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Mark Wahlberg in Mile 22

The film industry is littered with stories of projects that could have been. Tom Selleck was almost Indiana Jones. Eric Stoltz originally was cast as Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Even recently, we learned that Quentin Tarantino wanted Tom Cruise to play Cliff Booth before he eventually settled on Brad Pitt. Pitt ended up winning an Oscar.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld has his fair share of casting stories from his illustrious career. He worked on Big, which almost starred Robert De Niro. And he shepherded the Men In Black series, which almost added Mark Wahlberg. Sonnenfeld knew that Men In Black 3 would involve time travel. And he knew he wanted Josh Brolin to play the part of Young K, the agent made famous by Tommy Lee Jones. While guesting on the ReelBlend podcast, Sonnenfeld opened up and explained:

Brolin and Tommy have the biggest heads, physical heads, of any movie stars. Big heads make big movie stars. It’s just, like, a rule. First of all, I thought Brolin looked and could sound like Tommy. … I said to Brolin, ‘Hey, I think you’d be perfect as young Tommy Lee Jones.’ And he said, ‘Great! Sounds great. Send me a script.’ Now, here’s an interesting story about agents. One of the most powerful agents there are is a guy named Ari Emanuel. He’s the head of William Morris Endeavor. And he’s really good friends with Mark Wahlberg. And he really wanted Mark Wahlberg to play young Tommy Lee Jones. And I think Mark would have done a great job. But I think Brolin was born to play Tommy.

In the 2012 sequel Men In Black 3, Agent J (Will Smith) must time travel to 1969 to prevent an evil alien named Boris from executing a young K (Brolin), thereby maintaining the present day timeline that K knows and loves. The franchise was always going to have Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. They made Men In Black memorable (as witnessed by the dismal Men In Black International). But the series almost took on Mark Wahlberg, who in 2012 was coming off of The Fighter and Ted, and had proven he could hold down comedies such as The Other Guys and Date Night.

I ended up having to meet Mark Wahlberg. And Mark was lovely. He was great. He would have been great in the role. But I wanted Brolin. So I got Brolin, and thank God, the studio backed me up. But they were really nervous about making Ari upset that I didn’t go with his guy.

Ah yes. Hollywood. Where you very often get a role (or lose a role) because you are the friend of a friend of a friend. Josh Brolin ended up being a terrific young Tommy Lee Jones, fully committing to his interpretation of the Oscar-winning actor. As Sonnenfeld recalls:

And by the way, Brolin, the entire time we worked together, had a tape recorder of the first Men in Black, and whenever he was on the set, he was listening to Tommy’s lilt. Tommy has the most musical voice. It’s a beautiful voice. It really flows and ebbs, it’s really sing-songy. And Brolin did a fantastic job. He made me cry so many times watching him. … I remember the one thing Tommy said to me about Brolin’s performance was, ‘Where’d he get that accent? I don’t have a Texas accent.’ And I said, ‘Well, actually Tommy, you do.’

And he puts it to good use, in movies like The Fugitive, In the Valley of Elah, JFK and No Country for Old Men. Want to hear all of Barry Sonnenfeld’s stories? Press play on the ReelBlend episode. It’s a fantastic listen:

What do you guys? Would Mark Wahlberg have made a better K? Or was Brolin the right choice to act opposite Will Smith in Men In Black 3? Cast your vote in our poll.

Who should have played young Tommy Lee Jones?
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