Life Goes On: Barry Sonnenfeld on Men in Black 3

The director of the long-gestating threequel on why some characters aren't returning and those pesky reshoot rumors.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

I had a real moment when I got to interview Barry Sonnenfeld for Men in Black 3. Thinking back 15 years to when I watched Men in Black at the movie theater, who would’ve thought I’d be interviewing the director (let alone Will Smith too)? If you saw Sonnenfeld’s quotes in our 3-D story you can imagine how well we got along. He told us the truth behind those reshoot rumors.

 

CraveOnline: So you opted for the simple MIB3 abbreviation, whereas the second one was MIIB?

Barry Sonnenfeld: Well, the second MIIB the two I’s were Roman numerals. You’ll have to ask Sony why we didn’t go with Roman numeral III. I think the reason we went Arabic is specific because it’s more like the 3 in 3D.

 

I never understood if MIIB was supposed to be Men in in Black or Men Two Black.

It was supposed to be Men in Black, just MIB and you’re supposed to read the negative space between the two to represent the I, yet look at the II to represent 2. It was a two for one.

 

You see the confusion. If you’d done MIIIB I would have thought it was Men in in in Black.

I’m telling you, I’m the wrong guy to ask. But I do believe we wanted to go Arabic on this one specifically because of the 3D thing.

 

Was there ever any talk of getting Rip Torn and Tony Shalhoub back?

No. The truth is that there were certain people we really loved but felt in order to sort of reboot the franchise, we didn’t want to go back to every single well. So for instance, Rip Torn isn’t in the movie. Frank the Pug, which some people just love, that talking pug from the first two, is not in the movie except as a photograph. Tony Shalhoub who is in 1 and 2 as Jeebs who is fantastic and one of my favorite actors, he was also in Addams Family Values which I directed. We just didn’t want to feel old or stale and we had to, not literally but figuratively, kill off some of our favorites. There was even talk about not having the worm guys in. We went back and forth on Frank but we just wanted to see how we could make it feel both familiar yet new.

 

You would’ve caught hell if you lost the worm guys.

Listen, I think there’ll be people that are disappointed we don’t have Frank, but we did give Frank his one tiny little moment which gets a laugh.

 

What re-shoots did you actually do? There were rumors of a 70 minute running time at one point, that you needed more footage.

No, there was never a 70 minute running time. This was always a longer movie. What happened was when we finished shooting the movie, there was no re-shooting. There’s what I would call additional shooting.

 

That’s what people mean, just the fact that you went back to shoot more for whatever reason.

Yeah, what we discovered was we had a really good movie with good characters, good action, good emotion and that we were missing a little bit of comedy. So we shot a couple of scenes that were either setting up another scene that was funny but the audience didn’t know it was funny so we had to set it up ahead of time. For instance, I don’t want to give away things so I have to be careful what I say, but Tommy [Lee Jones]’s eulogy [he gives] at Men in Black headquarters was not playing as funny as it could have played because we hadn’t set up that Tommy was totally saying, “I’m prepared for this, people are going to be moved.” By setting it up, we didn’t change the eulogy at all, but by setting it up it became funnier. There were a couple of little scenes like that.

 

Family values isn’t the buzzword that it was back then. Does Addams Family Values still play with that meta level?

I haven’t seen Addams Family Values in a really long time but it was always a pun on, who was it? Was it Reagan?

 

Yes, it was Reagan and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Right. In any case, the movie I think still plays but that phrase means nothing and at the moment it meant everything.

 

You took quite a beating on Wild Wild West, but when you see movies like Transformers and Green Lantern, are you like, “Oh, come on!”?

You know what? I haven’t seen Green Lantern. The thing about Transformers is that Michael Bay has his own genre and no one else can make that work. I watched Transformers 3 with my wife and we loved it and I couldn’t begin to imagine directing that movie or getting away with what he gets away with, or what a girlfriend looks like or what she drives or how big her breasts are or how she owns her own home. You can have a home with a car lift because you need it, even though you don’t establish how you [got it]. But Michael has this ability to pull that off that I don’t have. So more power to him.

 

I just meant the big movies that get more of a pass than you did.

You know what? Life goes on.


Photo Credit: Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures