Who would have thought that over ten years later we’d still be seeing Agent J and K take over the big screen once again. Here we are, ready to see the intergalactic protectors in theaters, but this time with new enemies in this time-jumping adventure. But we’re not here to talk about the present, but the younger Agent K played by actor Josh Brolin.
‘Men in Black III’ centers on our favorite alien-battling partners. J (Will Smith) has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K’s (Tommy Lee Jones) life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there are secrets to the universe that K never told him — secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.
We got the opportunity to speak with Mr. Brolin on working in this established franchise, working with Will Smith and what he had to do in order to get down his version of a younger Tommy Lee Jones/Agent K.
You have to start with an impersonation impression and then turning it into an actual performance without it becoming —
Josh Brolin: A bad impression. A bad impression that I used to do for Barry (Sonnenfeld), not even as a you’re out, you’re having fun and you’re with the Coens. Barry’s there and I got to know Barry a little bit. You’re doing Nick Nolte’s or you’re doing Tommy Lee Jones’, but really bad versions of them. Somebody calls you and says “Hey, you want to do this mega movie and play a young K for a billion people to judge?” Um.. can I think about it? It’s like putting your ass on the line and especially with somebody that you know. I still don’t know if Tommy liked it or not.
The smile, there’s a certain joy to his life that we haven’t seen before.Â
Josh Brolin: I think I’m most happy about that when I watched the movie. But I think I was most happy about that because Barry and everybody had — that’s the thing with bigger movies, everybody has an opinion. And everybody’s had success so suddenly the opinion has more weight I guess. So everybody was like I think you should be really happy or I think you should be depressed. What’s he going to do with the Alice Eve’s Young O? Should they kiss? Should they not kiss? They’re figuring this stuff out the whole time and at the same time you’re playing Tommy Lee Jones, which isn’t the most — there’s a lot of hives that start to happen when you’re doing this. So with all of those decisions, I was so pleased that it seemed seamless and that’s what was great. As an experience and watching the film as objectively as I watch it. I can look back and say Does this work? Does this not work? And the intention was within ten minutes when you guys were watching the movie, 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. I think it was really important to kind oflet the chemistry really work and all of that stuff and not to do too much makeup but do just enough.
What was the process like trying to create your own version of a young Agent K?
Josh Brolin: A torturous one. I was down in Mexico. I went and rented a little motel room down in Mexico, with my computer and my garage band, and kind of went through it. When you go and get together and you do the first reading, it’s usually great and then it just gets worse and worse and worse. Then you come back around to basically you’ve earned your way back to where the initial reading was. I went down to Mexico, got totally frustrated, wanted to quit and wanted to call Sony and say “You’re going to waste your money doing this” and all of the actor stuff that people go through. Then you start to go “Oh my God, that’s one thing that sounds good.” I think the tough thing about Tommy (Lee Jones) is that there’s no like — with Bush the U’s will be alike, or the vowels will be alike.Â Tommy’s all over. It’s like he’s improvising his voice and it’s still cultivating into something we won’t know until later. So it’s like an instrument that’s been played by nobody that somebody says not only can you 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.
Can you talk a little bit about the chemistry with Will?
Josh Brolin: The chemistry with Will (Smith) was either going to be there or not. I think that was just luck. You can act it. I remember acting with an actor I didn’t like so much. He said “I feel like you don’t like me” and I said “I don’t have to like you, I can act it!” Which wasn’t a nice thing to say but the truth of the matter was I hadn’t met Will before I said yes to this. So we went into rehearsals right away. I still had a lot of nerves and all of that about getting it right, listening to the iPod and having to watch “Men in Black” fifty times. The minute I got together with Will, it was seamless and it was professional too. It was very professional and we were always talking about the story and how we can make a moment better, how we can ad-lib, 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.
Some people may not believe that you would have been immediately into making this mainstream project. At the same time there were a couple of challenges for you in forming the character of Young K. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Josh Brolin: It’s not like I thought “I bet the audience wants to see me in ‘Men in Black’ now.” I like to have fun, I’m a total goof. And honestly, serious movies are much more fun to work on than comedies because you’re compensating for the drama, so people usually have a brilliant time. When I did “Flirting With Disaster” it was one of the gnarliest movies I’ve ever did. Everybody was like oh my God, this isn’t funny and I’m not funny. I was like wow, this is gnarly, I wanna do dramas. And I liked “Flirting With Disaster.” Then I saw how it came out and I was like “Wow, that’s a great movie.” So for me, it sounds so clichÃ© but I 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 death bed, to look back and to kind of chuckle. I’m starting to chuckle a little bit right now and it’s a really nice feeling. It’s a really nice feeling. The guy from “No Country For Old Men” did “Men in Black 3” who also did “Milk” who also did “W.” That’s a really nice feeling for me.
Barry said something about not doing too much directing on set. He doesn’t feel that it’s part of the thrill. But now you’re a director too. What’s your take on that? What are you looking for as a director?
Josh Brolin: From other directors, what am I looking for? It’s different. You work with the Coen brothers and you get nothing. I mean literally. I’ve told this story a million times but we’d be doing “No Country For Old Men,” we’d finish a scene and I’d look at Ethan (Coen) and Ethan would say nothing. That would mean awesome, we’ve got it, it’s amazing. Javier and I the first two weeks were like “Oh my God, he’s going to fire me.” I’ve got stories about Oliver and this and that. I’ve had amazing experiences with them all. Gus (Van Sant) is so quiet, fragile and I didn’t experience that at all. I’ve been very lucky. Directors know the biggest talent a director can have, at least from a director’s standpoint, is casting. If you cast it right, you won’t have to do much. And then beyond that, they know when to tweak and when not to tweak. If they get in there and feel that they have to say something because they have they have the title of director then that usually is a massive problem.
When did you first find out that you had a gift or a knack for that vocal mimicry?
Josh Brolin: When I got kicked out of class a lot. That’s when it starts. You make people laugh and I remember the first time I’ve ever taken an acting class was when I 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 and it was like wow, making people laugh is really fun. This feels right. And creating stories. I wrote from the word “go.” I have all my journals still from the beginning. So writing short stories, writing poems, scripts, plays, it’s all based on writing so storytelling has been a massive thing in my life. And then I found that maybe you can act what you’re doing like Mike Nichols or somebody in the beginning and I liked the prospect of it. Everybody imagines that your dad was an actor so therefore you become an actor. Dad can’t get you a job and my dad wasn’t in the 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 then now my daughter’s into it and it’s the same thing. She has much more talent than my father and I for sure but together… I’ve seen her on stage and it just blew my mind. If it’s in there then it’s in there.
What surprised you about working with Will? Was there a little something that you didn’t think was going to come out of him and it did and it sort of made you laugh?
Josh Brolin: No. It’s sort of the first time you meet Will he’s like “Heeey!” And you’re like wow, you’re serious? We’re waiting for rehearsal, try this voice and talk about it, whatever. He’s like “M.I.B.!” But at the same time it’s just funny. It’s like going to an insane asylum. Will doing that and then you have Barry going “Oh my God this is so great!” and he’s telling stories about his mother calling him when he’s at Madison Square Garden when he’s sixteen. I’m like these people are crazy, I thought I was crazy but these people are nuts. Which honestly makes it fun because you have both sides, which I understand very well. You can have a lot of fun on the set which I think is very important, and you can also bang away and say look, what’s the best story? Lets never get lazy about our work. Professionalism comes first then we can have a blast. There’s a lot of people who just want to have a good time. There’s a lot of people I’ve worked with, not a lot but some, that just love the title. They love that they’re in Hollywood. Are you in it? Are you into it? That’s why I love working with Will because he is into it. I don’t know why he didn’t work for four years, that was a choice which I thought was pretty amazing. That was a choice. I like to work a lot, personally. I like to just keep challenging myself and all that but maybe that will change in the future.
“Men in Black 3” is out in theaters now, presented in 2D and 3D.