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After years of delays, Will Smith’s Detective Mike Lowery and Martin Lawrence’s Detective Marcus Burnett are back in Bad Boys for Life, the long-awaited return of the action-comedy franchise. Someone who isn’t returning though is director Michael Bay, who helmed the previous two installments and made the franchise what it is. Looking back on the original film, Will Smith recalled how Michael Bay told him being shirtless would make him a movie star, saying:
So Michael Bay was shooting this scene, and I wanted to have my shirt on. And Michael was like, ‘Dude, I’m gonna make you a frickin’ movie star! Take your shirt off.'
Sex sells and Michael Bay knows it. Highlighting the attractiveness of his stars is pretty on-brand for Michael Bay and this practice extends all the way back to his very first film in 1995’s Bad Boys. As Will Smith recalled on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, he wanted to keep his shirt on during a Bad Boys scene they were filming. Michael Bay however, had other ideas and he tried to convince the actor that he should do the scene shirtless.
At this point in his career, Will Smith had only done a few films and was probably best known for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with Bad Boys representing his first real lead role in an action movie. So Michael Bay made the pitch that he was going to make Will Smith into a full-blown movie star and that doing the scene shirtless would be a huge catalyst towards that desirable outcome.
Michael Bay may have thought a shirtless Will Smith would have looked cool and been good for both the film and the actor’s career, but Will Smith remained unconvinced, as he continued:
So we compromised in that scene. I was like Mike, ‘I have to have a shirt. I’ll have it open, just not off.’ And we compromised, and it was one of the iconic scenes from that movie. And to this day, every time I see Michael Bay, he goes, ‘Dude, I should be in for half!'
For whatever reason, Will Smith didn’t want to go completely shirtless and Michael Bay’s guarantee of superstardom was not enough to sway him, so they came to a middle ground. Will Smith did the scene in Bad Boys with his shirt open, giving the director something that he wanted, while still allowing the actor to feel comfortable with a shirt on. The result of course became an iconic scene in the film, which you can see below.
It’s hard to argue with the way the scene turned out and the open shirt ultimately probably worked better than a completely shirtless or completely clothed Will Smith would have. Given the success of the scene and Will Smith’s career after Bad Boys, Michael Bay naturally takes some of the credit for the way things turned out, believing that he delivered on his guarantee and he’s not entirely wrong.
Correlation does not always mean causation, but Will Smith was semi-shirtless in Bad Boys and he is now a huge movie star. The actor followed up the Michael Bay film with movies like Independence Day, Men in Black and Enemy of the State. So the scene in Bad Boys may not have caused Will Smith’s stardom, that was likely going to happen regardless, but it probably didn’t hurt either.
So as Will Smith tells Jimmy Fallon, every time he sees Michael Bay, the director jokes that he should be entitled to half of the actor’s earnings, given that the two compromised 50/50 on the open shirt scene in Bad Boys. Should have got it in writing I suppose.
Will Smith returns, presumably with a shirt on, in this weekend’s Bad Boys for Life. The film sees directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah stepping into the director’s chairs, replacing Michael Bay. No word yet on if they too have a clothing optional approach.
Bad Boys for Life opens on January 17. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to see what other movies you can look forward to this year.