So, Men in Black broke a bunch of box office records and took in $84.1 million in five days. Big deal. The real head scratcher: Just how did director Barry Sonnenfeld choose the nine celebs who make up the film’s most crowd-pleasing sight gag — the Big Board, a giant grid of TV monitors that tracks aliens among us? If we’re to believe the board, some of Earth’s most famous denizens, including Dionne Warwick and Danny DeVito, are actually covert extraterrestrials.
Sonnenfeld says he originally solicited suggestions from his crew, which resulted in 600 names. He whittled the list to nine, each chosen for a distinct reason. ”After we showed the film to Sony they said, ‘There’s no one internationally famous,”’ says Sonnenfeld. Which is why Sylvester Stallone was added. Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, on the other hand, was just a whim. ”He always looked like a Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine,” the director says.
The chore was to procure permission from each celebrity (except for Newt Gingrich, whose image came from footage in the public domain). Though most were willing to go along with the joke (”He said, ‘I’m going to use you as an alien,”’ recalls Mizrahi. ”And I said, ‘All right. I don’t know what that means, but go ahead”’), not everyone got it. In fact, Sonnenfeld is still lamenting The One That Got Away: Michael Jackson, who refused to lend his image to the scene. ”Of course,” cracks the director, ”the real aliens say no.”