Spielberg used a helicopter and lemonade to convince Will Smith to star in 1997’s Men in Black even though he wanted a break from aliens.
Following the massive success of summer blockbuster Independence Day – opening at #1 and going on to be the highest-grossing movie of 1996 – Will Smith had his pick of what movie he wanted to do next, with countless offers hitting his desk. Whatever that project would be, he just wanted to avoid aliens. Fortunately, a director who has a lengthy history with extraterrestrials used his power – and some Hollywood flash – to convince Will Smith that his next project would in fact be Men in Black.
Speaking with Kevin Hart on Hart to Heart, Will Smith said producer James Lassiter first brought Men in Black to him. “[Lassiter] picked Men in Black…I kinda understood Men in Black like a little bit, but I didn’t want to make Men in Black — that was the next year after Independence Day. So I didn’t want to make two alien movies back to back.” Enter Steven Spielberg (whose Amblin Entertainment was co-producing), who showed up in a helicopter and offered Smith “lemonade with carbonated water”…which sounds pretty fancy to us!
Spielberg then leaned into Will Smith about why he didn’t want to sign on for Men in Black. “Tell me why you don’t want to make my movie…He put the ellipses at the end…if he had continued, he woulda said, ‘Joker, you know I made Jaws, right? You know I made E.T.’” Smith said it was the “coldest sh*t” he’d ever experienced…up until that point, at least.
Obviously the whole Men in Black thing worked out for Smith, as the first one was the biggest earner of 1997 and the second and third installments pulled in over $1 billion worldwide total. It also spawned a spin-off, 2019’s Men in Black: International, which traded in Smith and Tommy Lee Jones for Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (hey, at least we got Frank the Pug!). Perhaps for the better, the planned Men in Black / 21 Jump Street crossover is off the table.
Are you a fan of the Men in Black movies? Would you watch a fourth installment if Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones signed on? Let us know!