It appears that Chris O’Donnell was tricked into giving up a lead role in “Men In Black.”
Director Barry Sonnenfeld has admitted pulling a few strings in an attempt to land Will Smith as the lead in the 1997 hit sci-fi film, including downplaying the film to O’Donnell in the hope that he would turn it down.
The film ultimately starred Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K, two government workers who monitor alien activity on Earth.
Speaking with Insider, Sonnenfeld said that the producers initially wanted O’Donnell and Clint Eastwood as the leads.
“He had suggested Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith,” Sonnenfeld told the outlet. “Will was actually my wife’s idea.”
The director said executives needed little convincing to take on Jones, however, landing Smith in the lead role raised some eyebrows.
At the time, Smith was known for starring in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and for his rap albums instead of starring in blockbuster movies.
He had just finished filming his first leading role in a major motion picture in “Independence Day,” however, the film had not yet been released at the time.
On the other hand, O’Donnell was a household name in Hollywood after starring in “School Ties,” “The Three Musketeers,” and “Scent of a Woman.”
In a desperate attempt to dissuade O’Donnell from accepting the role, Sonnenfeld revealed that he downplayed the film.
“I met with Chris and he had concerns about the script and he had another movie offer,” he said. “So I told him, ‘Yeah, we may never get this script fixed and I don’t think he knows how to direct this movie.’ So he moved on from the movie the next day.”
O’Donnell, by turning down the role, opened the door for Smith to join in the conversation.
Sonnenfeld recalled setting up a meeting for Smith with the film’s producers, Walter F. Parks, Lauri MacDonald and Steven Spielberg, in the Hamptons.
“And that’s how Will got the part,” he recalled.
“I think [O’Donnell’s] a good actor, but I had really been thinking about Will ever since my wife made the suggestion,” he said in retrospect.
And of downplaying the script to O’Donnell, Sonnenfeld said, “Well, you know what, you always want to underpromise and overdeliver.”
“Men in Black” became a huge box office success, which saw the making of two additional movies in 2002 and 2012.
Smith recently received a 10-year ban from attending the Academy Awards after slapping host Chris Rock onstage at this year’s Oscars.