In the four years since Will Smith last appeared on the big screen, the two-time Oscar nominee has been producing movies with his son, developing scripts and cringing every time his daughter cuts her hair.
He's also dyed his own hair to hide those distinguished specks of gray.
But the same old outgoing and engaging Smith bounced into a conference room full of reporters recently to chat about "Men in Black 3," which opens Friday. The latest installment of the popular franchise reunites Smith (Agent J) with Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K), but adds Josh Brolin, who plays the younger version of Agent K in their quest to rid the Earth of aliens and change the course of history.
While all the fun and hilarity of this franchise remains, director Barry Sonnenfeld shot the film in 3-D, which heightens the overall experience--especially when Smith free-falls off the top of a skyscraper.
"My biggest concern with shooting in 3-D was my ears," Smith said. "I could see these things [touching his ears] taking over the whole of the screen. But when I first saw it, it was cool. It didn't have me looking like satellite dishes."
The other adjustment, of course, was his new partner, Brolin.
"I was expecting to make an adjustment from Tommy Lee Jones to Josh Brolin, but Josh studied Tommy so thoroughly that it was almost identical," Smith said. "It was absolutely stunning. It's crazy because you don't really even notice how good his acting is because it's so good; you're just watching Tommy Lee Jones. You don't realize that, no, that's Josh Brolin."
Brolin met Smith for the first time on set. It was a memorable experience.
"The first time you meet Will he's like 'Heeeeeeeeeey!' " Brolin said. "You're like, 'Wow, is he serious?' It's funny though, it's like going to an insane asylum.
"As far as the chemistry goes, either it's going to be there or not. I hadn't met him before I said yes, and the minute we got together it was seamless, thank God. It was organic."
In the 10 years since the last "MIB," Smith got a second Oscar nomination ("Pursuit of Happyness" opposite his son, Jaden), and attached himself to several sequels including: "Hancock," "I, Robot" and a possible "Bad Boys 3." Additionally, he's started working on a remake of the 1974 Sidney Poitier-Bill Cosby comedy "Uptown Saturday Night" with himself and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, and co-produced the Broadway musical "Fela" with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z.
Exercising these different muscles has allowed him to expand his brand worldwide. But sometimes it's nice to slip back into an old black suit that still fits.
"The idea of a secret government organization that polices and monitors alien activity on and off of planet Earth is so unique that you don't say that this movie is just like 'Men in Black,' " Smith said. "There's nothing that's just like 'Men in Black.' It's difficult to have a fantasy comedy that works on that level. ... I was excited about the degree of difficulty."
Once he agreed to do "MIB 3," Smith encouraged the writers to add some depth to Agents J and K.
"We're all 10 years older from the second movie and different things are important to us in our lives," Smith, 43, said. "We want to have the same kind of dumb that the first two movies had--the same kind of silly because there's an appreciation of the silly that the comedy delivers. But it was really important for us also to have some meat to chew on."
Perhaps if there's an "MIB 4"--and both Smith and Jones said they'd be up for it--Sonnenfeld can turn back the time dial again and have Jaden Smith play Agent J. If that happens, father and son might squabble over who gets top billing or the bigger trailer.
"Jaden is extremely competitive. He looks at me like I'm meat! He's like, 'I'm coming for you; you have no idea!' " Smith said, laughing. "I tell him I'm going to teach him everything I know and if he works hard he'll be the second-biggest movie star in the world."
Miki Turner is a redeye special contributor.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun