Men in Black International: Producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes On The Success and Rapport [Exclusive Interview]

It’s not just international in the name. It’s more universal.

Men in Black has been a very beloved franchise with Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) and Jay (Will Smith) as the iconic men in suits with dark sunglasses.

More than twenty years later, the franchise will have an off-shoot film with Men in Black International that stars a different alien crime-fighting duo with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and Agent M (Tessa Thompson). This time around, they’re not combating in the Big Apple, they’re going to trek around the world and perhaps elsewhere.

The film also stars Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and the dancing sensation twins of Laurent Bourgeois and Larry Bourgeois.

The film is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. It was based on the Malibu Comic by Lowell Cunningham.

In Men In Black International, they protected Earth from the scum of the universe. In this next installment, the team will tackle their biggest, most global threat to date—a mole in the Men in Black organization.

LRM Online had an exclusive phone interview with two of the producers of Men in Black International with Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes. They produced all the Men in Black films of the franchise as they discussed the need and rapport for this new film.

Men In Black International is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Read our interview below.

LRM: I know you produced all the Men in Black films. What do you think contributes to the great success of this franchise?

Walter F. Parkes: It’s a combination of a good basic idea executed by very talented people. Looking back, Laurie and I saw something in these are out of print comic books that appealed to us and seeing sort of specific.

Laurie MacDonald: It’s really, iconic to me when I sort of boil it down. The two things we can hold onto. The two things that as producers we guard carefully is the kind of iconic imagery of Men in Black. The elegant shoot with the men with glasses and giant science fiction gun that is so incongruous, but so cool. And the tone, it’s really the kind of top notch cools out, you can save the world from total destruction every day and not even bring it up to your friend. It’s cause that’s what you do and you have to do it no matter what.

That kind of tone and the imagery to us are the one that’s a constant. Even though the original comic book really didn’t give us a story and they were more, they were tougher. They were not as comic, as funny. They really gave us I think something special in that.

Walter F. Parkes: I think the other element in the original idea was that it is real world based, as opposed to being about superheroes taking place on a bunch of different planets. The main characters are humans, and it offered us as film makers the opportunity that if the script comes out the way you hope it does–it can attract really good actors. It offers the audience something which is the excitement of seeing their own world in a different way with imagination. If I look behind the curtain, is there a reality there that I would otherwise not be aware of?

LRM: Absolutely, but I guess the big question that a lot of audiences is going to have is why are we making another film? Is this one going to be more of the same or a whole lot different?

Walter F. Parkes: Well, I think you sort of want both.

Laurie MacDonald: I think in tone and sort of visual style–it marries with the first. It’s very consistent with the first. Although there are changes, there’s a kind of commitment to specificity of style and architectural periods. The tone, hopefully, is close, a little different as well, because the relation is very different. For us even to want to spend the the hours, which turned into years to get a big movie on its feet–we had to and really wanted to expand the universe. Not in a creative way, not just in location.

Obviously, the international nature is the more first owned everything totally. We kept as our kind of touchstone always of could this be a scene in in a tough cop movie? We were dealing with the craziness of these aliens in the world. Is there some underneath it all reality? In this case, we did move the story more into more of a international adventure.It probably has more to early Bond than to movies like Charade.

Walter F. Parkes: The international thrillers.

Laurie MacDonald: The international thriller was really, in that case, what we were trying to [accomplish].

Walter F. Parkes: One way also to approach your question is I think there’s sort of three stakeholders when it comes down to a big movie like this. There is the audience, there are the filmmakers, and then there’s the financiers. Financiers have to be convinced that there is specific interest in this franchise, because we’re in a very franchise driven time in our industry. It’s unlike anything ever before. It seems that if there’s a franchise, a world that the audience is interested in, certainly from Marvel on down, audiences are interested in the expansion of that and following different stories inside of it. That’s from that point of view. With the audience, nobody knows. And you hope for the best.

Honestly, from a filmmaker’s point of view, it’s got to be something that interests you and for whatever reason. We’re diehard fans of Men in Black. We couldn’t do these projects if we weren’t. We find the world kind of endlessly interesting and the basic concept of a secret police force that’s watching out for us. They’re aware of this more extraordinary reality, which is behind the curtain. It’s something that we find interesting and have so far been able to get back into now for a fourth time.

LRM: Now one of the things I love about the franchise, it’s sort of like the ultimate buddy cop movies. Could you me why Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are perfect with each other? They were kind of like a little bit different with each other. And is the world ready without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones now?

Walter F. Parkes: I’m glad you see them as the ultimate buddy cop movies, because as Laurie, said on the first three films, they were the conventions of those cop movies. As she said, we’re a little bit more aiming towards the international thriller. Rapport is something which is hard to find and even harder to get. Tommy and Will had it, because they were such polar opposites. They were both extraordinary actors in their own rights. Their particular gifts expanded upon the dynamic that was built into the character relationship on the page.

We tried to build something into this relationship. This movie began in terms of the creative process with the Molly character. Laurie and I started and actually developed a whole script that was thrown out, but the one thing that has been constant is it was the story about this young girl who has an experience as a very young child whose parents are neuralized. She lives in the world that’s telling her she’s crazy, but she knows the truth. She uses her youth up finding the Men in Black, because she wants to know the way the universe works. She finds out something she didn’t expect, which is the ability to connect to someone emotionally. That’s the one thing you’re not allowed to do as a Man in Black. That was just a good story to us.

Why Tess and Chris? Chris was the first person we cast. There are very, very few actors who bring to bear his qualities. To be that physically adept. To be that subtle of a comic actor. It’s just really you look on the list, there was a reason he was the first person that we went to. At that point, you try to find someone with whom he’ll have the kind of comic friction that you seem to enjoy between Will and Tommy.

It actually wasn’t because of Thor. We were fans of Tess’s work prior to. After seeing Thor, it was sort of a proof of concept that she was with her own physical kind of power, someone who could stand up to Chris. There comes the comic dynamic that you’re talking about.

LRM: Are we expecting a continuation of a franchise with these characters? Or are you expecting this to be a standalone film?

Laurie MacDonald: Well, we will be so thrilled if it finds its audience as a standalone film. We never think about it. That’s something you discuss way after. If we continue to just build a new franchise, we would absolutely only want to do it with the two of them.

Walter F. Parkes: It’s been interesting. We’re in London at the junket. The one constant response, we’re getting is sort of a delight in their rapport. It’s been extraordinary. There’s the question that’s hanging over their head. As you asked, does this exist beyond the original casting? It’s been very, very gratifying to see that, above everything. I think that the overriding positive response has been about enjoying the two of their rapport. If it works and we should be so lucky, we love seeing them together again.

LRM: Thank you very much. I know you have a busy day at this press junket but thank you for speaking with me.

Laurie MacDonald: Thank you.

Walter F. Parkes: Cheers.

Men In Black International is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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Gig Patta

Gig Patta is a journalist and interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review since 2009. He was a writer for other entertainment sites in the past with Collider and IESB.net. He originally came from the world of print journalism with several years as a reporter with the San Diego Business Journal and California Review. He earned his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and BA in Economics from UC San Diego. Follow him on Instagram @gigpatta or Facebook @officialgigpatta.

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