Tommy Lee Jones Terrorized A Classic Science Fiction Movie

By Nathan Kamal | 17 seconds ago

Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones is known for playing gruff, irascible characters in films, and he does it very well. In fact, he has four Academy Award nominations (and one win) that largely rest on his unparalleled ability to play grumpy in a way that audiences and critics are somehow irresistibly drawn to. According to the actors and filmmakers that he has worked with, he is not nearly as easy to work with as he is to watch on screen. However, it seems that one particular film production found him in particularly intense mode: the 1997 blockbuster science fiction film Men in Black. While the film was a blockbuster success and launched a whole franchise, original writer Ed Solomon says in a lengthy Twitter that Tommy Lee Jones was essentially at his throat from the get-go (our words, not his).

When Men in Black was optioned as a film (being very loosely based on a comic book series by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers), Will Smith was not the huge film star that he would soon be. On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones was coming off a hot streak of co-starring with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, the successful legal thriller The Client, and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (which, whatever else it is, was a massive commercial success). As such, 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 extraterrestrial enforcement agent) the central character, rather than Agent J (Will Smith’s new recruit). While rewrites based on star power are not unusual, this also had the effect of removing the central POV device which could lead viewers through the story as it was also being explained to them. 

But so far, that’s as much on producers as it is Tommy Lee Jones. However, according to Ed Solomon, in his very first meeting with Jones, the actor told him this:

It is hard not to imagine that as being a very tense meeting. Reportedly, Tommy Lee Jones already disliked the script before meeting with Solomon and only took the role after no less a personage than Steven Spielberg (a producer on the film) promised him they would improve it. Probably says something that even a king of Hollywood like the filmmaker behind E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones had to get on Jones’ good side. Solomon also says Tommy Lee Jones almost immediately brought up that then-Vice President Al Gore had been his college roommate (true story) for no apparent reason. 

Famously, Tommy Lee Jones has a very small amount of patience for his coworkers. In one particularly notorious instance, he took Batman Forever co-star Jim Carrey aside just so he could specifically tell him he would not “sanction [his] buffoonery,” which is quite a thing to say to another person. To be fair, Ed Solomon also describes himself at the time as being full of “self-righteous hubris,” and that Jones’ performance ultimately did lock the tone of the film in. The lesson here? No matter what, minimize your buffoonery and hubris around Tommy Lee Jones.