The Selfless Reason David Schwimmer Turned Down Will Smith's Role in 'Men in Black'

While the Emmy-nominated David Schwimmer will always be remembered as Ross Geller on Friends, the actor was offered a role in the late ’90s that might have been equally memorable. It may be hard to believe, but Schwimmer was offered the part of Agent J in Men in Black, a role eventually played by Will Smith, of course.

There have been reports about this in the past, but on The Hollywood Reporter’s podcast Awards Chatter, Schwimmer explained why he turned down the part. It started when Miramax offered him a three-picture deal while he was shooting The Pallbearer. “At the time, I had a little leverage, and I always wanted to direct,” he shared. “So I had said, ‘OK, I’ll sign for a three-picture deal if you let me direct my first film and cast my entire theater company in Chicago.’”

That Chicago theater company was one Schwimmer had founded with his friends while he was a student at Northwestern University. The film wound up being Since You’ve Been Gone. “So I had told everyone in the theater company, ‘You’re all cast. Here are your roles. Don’t take any other jobs for this six-week period,’” Schwimmer continued. “So everyone turned down all these opportunities — teaching jobs, other plays; everyone was banking on doing this first film with me.”

But as it turned out, timing was as cruel as Edgar the Bug. “About a month before production, I get the call about Men in Black, which was a direct conflict with doing, directing that film. And 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. It wasn’t even like a choice. It was like, ‘I can’t.’”

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