There are plenty of famous Hollywood
comedy double acts — Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, Matthau and Lemmon. ’- L, a. But and ? r .1; The actor and director horse around with 7 their new movie, Wild Wild West. "" ‘~ Miles Fielder '“~
’Why don’t we start by talking about Will Smith’s butt?’ says director Barry Sonnenfeld, jumping right into the deep end of comic banter. ’Will’s always complained that every time they make an action figure of one of his characters...’ .i
'. . . it doesn’t capture the true beauty of my “bum”, as they say in Britain,’ interrupts Smith. ’That's because it’s beautful.’
’l’ve seen a lot of beautiful bums,’ returns Sonnenfeld, ’but yours is also pert and quite friendly.’
But, butt, but . . . what about their new movie, a sci-fi western based on a cult 605 TV series? ’The only way for me to have directed Wild Wild West was with Will,’ says Sonnenfeld. ‘You need Will to say to the world: "It’s new, it's hip, it's cool, it’s got attitude”. Without Will you’ve got a straight-ahead western. With Will you’ve got a James Bond action adventure comedy special effects western.’
High praise, but does that attitude cut both ways? ’I think Barry Sonnenfeld is a really strange man,’ implores Smith. ’Barry creates really unique films. Just the idea of casting me as James West . . . I said to Barry, "I don’t know if you've noticed, but there are a few subtle differences between me and the original".' Smith immitates Sonnenfeld's squeaky voice: "’Oh, you're a little taller, but no one’s going to notice."'
But of course the real difference is that Smith is black and Robert Conrad, the original actor, is white. ’The great thing about Hollywood is there’s racism, but on a certain level everyone’s green,’ suggests Smith. 'If you can put butts in the seats, then people will make films with you. The bottom line is: whoever can deliver gets the opportunity to make movies.’
'Speaking of bottoms . . .' mutters Sonnenfeld and it’s back to humour.
’Will and l have a theory that you can only have one funny guy in a movie,’ explains Sonnenfeld. ‘What was wonderful about Men In Black was that you had Tommy Lee Jones being the straight guy and Will being the funny guy. It’s a traditional, like Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, or Laurel and Hardy. Both Will and Kevin Kline are funny, but we came up with a solution: in any given scene, you pick the funny guy. So Kevin’s straight and Will's funny, or vice versa. But never let both guys try to be funny in the same scene or you got not a good movie.’ What if there’s a third guy? ‘No,’ says Sonnenfeld, right off. ’If there’s a third guy, he can't have been funny. Ever. He can have been funny only in Shakespeare.’
Maybe that’s why Kenneth Branagh is cast as the bad guy in the movie. Anyway, let’s try a last ditch attempt at a serious line of questioning: do Smith and Sonnenfeld feel pressure to reproduce the success of their first collaboration? ’With Men
9. In Black, no one was expecting a big summer ‘51-, movie,’ recalls Sonnenfeld. 'With Wild Wild West, “- we painted a big target on ourselves and said 7
"Shoot here". The next movie Will and I do, we're not going to let anyone know it’s coming out until the day it comes out.’
That next film is a whole different kit and caboodle — a Muhammed Ali biopic no less. ’We're really taking out time with the script,’ says Smith, 'because that's a story we can't afford to get wrong.’ Fly like a butt, sting like a bee.
Wild Wild West goes on general from Fri 13 Aug. See review, page 129