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Tuesday, May 28, 2002
MEN IN BLACK'S MICHAEL BAILEY SMITH
By Rob Allstetter/The Comics Continuum
LOS ANGELES -- Michael Bailey Smith won't be on screen very long in Men in Black 2, but he promises you'll remember him.
In the sequel -- which reaches theaters on July 3 and again stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones -- Smith plays a character called Creepy, who has an encounter with Serleena, the film's villain played by Lara Flynn Boyle.
"I can't tell you too much about it, but it's pivotal to Lara Flynn Boyle's wardrobe," Smith says, laughing.
Smith says his scenes were shot on location for a few days in Pasadena, Calif., and he had fun working with director Barry Sonnenfeld and Boyle.
"She's a cute gal, spunky and very professional," Smith says. "It was some pretty forward stuff that I had to do to her. I wound up licking her face. It was like, 'Hi, I'm Michael Bailey Smith. Can I lick your face now?'"
The Men in Black sequel presents the latest in a long line of TV and movie character parts the last decade from Smith, the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder whose professional football aspirations with the Dallas Cowboys were ended because of a knee injury.
As an actor, he has done everything on television from squaring off with Urkel as a gang leader in Family Matters to playing demons in Charmed and to being a heavy called Tomahawk in Pamela Anderson's V.I.P. In terms of features, this year alone, Smith appears in MIB2, the Dana Carvey comedy Master of Disguise and Undisputed, which stars Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames.
But some comics fans might remember Smith best as Ben Grimm in Fantastic Four, the 1993 Roger Corman production that was never released, but to this day remains a comics convention fascination at dealers tables selling bootlegs.
Fantastic Four basically was rushed into production so that Constantin Film could retain the movie rights to the characters. Enter Corman's Concorde Productions, known for their down-and-dirty movies. Directed by Oley Sassone, Fantastic Four was completed, but a week before Christmas and just days before a planned benefit premiere at the Mall of America in Minnesota, the movie was shelved and has never been released in any form.
Since then, 20th Century Fox has joined in on the Fantastic Four rights and is still developing a big-budget film based on the Marvel Comics characters, with Peyton Reed the latest director attached.
Smith had viewed Fantastic Four as a potential launching point for his career; it was his first starring role and only his second movie. Along with Alex Hyde-White, who played Reed Richards, Smith toured the country, spending money out of his own pocket to help promote the movie at comics conventions and appearances.
"I look back on it now and it's still a little disappointing," Smith says. "But I understand it more now. This isn't 'show friends' or 'show fun.' It's show business."
Of course, there are many who say it's probably best the film was never released. With a never-disclosed budget that probably was less than $3 million, Fantastic Four would never have a chance against today's big-budget films. As hard as the filmmakers tried, the low-budget nature of Fantastic Four crippled them and critics have labeled many scenes as cheesy.
"I've been on the Internet and I've read what people had to say about it," Smith says. "Thank God they haven't been on the actors too much. They've always said that the actors gave it their best shots. Nobody's bagged the acting too much.
"But it was at the same time that Jurassic Park was coming out and there was no way we could compete with that."
Smith, who wore his Eastern Michigan varsity jacket in the movie to represent Empire State, didn't actually play the Thing. Veteran stuntman Carl Ciarfalio filled the Thing's foam rubber suit, although Smith worked closely with him on the set and voiced the Thing's lines, including his trademark, "It's clobberin' time!"
One of Smith's favorite scenes in Fantastic Four was when Ben and Reed arrive to pick up Johnny and Sue as they prepare for their now-famous rocket trip. Ben flips off such smart-alecky lines as "Can Johnny and Sue come out to play?" and "Anybody for a ride in a rocket ship?"
"Really, that was one of those roles of a lifetime," Smith says. "He was so much like me. I really didn't have to act."
Ironically, most of Smith's role since Fantastic Four have been as villains or heavies.
"I like playing the bad guys," Smith says. "Maybe it's because I was such a nerd and was getting picked on all the time when I was a freshman in high school."
Adding to his big-and-bad persona, Smith completely shaved his head.
"I was working on Charmed, playing various demons, and one required that I had to shave my head," Smith says. "I really wanted to get the part and I always wanted to shave my head. It worked out great, although my wife wouldn't look at me for a while.
"But it really helped me out getting parts. It was like I was a whole new actor with a whole new look. Don't take this wrong, but I kept hearing I was too good-looking. This way, when I walk in the door, they know I mean business."
Smith is launching his own web site, www.michaelbaileysmith.com, where one of the main features will be a journal of sorts, detailing his adventures in Hollywood. "It shows the life of a journeyman actor," Smith says.
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