‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ Star Chris O’Donnell Was Tricked Into Passing on ‘Men in Black’

by Megan Molseed

Back in 1997, one of Hollywood’s major players, Tommy Lee Jones joined Will Smith, an actor who was somewhat of a newbie at the time to create one of the most iconic sci-fi comedy films of all time, Men In Black.

At the time, Will Smith had found massive success in the music industry as rapper The Fresh Prince. Smith had also been wowing TV audiences for a number of years, starring in the hit 1990s sitcom series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

However, it was hard for some execs behind Men In Black to envision Smith in this blockbuster role, despite the film’s director Barry Sonnefeld fighting for the casting move. A fight, Sonnefeld admits, that lead to him underselling the iconic Sci-Fi role to NCIS: Los Angeles’s Chris O’Donnell in hopes the School Ties star would pass – leaving the door open for Smith to step in.

Men In Black Director Admits To Tricking NCIS: Los Angeles Star Chris O’Donnell In Order To Secure Will Smith For Men In Black Role

Director Barry Sonnenfeld admits to tricking NCIS: Los Angeles star Chris O’Donnell by downplaying the lead Men In Black role in the hopes the star would choose to pass. The reason for the director’s behind-the-scenes string-pulling was all part of an effort to get Parents Just Don’t Understand rapper Will Smith into the now-famous role.

During a discussion with Insider, Barry Sonnenfeld notes that initially, the Men In Black producers wanted to see O’Donnell in the famous role. However, once the director’s wife suggested Will Smith for the film, Sonnenfeld knew this was a winning idea.

Noting that the Men In Black producers initially pictured stars NCIS: Los Angeles player, Chris O’Donnell, and Clint Eastwood as the film’s leading men – J and K, Sonnenfeld discusses how his own ideas went against this plan.

“I had suggested Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith,” Sonnenfeld says in the interview.

“Will was actually my wife’s idea,” the director adds.

Tommy Lee Jones Was A Shoo-In For The Film – However, It Took Some Convincing To Cast Will Smith

According to Sonnenfeld, the film execs did not need much convincing when presented with the idea of casting Tommy Lee Jones. However, bringing Smith into the fold wasn’t an easy task. After all, the actor was not yet known as a blockbuster film star. And, the execs, Sonnenfeld adds, were still set on casting O’Donnell.

So, in an effort to turn O’Donnell from the role, Sonnenfeld admits he downplayed the script when meeting with the Batman Forever star. Ultimately pushing the NCIS: Los Angeles star towards an entirely different project.

“I met with Chris and he had concerns about the script and had another movie offer,” Sonnenfeld remembers.

“So I told him, ‘Yeah, we might never fix this script and I don’t think I know how to direct this movie,'” the director recalls. “So he passed on the movie the next day.”

And, the director notes, that’s how Smith landed the role.

“I think [O’Donnell’s] a good actor,” Sonnenfeld adds. “But I had really been thinking about Will since my wife made the suggestion.”