By Nathan Kamal | 17 seconds ago
Tommy Lee Jones is known for playing gruff and cantankerous characters in movies, and he does it very well. In fact, he’s got four Oscar nominations (and one win) that’s largely based on his unrivaled ability to play grindy in a way that irresistibly draws audiences and critics alike. According to the actors and filmmakers he has worked with, working with him is not as easy as watching him on screen. However, it seems that one particular film production found it in particularly intense mode: the hit 1997 sci-fi film men in black. While the film was a smash hit and launched an entire franchise, original writer Ed Solomon said in a lengthy Twitter post that Tommy Lee Jones was basically at his throat from the start (our words, not his).
When men in black was chosen as the movie (being very loosely based on a series of comic books by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers), Will Smith was not the major movie star he would soon be. On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones was coming out of a co-starring series with Harrison Ford in The fugitivethe hit crime thriller The customer, and Joel Schumacher batman forever (which, however, was a huge commercial success). So when Jones came on board, the producers of men in black immediately wanted Ed Solomon to rewrite the script to make Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones’ grizzled alien agent) the central character, rather than Agent J (Will Smith’s new recruit). While star power-based rewrites weren’t unusual, it also had the effect of removing the central POV device that could guide viewers through the story, as this was also explained to them.
But so far, it’s as much about the producers as it is about Tommy Lee Jones. However, according to Ed Solomon, when he first met Jones, the actor told him this:
It’s hard not to imagine that this is a very tense meeting. Apparently, Tommy Lee Jones already didn’t like the script before meeting Solomon and only took the role after at least one character that Steven Spielberg (a producer on the film) promised him to improve. Probably says something that even a Hollywood king like the filmmaker behind AND the extra-terrestrial and Indiana Jones had to get on Jones’ good side. Solomon also says that Tommy Lee Jones almost immediately mentioned that then-Vice President Al Gore had been his college roommate (true story) for no apparent reason.
Famous, Tommy Lee Jones has very little patience for his colleagues. In one particularly notorious case, he took batman forever co-star Jim Carrey aside just so he could specifically tell her he wouldn’t “sanction [his] buffoonery,” which is quite a thing to say to another person. To be fair, Ed Solomon also described himself at the time as being full of “smug hubris”, and that Jones’ performance ultimately locked in the film’s tone. The lesson here? Either way, minimize your buffoonery and hubris around Tommy Lee Jones.