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Interview of the week: Barry Sonnenfeld

By KAREN BUTLER   |   June 27, 2002 at 8:04 PM
NEW YORK, June 27 (UPI) -- Director Barry Sonnenfeld knew he was in for a wild ride when he signed on to make "Men in Black II." But computer-generated aliens, a wise-cracking pug dog, speeding police cars and even the hilarious hijinks of co-stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were nothing compared to the wacky experience Sonnenfeld had directing pop icon Michael Jackson, who appears briefly in the film as -- what else -- a spaceman.

"Will thought it would be really cool," Sonnenfeld remarked before launching into a very funny description of his dealings with the enigmatic Jackson. "We had many discussions, Michael and I, on the phone about what his role would be."

The director of "The Addams Family" and "Big Trouble" said that among the demands Jackson made before he agreed to take the part was that he appear in "many scenes."

"I kept saying, 'The script's already written,'" Sonnenfeld lamented. "Then he said, 'Could I wear the ["Men in Black"] suit?' and I said, 'Yes.' So, once I said he could wear the suit, then he was really excited about being in the movie and then the next issue was he said, 'And I really want to be on the poster.'"

Sonnenfeld said he failed to convince Jackson that only Smith and Jones, the stars of the original blockbuster, were allowed by contract to appear in print advertisements for the movie. The director said he tried to impress upon Jackson that his image on a poster would cause a ripple effect and then everyone in the cast would want to be on it as well.

"He said, 'That's okay!'" Sonnenfeld recalled. "And he said, 'Since the day I way born the only dream I've ever had in my entire life was being on the poster for "Men in Black"...And I said, 'Since the day you were born?' and he said, 'Yes.'"

The incredulous director went on to recount how Jackson refused to let the point go until studio executives at Sony Pictures set him straight.

"Although I suspect he may be on a poster in like South Korea. I think there was some arrangement," he joked.

All that for a cameo? According to Sonnenfeld, that was just the beginning. The fun really started when he arrived on set and wanted to explore his character and scene in depth.

Since Jackson's scene took place in Antarctica, he had to act against a blue screen where computer-generated scenery and animals were added later. Sonnenfeld said Jackson wanted to discuss everything about the brief scene from the size of the icebergs to the type of penguin that was standing behind him. The "meeting" didn't end until Sonnenfeld finally said: "There's a sky. It's blue with clouds. I gotta go."

It might have meant more work for Sonnenfeld, but Smith insists that the payoff is worth it.

"In the theater people are just so shocked and laughing so much that they don't even really have a chance to listen to what he's saying, which is actually very funny, too," Smith explained. "The thing is he plays an alien. He plays Michael Jackson who is an undercover man in black. And he's an alien, so he only has partial MIB status. You know, he's in on the alien affirmative action program. So he's only there part-time, but he's demanding his full MIB status."

Smith said he thinks it's great that Jackson can laugh at his image.

"It's as if Michael is really saying to the world, 'Okay, all right, you know, I'm human just like everybody else, I appreciate a good joke just like everyone else does. But the thing that I love so much is he kept wanting to play it serious. He's like, 'You know, I'm a man in black, I just want it to be really serious," he noted.

Smith said Jackson started campaigning for a role in the sequel right after the first movie came out in 1997.

"Michael is a real movie buff, so he said when he saw this it was the most creative thing that he had ever seen. He said he couldn't compare it to any other films, it was different, he said. He absolutely (wanted to be) a part of it. He didn't care what we said," Smith recalled.

"Men in Black II" opens July 3rd.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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