Almost exactly 20 years ago today, studio Columbia Pictures and director Barry Sonnenfeld unleashed sci-fi summer blockbuster Men in Black upon audiences. Produced on a reported budget of $90 million, MIB was a massive hit, earning nearly $600 million worldwide. This led to two sequels, the first of which most people didn’t like, and the second of which proved a big improvement on its predecessor. Starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K, MIB was one of the films that helped elevate the former Fresh Prince to A-list movie star status.
With that in mind, some Men in Black fans might be shocked to know that Smith and Jones were not always the favorites to be cast as the lead duo. Director Sonnenfeld revealed during a recent interview with The Huffington Post that oddly enough, current NCIS: Los Angeles star Chris O’Donnell and film icon Clint Eastwood were initially the preferred choices for the parts of J and K.
To be more specific, O’Donnell and Eastwood were the preferred actors by people not named Barry Sonnenfeld. MIB producer Steven Spielberg wanted O’Donnell – fairly fresh off the box office success of Batman Forever – for J, and other studio executives wanted Eastwood for K. Sonnenfeld wanted Smith and Jones, and while he was able to successfully get Jones cast, things proved a bit more difficult when it came to substituting Smith for O’Donnell. In the end, Sonnenfeld was forced to take the rather drastic action of straight up lying to the actor:
“[Spielberg] told me I had to go to dinner with Chris and convince Chris to be in the movie. But I knew I wanted Will Smith, so I told Chris that I wasn’t a very good director and I didn’t think the script was very good and if he had any other options he shouldn’t do Men in Black. He let it be known the next day that he was not interested.”
Questionable ethics of what Sonnenfeld did aside, one can’t argue with the results. Smith ended up being the perfect choice for J, and proved to have tremendous chemistry with Jones as a duo. Without those two actors, MIB would arguably have not been nearly the hit it was, nor spawned such an enduring franchise, complete with copious amounts of tie-in merchandise and even theme park rides.
On the other hand, one wonders what O’Donnell thinks about Sonnenfeld’s trickery. Considering that he’s gone to on to have a successful career in his own right – although granted not to the level of Smith – one assumes he’s probably gotten over it by now. Either way, in some alternate universe, O’Donnell and Eastwood starred in Men in Black, and that is a strange thought indeed.
Source: The Huffington Post
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