In 1997, Men in Black hit the big screen and became the sleeper blockbuster of the summer. These Men in Black behind-the-scenes stories reveal the saga behind the movie’s endless rewrites, technical difficulties, and creative process.
Blending genres isn’t easy. Successfully blending an explosive science fiction movie with action, comedy, and buddy banter is a tall order. Just ask the movie’s screenwriter Ed Solomon, who got fired multiple times over a five-year period because he couldn’t nail down the tone the producers envisioned.
Men in Black was successful both critically and commercially. It spawned two sequels and one spin-off film. Pull back the curtain on one of the most beloved movies of the 1990s and find out which Friends star almost scored Will Smith’s part, and which Western actor could have made his day as Agent K.
The First Time They Filmed The Alien Birth Scene, The ‘Baby’ Puked All Over The Crew
Mark Setrakian is a legendary roboticist and designer. He has worked on animatronics for massive blockbusters like Mighty Joe Young, Hellboy, Pacific Rim, and Lady in the Water. He was hired for Men in Black to help the special effects team bring life to its alien creatures.
There is a scene in Men in Black in which the two agents pull over an alien driving in New York City. The alien's wife is about to give birth to a baby alien. The goal for the special effects team was to get the baby alien to throw up in Agent J's face after being born.
However, a small miscalculation in pressure created a big mess when the crew was testing out the mechanical alien baby. Setrakian described the gross-out results:
We need the baby alien to puke. We needed the baby alien to suck its thumb. We're testing the baby alien work in the shop, and we've got the baby alien set up in the mechanical shop, which they couldn't shoot. Here it is, in the mechanical shop. We've got a camera set up. We've got the baby, it's facing the camera and it's sort of facing the wall. The camera is just there, smack, and plastic everywhere. Everybody is standing behind the safe area behind the baby alien facing away from where it is. We pressurize the thing, the tube pops out, it flies around and it squirts all this fake barf all over the entire crowd!
The crew fixed the glitch. When they did film the scene, the baby alien successfully threw up in Smith's face without saturating the entire crew in fake vomit.
D’Onofrio Got A Sugar High From Drinking 12 Full Glasses Of Sugar Water In His Opening Scene
The only real direction that Barry Sonnenfeld gave Vincent D'Onofrio on how to play a giant alien bug was to always be frustrated and always want more sugar.
After the bug takes over Edgar's body, he goes back into his farmhouse. He demands that his wife give him more and more and more and more sugar in a glass of water.
Sonnenfeld admits that he is similar in process to legendary auteur Stanley Kubrick, who is known to request countless takes from his actors. During the scene in which Edgar quickly downs an entire glass of sugar water, Sonnenfeld asked D'Onofrio to do several takes in order to get coverage. He explained:
We did about seven or eight different takes from several angles of the scene, and in each one he downed an entire glass of sugar water... In a wide shot, you see him drink the entire glass full of sugar water. There’s no cutaway; he’s not faking it. By the end of that night, he had such a sugar rush because he’d drunk 11 or 12 glasses of water filled with sugar. He was a real trooper.
The Studio Originally Wanted A More Explosive Blockbuster With ‘More Big Guns’
Men in Black was a moderately budgeted summer action blockbuster. Its final price tag came in just under the $100 million mark.
The movie's screenwriter Ed Solomon crafted a funny, witty gem. Originally, it did not feature enough explosions or other summer blockbuster-y type entertainment to satisfy the producers. One note from the studio specifically told Solomon, "more big guns."
The writer obliged. However, he also managed to leave in the clever comedy and heart.
David Schwimmer Was One Of The Top Early Choices For Will Smith’s RolePhoto: Friends / NBC
Tommy Lee Jones signed on to play Agent K, at which point the studio just needed to find his perfect screen partner. In 1997, the sitcom Friends was at the height of its popularity. David Schwimmer was not a "movie star," but he was certainly a household name. The studio reportedly talked with the Friends actor about playing Agent J.
Will Smith had just wrapped six strong seasons as the main character in the TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In the mid-1990s, Smith was at the start of making a nice transition to the big screen. He already showed off his potential movie star leading man power in Bad Boys. However, Independence Day hadn't hit the big screen yet.
In the end, wives rule. Director Barry Sonnenfeld's wife turned out to be a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the director targeted the rising star. Sonnenfeld eventually convinced the studio that Smith was the right guy to play the MiB agent.