– by Joseph Jammer Medina

The age of the movie star has come and gone, but there are still a couple of actors who can still lure in thousands upon thousands of audience members into theaters just to watch their film. One of those actors is definitely Will Smith. The actor has been attached to one hit movie after another, and after a four year hiatus he’s back on the big screen in director Barry Sonnenfeld’s latest movie “Men in Black 3.”

In the latest installment of the widely popular “Men in Black” franchise, Will Smith reprises his role as Agent J as he goes back in time not only to save Agent K but to protect the universe from the terror of an alien race that threatens to wipe out the entire planet.

We got the chance to talk to Will Smith not only about working on “Men in Black 3” but acting alongside Josh Brolin, producing and dealing with the state of the art special effects.

Why did you want to revisit this franchise and what’s the coolest thing about it?

Will Smith: The idea of a secret government organization that polices and monitors alien activity on and off of planet Earth is so unique. You don’t say that this movie is just like “Men in Black”… there’s nothing that’s like “Men in Black.” Whereas you can look at a lot of other movies and compare them to other things, “Men in Black” is a very distinct, very unique thing because it’s difficult to have a fantasy comedy that works on that level. They tend to feel not smart or there’s something in the DNA when you try to splice those two things that it sort of dissipates. So for me I was excited about the degree of difficulty and I haven’t worked in three years so I wanted to put on some shoes that I knew fit. [laughs]

Mr. Smith, can you talk about shooting the movie in terms of the updated special effects and how has it changed after ten years. And this is your first 3D movie, correct? 

Will Smith: This is my first 3D movie. Well, my first concern with being in 3D was my ears, cause I can see these things pretty much taking over the screen. So when I first saw it it was cool so then I was like all right, we didn’t have me looking like satellite dishes. But then the special effects now, you can see anything. There’s no limitations with special effects. So I think we’re about to turn that corner, with the 3D specifically in “Men in Black 3,” with what Barry (Sonnenfeld) did was he found the balance of not throwing things at the audience. The 3D is the screen and back which he went for depth which makes it more pleasing to the eye. He decided to go with the conversion. We tried to work with the actual 3D cameras but he went with the conversion but I think it gives you a greater opportunity to dial it in and make it more pleasurable.

This one’s more serious in which you do a more emotionally serious scene with Tommy (Lee Jones). Was that kind of fun or a challenge?

Will Smith: I think, especially given the surprise at the end of the movie, that was the thing that really got everybody excited to want to make this movie. That it was a little bit beyond just getting together and just having some fun. It was like wow, that’s an interesting way to tie up the series and get you all the way back to the beginning. I’d like to come back together after this many years, putting that team together and even the new guy, Josh Brolin coming into that the way he was able to deliver on the same energy that people are used to experiencing in these movies.

Describe the chemistry, the working relationship with Tommy (Lee Jones) and then how you translated it to get that same effect on screen with Josh (Brolin).

Will Smith: That what’s crazy, that was all Josh Brolin. As actors, when you’re in a scene, it’s like a tennis match, you’re going back and forth. What you do as an actor is you try to find the lanes and you develop the chemistry. So I was expecting to make an adjustment from Tommy Lee Jones to Josh Brolin, but Josh studied Tommy so thoroughly that it was almost identical. It was absolutely stunning and it’s crazy because you don’t even notice how good his acting is because it’s so good that you’re just watching Tommy Lee Jones. People thought that Tommy did the voice for the Josh Brolin character. That’s how thoroughly Josh has delivered it.

When you say you haven’t worked you’ve been producing a lot. Is it a totally different creative exercise for you when you produce a film you’re not in?

Will Smith: Producing is so natural. The wide-view, seeing everything that’s going on and helping and pulling people in. But when you stay away from acting for awhile, its like a muscle. I’ve been away from it but the time was well-spent. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons on “The Karate Kid” where working on a remake is interesting in that you start with hindsight. You can see the patterns as why people cheer in a movie theater much more clearly and you get to experiment on an idea. So for me coming back to “Men in Black 3,” that just felt like home.

Talking about coming back, I remember when you did “Hancock” that movie sold based on you, your face. It’s tough for anybody to sell a movie now based on a star and here you are a couple of years later coming back. Can you talk about that transition and what has changed in the past few years?

Will Smith: I think that it’s a thing I’ve been paying attention to for a lot of years. I was in Australia in 1990 with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis and they were opening Planet Hollywood. So here I was, just in my first year of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and I’m sitting there with those guys. Arnold says “Young man, I want you to know you cannot be a movie star only in the United States. You’re only a movie star if they know you around the world.” They put that idea into my mind very clearly and then at that point that’s when I started making it a point to open new markets. We went into Russia with “I, Robot.” The idea is that you create that around the world and that’s how you hold a movie star. The world of cinema is opening up even more so to me it’s just about taking those laps around the world to maintain that.

“Men in Black 3” is out in theaters now.

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.