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‘Men in Black’ director downplayed the film to Chris O’Donnell so he could cast Will Smith instead

It seems like Chris O’Donnell was somehow tricked into taking a lead role in Men In Black.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld admitted to pulling some strings in landing Will Smith as the lead in the hit 1997 sci-fi film, including downplaying the film to O’Donnell in hopes that he would reject him.

The film eventually starred Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K, two government employees who monitor extraterrestrial activity on Earth.

Speaking to Insider, Sonnenfeld said the producers originally wanted O’Donnell and Clint Eastwood to star.

“I had suggested Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith,” Sonnenfeld told the outlet. “Will was actually my wife’s idea.”

The director said it took those in charge little convincing to accept Jones, but casting Smith in the lead raised a few eyebrows.

At the time, Smith was known for starring in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and for his rap albums rather than starring in blockbuster movies.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 hit, "men in black."
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 hit “Men in Black.”
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He had just filmed his first major starring role in Independence Day, but the film hadn’t been released at the time.

On the other hand, O’Donnell was a household name in Hollywood, having starred in School Ties, The Three Musketeers, and Scent of a Woman.

In a desperate attempt to dissuade O’Donnell from taking the role, Sonnenfeld revealed that he downplayed the film to him.

Sonnenfeld revealed that he downplayed the film to O'Donnell because he wanted to cast Smith.
Sonnenfeld revealed that he downplayed the film to O’Donnell because he wanted to cast Smith.
Getty Images

“I met with Chris and he had concerns about the script and had another offer to film,” he said. “So I said to him, ‘Yeah, we might never fix this script, and I don’t think I know how to direct this movie.’ So he passed the film on the next day.”

O’Donnell turned down the role and opened the door for Smith to interview.

Sonnenfeld recalled arranging for Smith to meet with the film’s producers, Walter F. Parks, Lauri MacDonald and Steven Spielberg in the Hamptons.

“And that’s how Will got the part,” he recalled.

“I find [O’Donnell’s] a good actor, but I’ve really thought about Will since my wife proposed,” he said afterwards.

And when he downplayed the script to O’Donnell, Sonnenfeld said, “Well, you know what, you always want to underpromise and overdeliver.”

O'Donnell had previously starred in it "school ties," "the three musketeers," and "fragrance of a woman" back then.
O’Donnell had previously starred in School Ties, The Three Musketeers and Scent of a Woman.
Getty Images

Men in Black became a box office hit, with two more films made for it in 2002 and 2012.

Smith recently received a 10-year ban from attending the Academy Awards after he slapped host Chris Rock onstage at this year’s Oscars.

https://nypost.com/2022/07/05/men-in-black-director-downplayed-film-to-chris-odonnell-so-he-could-cast-will-smith-instead/ ‘Men in Black’ director downplayed the film to Chris O’Donnell so he could cast Will Smith instead

Emma Bowman

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