For three films now, the Men in Black universe has adhered to a certain familiarity. Will Smith’s Agent K and Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent J live in a New York City that is secretly in cahoots with intergalactic aliens. They wear the crisp suits, they have clashing personalities, and they protect the world from global threats. With characters that iconic, how do you tell a Men in Black story without them?
In October 2018, Nerdist went to Leavesdown Studios, just outside of London, and visited the set of Men in Black: International, where press talked to the cast and crew about what makes this new film different.
“One thing we all talked about, and that the studio was very supportive of. was the idea that the first three pictures were New York City cop movies, so this should be an international movie,” said the film’s producer, Walter Parkes, who also worked on the previous Men in Black films. Parkes cited films like From Russia, with Love as the inspiration behind the choice to go global, so we can see how far the agency’s influence reaches against the backdrop of lush new locations, from London—where the film is primarily set—to Marrakech, and beyond.
But changing locations is one small part of updating the Men in Black franchise. We also need new characters. Cue Tessa Thompson’s Agent M, a fresh addition to the MIB world who enters with from a unique point of view: After an encounter with extraterrestrials in her childhood, she grows up knowing MIB exists, and is desperate to join their fight. When she finally infiltrates their secret world, she’s recruited to the team and paired up with Chris Hemsworth’s Agent H. Thompson’s unique entry to the MIB universe is exciting, as is her status as the first female lead in a Men in Black film. That wasn’t an intentional decision, according to Parkes, but more systematic of Hollywood in general. “I think we’ve woken up to a certain kind of gender equality in terms of leads in action,” he said.
Agent M’s unique story translates in other ways, like her iconic MIB suit. According to costume designer Penny Rose, M is the only woman officer in the film to wear a two-buttoned double-breasted suit, which was provided by designer Paul Smith. M also gets to wear a rad pair of high-heeled boots, although that’s slightly less of a character choice and more because Thompson is a foot shorter than her male co-star. “These are the most natural looking high heeled boots I could possibly find,” Rose joked.
The height difference plays into the dynamic between M and H, which Parkes described as a “friendship of great mutual respect and admiration.” Though they begin the film at odds—she’s extremely professional and career-oriented, he’s well-respected but lazy—they eventually forge an understanding, and maybe even a bit of chemistry. Hemsworth and Thompson’s natural chemistry, which we got to witness first-hand when we chatted with them between takes, shines through, and due to the improvisational style of director F. Gary Gray, it’s possible those sparks could work there way into the final film.
“We’re sort of playing around with the ending at the moment, to be totally honest,” Hemsworth said of where their characters might end up. Parkes even admitted one of the big influences on the film was Broadcast News, where Holly Hunter plays a neurotic TV news producer who has a romance with her arrogant, good-looking coworker, played by William Hurt.
Having a potentially romantic dynamic between the two leads is another big shake-up in the MIB world, but fans of the franchise needn’t worry about the film totally diverting from its established universe. Emma Thompson is back as Agent O from Men in Black 3, and the legacy of Agents K and J are displayed in Easter Eggs throughout the set, like a set of paintings in MIB’s London headquarters that recall events from the first three movies. “You want to have memories of the previous films,” said production designer Charles Wood. That’s evident not just in the direct homages, but in the simple, futuristic style of the MIB offices.
Will this marriage of new concepts and echoes of the past come together? We’ll find out together when Men in Black: International opens wide on June 14, 2019.
Images: Sony Pictures