David Schwimmer opens up about turning down Men in Black leading role
How many of us would have known that David Schwimmer was initially offered Will Smith’s role in the Men in Black franchise? The F.R.I.E.N.D.S. actor, who’s recently been back on our TV screens starring as Robert Kardashian Sr. in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, revealed in the latest episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast with host Scott Feinberg why he turned down the chance to become a big screen action hero:
“The deal with that was: so I had shot The Pallbearer [a romantic comedy co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow] for Miramax, and they had very high hopes for it. And while we were shooting it, they wanted to lock me into a three-picture deal. And as we all know now the movie [The Pallbearer] did not do well. I did not end up doing that three-picture deal with Miramax. But at the time I had a little leverage.
And I had always wanted to direct. So I had said, “okay, look; I’ll sign for a three-picture deal if you let me direct my first film, and cast my entire theatre company in Chicago” [the long-time friends whom Schwimmer had been working with for years, long before F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and stardom came along].
So, that was my goal, to give… to bring everyone up with me, to give everyone a shot. And I did it. We negotiated a deal. We did it. And the next year it was set to go into production in Chicago. And it was called Dog Water, now it’s called Since You’ve Been Gone. But I shot my first film and the entire theatre company is in it. And some crazy cameos, like John Stewart, Liev Schreiber.
I told everyone in the theatre company, “you’re all cast, here are your roles, don’t take any other jobs for this six-week period.” So everyone turned down all these opportunities. These teaching jobs. Other plays. You know, everyone was banking on doing this first film with me.
And then about a month before… so we’re in pre-production… about a month before production, I get the call about Men In Black. Which is was a direct conflict with directing that film. I just said, “I can’t. These are my closest friends in the world, this is their first shot at a movie, my first shot at directing. I can’t push [the timeline of the film back] because I’ve gotta go back to work on F.R.I.E.N.D.S. in the fall”. That’s what ended up happening.”
“It wasn’t even like a choice, really. It was ‘I just can’t’.”, Schwimmer added.
So there we have it. The man we best know as Ross was there for his friends above all.
David Schwimmer can also be seen in AMC’s Feed the Beast.