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Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith - the original Men in Black


Judy Sloane had her identity temporarily erased in order to visit the set...


Look out for coverage of Men in Black 2 in Starburst magazine, and others in our range, during 2001-02

In 1998, when I visited the set of Wild Wild West, its director, the always amusing and self-deprecating Barry Sonnenfeld, insisted that a sequel to his smash hit, Men in Black, would never see the light of day, because the expense of reuniting him with its stars, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, would be 110% of the budget.

Barry Sonnenfeld directing Will Smith on the MiB set (1996)I reminded Sonnenfeld of that conversation as I stood on Soundstage 15 at Sony Studios last week, watching a scene being shot for Men in Black 2. "Actually, what I said was Chris Rock and Martin Sheen would star in it, with Brad Silberling directing," Sonnenfeld laughs, adding, "and I'm still not sure that that wouldn't be a better idea!"

In a more serious vein, he continues, "I'm amazed that Sony figured out a way to make Men in Black 2 at a number that isn't insane, and still got us all to come back. " Then he jokes, "Basically, I think the secret is that Sony was willing not to ever make any money on the movie, and that allowed us to come back and talk with you today."

The director admits that shooting a sequel is fraught with pressure. "With the first (film), we were wonderfully under the radar, because that summer Batman and Robin and all these other movies came out, and we were invisible and snuck up on people. This time we don't have that luxury.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld"Back to the Future may be the exception, but one of the things that makes a sequel successful is if their first movie wasn't very good, and their second movie is better. I thought that Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me was a better movie than the first one. Men in Black, at the end of the day, ended up being a decent movie, so I'm a little worried that we're going to be compared to the first one. How do you make a sequel and not make the same movie over again – but not screw up what worked in it?"

What certainly 'worked' well in the first movie was the relationship between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, as MIB agents Jay and Kay. In the sequel, "Tommy wants to say nothing as he did in the first movie," the director notes with a smile.

"He would come to me and say, 'Barry, you don't need this line, you don't need this line, and give this line of mine to Will because I don't want to say it.' And I'd go, 'Well, Tommy, then it makes no sense.' On this one, Will has so embraced Tommy's attitude that we were doing a scene the other day, and Will looks at it and says, 'You don't need this scene.' I go, 'No, you do need this scene, it's funny.' So Will has now embraced Tommy to the point where he doesn't even want to do whole scenes!"

Watching Sonnenfeld work behind the camera, it's obvious that he's happy with how the project is progressing and is having a great time. As the production shut down for lunch, and he was called to view the dailies, he departed with this final quip. "I think the way for Sony to make money on the third movie will be to make it exclusively about Frank the pug. You laugh now, but just wait until you see the film!"

Set report by Judy Sloane for

Men In Black 2 is scheduled to open on Independence Day weekend 2002, exactly five years after the $84 million opening weekend success of the first film. Meanwhile Barry Sonnenfeld's new Miami-set comedy Big Trouble opens across the US on September 21.

Go to the official Men In Black site
Feature © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction