Men in Black Director Tricked Chris O'Donnell Not to Cast

Posted 2017/07/04 2483 0

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were not always the favorites to be cast as the lead duo.


Chris O'Donnell's whole career could have been very different if he hadn't been tricked into turning down a major role because the film's director didn't want him. The 1990s was Chris O'Donnell's heyday in the realm of movies. From Scent of a Woman to the Joel Schumacher Batman duology, he was one of Hollywood's more prominent young stars, and at one point he had the opportunity to appear in 1997's Men in Black. MIB producer Steven Spielberg wanted O’Donnell, fairly fresh off the box office success of Batman Forever, for J, and other studio executives wanted Clint Eastwood for K. Director Barry 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.”

Back to the Will Smith push. Sonnenfeld, who lived year-round in East Hampton, where Spielberg spends his summers, arranged for a helicopter to take Smith from a wedding in Philadelphia to New York. “Will and Steven hit it off, so that’s how I got Will Smith to be in the show,” Sonnenfeld said.

Sonnenfeld compared Smith and Jones’ interplay to that of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, or George Burns and Gracie Allen, or Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. “You want the funny guy and the flat guy,” he said. “Cary Grant is the most brilliant comedy actor there is because he’s never trying to be funny.”

Ultimately, it's clear that Sonnefeld made the right decision.

O'Donnell, however, is unlikely to feel so happy about it. The bloated Batman and Robin was a box office flop and derided by critics and fans alike. It spectacularly ended the big screen Batman franchise until Chris Nolan's 2005 reboot. Batman and Robin director Joel Schumacher has actually apologised to fans for the disastrous film.

O'Donnell, meanwhile, recovered and forged a hugely successful second career on television and currently stars in NCIS Los Angeles.