometimes he gets into more a generic kind of Texas thing. So, you have to pick your places because if you are playing it all up here, it sounds like an exaggeration. The hope was, when people saw the movie, that within five minutes they’d forget that I was playing Tommy and that I was just Kay, not Tommy.
EI: Did Tommy Lee Jones say anything to you about your role?
JB: You know what, I know he saw it and I haven’t heard from him. So, that’s all I know. I think it’s probably a good thing. I don’t think he was angry, which I think is a plus. I know he liked the movie, but that’s as far as I heard. I didn’t hear anything about me.
EI: How does this sequel differ from the first two Men in Black films?
JB: I don't know, for me you know I saw probably an earlier version than what you saw. But, for me, it seemed a little more emotional than the other ones. And, the first one is such a novelty when it first comes out. You’ve never seen it before. It’s the first time you’ve seen these two guys together. You know, that’s one thing. The second one was fine. It was a little different you know. It’s almost like a different movie for me. The third one, the fact that you’re breaking this iconic duo you know and yet you have to create the same relationship for the most part. I am really lucky because you know Will is so easy to get along with. I think if we didn’t get along it would have been very, very difficult. But, we do get along and the chemistry was pretty good. So, it seemed pretty seamless.
EI: Did Will give you any tips about being one of the Men in Black?
JB: No, he didn’t. He didn’t. But just watching Will. You know, Will is the best of Men in Black. He’s got so much enthusiasm and energy around that. It’s a nice thing to have on the set and follow suit.
EI: Was there a particular scene that was challenging for you in this one?
JB: I think the diner scene was tough. We did it a bunch of different ways. There was a lot of adlibbing because we wrote as we you know did the movie. So, sometimes we changed things and Will would have an idea and say, hey, why don’t we do it over here. Why don’t we change the scene to this, and then writers would come in. So it was almost like doing a Saturday Night Live skit.
EI: This film seems to focus on the choices we make in life and how those can alter the reality of your future. What would you say is the theme?
JB: Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s… you just hit the nail on the head. I mean, the fact that we’re all very, very human. The fact that we all have this past that is very, kind of complex and puzzling and creates who we are you know. That’s why I said it’s much more emotional than I remember the first one or the second one being. When I watch Will go through that thing in the end when he’s up on the hill looking down at what’s going on, it’s a nice moment. It’s a nice moment.
EI: Is there a particular choice in your life that designated your direction in acting?
JB: No, for me…look, it’s all about kids for me. When I had kids… I had kids very young. I think I was like seven or something or eight. My kids are older now. My son teaches school in Bangkok. The other kids are in college. It had a huge impact on me. Changed my life completely. I don't know if I would be here right now if it wasn’t’ for my kids. I’m sure I’d be doing something else somewhere else.
EI: You’ve contributed to the soundtrack of Fast and Furious, now Men In Black III. How is this project different?
P: Well, Men In Black III, the difference is getting the opportunity to be involved with the campaign. They’ve really given this record the chance to become a part of the movie. Before, I just did a record for the movie. This is more like a part of the movie. So, with Men In Black III being the amazing, not only movie, but business and franchise that it’s become, to me, that’s the difference. I really get a chance to learn, study and apply to any of the you know movies that I get involved with as far as making music for them. And, maybe even get involved in them. So, it’s special.
EI: It sounds like this was a lot more hands on – what did this experience teach you? What did you bring to the table?
P: I really can’t tell you what I brought to the table. I think more than anything, Men In Black III has brought everything to the table with an amazing opportunity. They’ve given me a platform. They’re giving me a platform to be involved with amazing actors such as Tommy, Will, and Josh. And then, Will being somebody that has taken his career from music to movies, movies to becoming a businessman in Hollywood. These are things that we want to do. But, when I say a platform, it’s given me a chance to show them what I do bring to the table. So, we won’t know until after the movie comes out what exactly the Pittbull brand and Mr. Worldwide brand brings to the table.
EI: As a fan of the first two movies, what do you think the third one does to set itself apart?
P: This movie I think definitely has a twist and a big surprise for everybody out there. Well, the metaphor for me is, I look at it the same way I make music. Men In Black III has got a little bit of everything that has been very successful in Hollywood whether it be a little bit of aliens, a little bit of sexiness, powerfulness, the agent look, saving the world. You’ve got your action and then you’ve got your comedy. You take all that and throw it in a pot… it’s the same way I make music. You take key elements and put them in, but there’s only certain people that can put those elements together and make it successful. Men In Black III has done that. Pittbull is working on doing that always.
EI: If you could jump back in time, where and when would you go?
P: If I could go back in time, I’d go back to the 80’s, Miami, ‘80 through about ‘86 and enjoy the real Miami. Whew! I think Miami has a very, very special story of those times you know. It did a lot of things that not too many people in the world know about, but they will. And, that era is what made me. So, I would love to go back but enjoy it from a standpoint where I could really understand it. I was too young to understand it. But, definitely a fan of it.
EI: The movie is also about making choices. What do you think has been the most crucial choice that you had to make in your life that changed everything?
P: I had a major, major producer in 1998. His name is Erv Gottie. And, he told me, do you write music? At the time, I was about 17-years-old. I only free-styled. I was like nah, just freestyle. He said, yeah that’s great, but that doesn't make any money. Ding. Crucial decision. Stop free-styling. Make records. Write music. Get dedicated. So, thank you Erve.
'Men in Black III' is in wide release May 25, 2012.