Barry Sonnenfeld had only Josh Brolin in mind to play a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones character in “Men in Black 3”. The filmmaker had been friends with Brolin, the star of such flicks as “No Country for Old Men” and “W” for a while, and had heard many of his impersonations – one of which is Jones.
“[It was] a bad impression that I used to do for Barry”, laughs Brolin. ” We were with the Coens and Barry was there. I was doing Nick Nolte and Tommy Lee Jones – but really bad versions of them. Then, much to my surprise, sometime later, somebody calls me up and says, “Hey do you want to do this mega movie and play Tommy Lee Jones..young K?.”
Knowing Jones, and fearing he might get clobbered if he screwed it up, Brolin was skeptical at first.
“It’s like putting your ass on the line, especially with somebody that you know”, says Brolin. “I still don’t know if Tommy liked it or not.”
But Brolin’s not sweating it too much because, as he says, he’s heard enough good reports back from other people to settle his nerves. People in particular seem to enjoy that Brolin was able to slyly inject a happier side to Jones’s usually-gruff character.
“I think I’m most happy about that”, says the actor, “When I watch the movie – I saw the movie in its entirety last night in 3D which I hadn’t seen. The last time I had seen it I think 20% of the special effects were done and they were still putting things together. I think I was most happy about being able to bring that to the character of K.”
It took a while to decide how a younger version of K would act, he admits.
” I think he should be really happy!… no wait… I think he should be depressed but you see moments of happiness…or what’s he going to do with the Alice Eve character and the Young O? Should they kiss? Should they not kiss?”, Brolin says, “You’re figuring this stuff out the whole time and at the same time playing Tommy Lee Jones which isn’t the easiest job…a lot of hives start to pop up as you’re doing that.
“With all those decisions, I was so pleased that it seemed seamless. That’s what was great. I watched the film as objectively as I could watch it. I’m usually very critical of myself on screen – I find it hard to watch my movies as movies. “Oh my God, you said that!? Your nose looks so weird!” It’s just like that whole kind of like… cosmetic thing. But I do seem to be able to separate this one from the work and see it as a movie. And I think it works the same for the audience; the intention was within 10 minutes that you guys are watching the movie and you’re not watching me constantly do this Tommy thing, some kind of caricature of Tommy, some kind of soapbox of Josh Brolin playing Tommy. ”
At one stage though, Brolin said he was ready to quit the movie because he couldn’t quite get Tommy Lee’s voice down pat.
“I got totally frustrated. I wanted to quit. I wanted to call Sony and say, ‘you’re going to waste your money doing this because I can’t do this!’ You know? all the actor stuff that people go through. And then you start to go, ‘oh my God, that’s one thing that sounds good’. I think the tough thing about Tommy – it’s like Bush…okay, the U’s will all be alike or the vowels will be alike. When he’s doing this thing – and the breathiness and all that stuff, Tommy is all over. It’s like he’s improvising his voice. It’s still cultivating into something that we won’t know until later. It’s like an instrument that’s been played by nobody that somebody says, not only can learn how to play this but make an album in two months that everybody will hear. You’re like, “Why? I don’t want to do that. I just started.”
Just as the first two movies were reliant on the chemistry between Jones and Will Smith, so too was the third film with Smith and Brolin.
“The chemistry with Will was either going to be there or not”, Brolin says. “I think that was just luck. There’s been times when I’ve been able to fake ‘liking’ someone I’m working with for the sake of the movie. I remember acting with an actor I didn’t like so much and he says, “I feel like you don’t like me.” I said, “I don’t have to like you. I can act it” – yeah, wasn’t a nice thing.
“The truth of the matter is, I hadn’t met Will before I said yes to this. So we went into rehearsals right away. I was still, you know, I had a lot of nerves and all that about getting it right – I was listening to the iPod and recordings of Tommy, and had watched Men in Black 50 times – but as soon as I began working with Will it was.. seamless.
I was like, “Thank you God.” It was professional too. We don’t know each other personally that well. We know each other pretty well but not that well. It was very professional. We were always talking about the story and how we could make a moment better and adlibbing and going back and forth. From my point of view I was very happy with the outcome in the chemistry between Will and I because it was organic.”
Having starred in such heavy movies as “W”, “No Country for Old Men”, “Milk” and “True Grit”, in recent times, Brolin chose to do “MIB 3” purely for “selfish and personal reasons”.
“I like to have fun man. I’m a total goof”, the actor, who last year played comic-book character Jonah Hex, says. “Honestly, as a whole, serious movies are much more fun to work on than comedies because you’re compensating for the drama. People usually have a brilliant time. ”
“For me, it sounds so cliché but I just want to keep challenging myself. My goal isn’t to do as many mega films as I possibly can. That’s just not my own personal goal. My goal is to be on my deathbed and to look back and kind of chuckle. I’m starting to chuckle a little bit right now. It’s a really nice feeling. Like the guy from No Country did Men in Black, who also did Milk, who also did W. That’s a really nice feeling for me.”
And “MIB 3” would have to be one of the “craziest” times Brolin has ever had making a movie, he says. In fact, at times he didn’t feel so much like an actor as he did a big, excited kid in a candy factory.
“You walk on a set and you have like a Tommy nose on, you have Tommy earlobes on, and a Tommy brow, and you’re talking like this, and you’re doing whatever you’re doing, then you walk onto a set and there are people in the factory and this and that, and Bill Hader is there playing Andy Warhol. Man, that’s pretty fun! And because the set was dressed as 1969, it’s a great kind of moment of surreal flashback that you get to relive.”
Anyone that’s seen his work in “Flirting with Disaster” or the ’80s classic “The Goonies” will know that Brolin’s got a natural knack for making people laugh though. The actor attributes that to his class-clown tag in school.
“That’s when it starts, you make people laugh. I remember the first time I ever took an acting class was in high school and it was kind of an accident. I did an improv class and I created a character and everybody laughed. So it first came in humor. It was like, ‘wow, making people laugh is really fun!’.”
Contrary to popular belief, Brolin didn’t simply decide to become an actor because his father (screen legend James Brolin) was one.
“Everybody imagines like your dad was an actor so therefore you became an actor. Your dad can’t get you a job. My dad wasn’t in a position to get me a job. He didn’t run a studio or something. My dad was trying to get his own jobs. So when I became an actor, he was like, ‘are you sure you want to do that?’ And now my own daughter is into it and it’s the same thing. She has much more talent than my father and I, though – both of us put together. I’ve seen on her stage, it just blew my mind. But if it’s in there, it’s in there.”