Barry Sonnenfeld Talks About ‘Men in Black 3’

Fifty-nine-year-old filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld returns this week with the eagerly anticipated third installment in the billion-dollar Men In Black franchise, bringing back the original tandem of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

In the film, Agents J (Smith) and K (Jones) are back… in time. J has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K’s life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there are secrets to the universe that K never told him — secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.

Question: When did you settle on time travel as the backdrop for the movie?

Barry Sonnenfeld: It was Will Smith’s idea on the set of Men In Black 2. One night Will Smith came up to me and said – he calls me ‘Baz’ he said, ‘You know, Baz, I’ve got an idea for Men In Black 3. I think that I should go back in the past and do something that has to do with saving Agent K. And by doing that we learn secrets that we didn’t know and J learns secrets about K. It would be great to do a time travel version.’ And I said, ‘Let’s get through 2!’ Then we all went off and did our own thing for many, many years but when Sony decided to do Men In Black 3, we all decided it shouldn’t be another episode of some villain on the loose, so the idea of time travelling came up again. It is such an exciting idea. They called me to ask me what era we wanted, and 1969 seemed perfect, especially as that was the advent of space travel, the start of our own adventure visiting planets in our own solar system. Also the music was great and the era was great. What I personally did not want to do was a movie that took place in ’69 with hippies and drugs.

Q: Scripting a time travel movie must be very difficult…

Sonnenfeld: Yes, to begin with only the first act was really good. With the second and third acts, especially with a time travel movie, we were constantly thinking that we had it all done and then one of us would wake up in the middle of the night and go, ‘Wait a minute, if we kill this guy then that guy is dead’. We watched Back To The Future dozens of times because that was our Bible for how a movie set the rules of time travel and succeeded. Also, we all felt that it was really important that we had Will Smith’s next movie after him having several years off as a producer. He was circling a bunch of movies but we wanted the next Will Smith movie and I knew that we’d get there. Will and I always said that the only way we could screw up is if we didn’t, in the past, have someone that was so good that you didn’t miss watching Will and Tommy, because the movie is about that great relationship.

Q: You obviously work terrifically with Will Smith, but what’s it like directing Tommy Lee Jones?

Sonnenfeld: It is funny because it was a little bit difficult directing Tommy Lee Jones on the first movie. We had a difference of opinion about his performance but the second and third movies were joyful. Tommy was always happy. He loves working with Will. He totally trusts me. I have photos of Tommy Lee Jones and me laughing! Miracles can happen! It wasn’t fake, because Tommy won’t fake anything. He loves the role, because the reaction shot is always funnier than the action shot. I was the cinematographer on When Harry Met Sally and as funny as Meg Ryan is faking an orgasm, every time you cut to Billy Crystal doing nothing it becomes funnier.

Q: Was Tommy upset that he’s not in all of Men In Black 3?

Sonnenfeld: I think Tommy wished he was in the whole movie but I think a) Tommy respected the script, b) he respected Josh [Brolin] as an actor and c) he loves the final result, has seen the movie and thinks it is really good. He wishes he was in the whole movie but understands the plot did not allow for that. It worked great because I think the audience does not view it as Tommy or Josh. I think they just view Agent K and it’s not like ‘I didn’t like Tommy but I liked Josh’, or ‘I didn’t like Josh but did like Tommy’. We were saying that Josh might not get the praise he deserves because some people will think that they saw the one same guy play the whole movie!

Q: Was it difficult convincing Josh Brolin to take on Tommy’s character?

Sonnenfeld: It was easy to convince him to play the character. I always knew that I wanted Josh as soon as I read the script. I saw him in W and thought he was extraordinary. He played George Bush and he wasn’t doing an impersonation. He really created a version of George Bush. That wasn’t exactly his accent. He created this amazing tension by eating in every scene in W. If you see it again, there’s this tension of him eating French Fries and talking or eating a tuna sandwich. It was extraordinary. I said, please let’s hire Josh Brolin.

Q: Men In Black 3 has great emotional depth. Do you worry about where you might take the franchise afterwards?

Sonnenfeld: I don’t worry about where we are going afterwards. It does feel like the end of a trilogy and it is kind of fun to go back and watch the first movie with the knowledge of what we now know at the end of the third movie. In fact, it is kind of fun to watch this movie again with the knowledge of what is going to come! I think the second movie didn’t have enough emotional depth so maybe this one makes up for the previous one. And Brolin is pretty great.

Q: Is it true that shooting the first scene on Men In Black 3 made you cry?

Sonnenfeld: The truth is, I did break into tears, tears of joy when I watched the first scene of Will and Josh together, which is the scene where Will is being interrogated at HQ by Josh. I was weeping because it had worked. I was weeping saying, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve got a movie!’

Opening across the Philippines on May 23 in 3D and regular theaters, Men in Black 3 is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Visit for trailers, exclusive content and free downloads. Like us at and join our fan contests.

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