“Men in Black” may be one of Will Smith’s most iconic roles, but he almost passed on the project.
“I kind of understood ‘Men in Black’ a little bit, but I didn’t want to make ‘Men in Black.’ That was the next year after ‘Independence Day,’ so I didn’t want to make two alien movies back-to-back,” Smith told Kevin Hart on the comedian’s Peacock talkshow, “Hart to Heart.”
It was Smith’s manager James Lassiter, also known as J.L., who first suggested the project to him. But it was “Men in Black’s” producer Steven Spielberg who got the yes.
Spielberg sent a helicopter to pick up Smith and take him to his house. “He flew me in, and he said the coldest s–t. He said ‘Tell me why you don’t want to make my movie,’” Smith said. “And he put the ellipses at the end. It was the dot, dot, dot… If he had continued, he would have said, ‘Joker, you know I made ‘Jaws,’ right? You know I made ‘E.T.?’”
Smith eventually got over his fear of being known as the “alien guy” and agreed to star in the movie. But that wasn’t the only role Smith had to be convinced to do. The star also revealed to Hart that he didn’t want to star in either “The Pursuit of Happyness” or “Ali.” In both instances, Smith credits Lassiter for pointing him in the right direction.
“In the heyday the 10 movies I made at the top of my career, J.L. was choosing the films. He just had an eye, you know?” Smith said.
Throughout his storied career, Smith only lost himself in two roles. The first happened early in his career with “Six Degrees of Separation,” which was filmed while “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was still running. During that movie, Smith became so invested in his role that he “feel in love with Stockard Channing” and had to be reminded by his “Fresh Prince” co-star Alfonso Ribeiro how his character Will Smith acted.
The other movie where he went “too far” was 2022’s “Emancipation.” Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film stars Smith as a runaway slave fleeing to Baton Rouge. At one point, the prop master was unable to get Smith out of his character’s chains, which put the star on the “edge” of hyperventilating. Throughout that experience, Smith thought about how there was no one around to let his character, Peter, out of his shackles.
“I just kept on falling deeper and deeper into that understanding,” Smith said.