What were the specific challenges you thought of when you first read the script?
On the very first Men In Black, they said they wanted to have aliens the likes of which they`ve never seen before. I said, `that`s going to be really hard, because I did aliens for the first Star Wars, for the Cantina scene, that was a different story, people hadn`t seen a room with a bunch of aliens in it before.` I was trying to push the idea of, â€˜let`s make aliens like we`ve seen before, based on old movies, but make a better version.` They didn`t buy that idea. I tried to push it on the second movie and they didn`t buy it then either. With this movie and the time travel element, I said, `to me it seems like the 2012 aliens should be very different from the 1969 aliens and we should do more retro aliens in `69 with big brains and big bug eyes and fishbowl space helmets` and they went, `yeah, we love that idea!` I finally got it through! And I got to pay homage to a lot of the aliens that I love, the movies I grew up with. I wanted it to be as though guys who made monsters for the 1950s and 1960s films had seen a real alien and they were their interpretation of them. We have Invasion of The Saucer Men and Gort from This Island Earth. We changed them just enough!
How many aliens are there in the third film?
I think the total was 127 aliens. I don`t know how many are in the final cut. There were some days where we`d have some extras come in and we`d do a lot of mix and match parts, Mr Potato Head aliens! And we had complete masks as well. It`s a lot!
How do you show your concepts to Barry Sonnenfeld and the others?
It`s different on every film. I do a lot of sketches on the computer, first of all and hire a team of really talented people, many of whom worked with me on the other two Men In Black movies and I let them do artwork as well. A lot of time we`ll do maquettes, little clay sculptures. The hardest thing in any movie, I think, is to get all the people involved to actually make a decision early enough for us to make it. It takes a long time to make things, and they don`t really want to commit that early on. What happened on this movie was we kept doing designs, and they would have input with different stuff, and we`d change it and it just got to the point where I had to just start making things and it would be better to have a lot of aliens and they can choose which they like.
This film`s big villain is Boris. Did you create him?
I actually conceived of what he was. In the original script it was very different. He was always a biker guy, but I twisted things around a little bit and made suggestions. I did a test on myself to try to convince them of the way to go. Everybody had been saying, `We can`t use the goggles because you can`t see his eyes…` That what was so cool about him! It was better than anything we could make.
How did Jemaine Clement take to the make-up?
Jemaine was great. I liked what he did with the part. When he first came out, I said, `Do you have any clue what you`re getting into?` And he didn`t. I want people to know before they sign the contract that their life is going to be a living hell because of me. The days are going to be hours longer, we`re going to be gluing stuff on in the morning, it`s going to take an hour to get it off at night and I`m always poking him and trying to fix him and staring at him like an object. He was terrific. He slept a lot in the process, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
What inspires your work? And do you keep a notebook for ideas?
I`m not really good at writing, I`m a little dyslexic. But I try to put stuff away. I observe things. I take a lot of pictures, too. It`s funny; my wife has a series of photos, like when we go on vacation, of me taking photos of textures. I`m up against a mossy rock with a macro lens taking pictures, so she has this set of me taking pictures of things it`s ridiculous to take pictures of! I take pictures of wrinkles and people and different face shapes. I get inspiration from all types of things.
How did the script changes affect your work?
How it impacted me is there`d be a scene that they`d write, for example, there was a police line-up in MIB HQ, and it was a bunch of strange alien silhouettes and Will Smith. It was sort of how Will first appeared in the HQ in one of the early scripts. So we designed aliens for this line-up, we really wanted to do these different, crazy silhouettes, got really far along building this stuff, only to be told that scene`s out! We were still able to use the aliens somewhere, but they were made for a specific reason. It is hard when they throw stuff at you all of a sudden. In the very first draft that I read, there was a scene in a bowling alley that went away. And then at the very last minute, it came back and there`s this alien that bowls his head. I did some initial designs, then went away and forgot about it and when it came back, we were on location in New York and I did some more designs. And then Barry said, `I just think we should get a bowling ball and paint a face on it and roll it down…` I thought it would be a cool moment for a CG head where you can actually see reactions, but for long shots it would be okay. At lunch, we were shooting in the Men In Black HQ in this armoury building in New York and the prop guy gave me this bowling ball and I`m painting a face on to it. The funny thing was, we made all these cool aliens and here I painted this ball and it got the biggest reaction from anybody on the set! Barry took pictures with it, everyone wanted to see it. It made me think I should just change the way I do things! But it is hard when you get new pages and it`s not something you prepared for.
What was the most challenging last minute request?
One of the trickiest things is we had to very quickly do an Andy Warhol make-up on Bill Hader. That was something that had been in the original script, then went away, then came back and we didn`t know who it was going to be. They had different people in mind, but Bill Hader was in the mix. I thought he`d be great, I thought we could do some decent make-up on him and I like him as a performer. He`s a fan of my work, so I thought having someone who has been in make-up and is a fan so I can abuse him! But we had a week to do that. I was building the stuff in LA and shipping it to New York and I needed a life mask of him. They weren`t going to get him right away, so fortunately I know the SNL guys really well and I said, `you must have a life mask of Bill, can I borrow one so I can cast his face and start the sculpture?` We got it at the very last minute.
You test the make-up on yourself first. But are you in a scene?
Oh yeah! I`m in a scene with Will and Emma Thompson and I think it`s almost been cut out of the movie. Barry told me it was so pivotal to the movie and could not be cut out. It was a fun scene, but the last time I saw Barry, he said, `well, you`re still in the movie…` So I`m assuming it got cut way down. But I have a big exposed brain, with my face and the ponytail poking out the back of the brain. I`ll also often do the initial test to see what I`m going to put an actor through. I grew up and learned make-up on my own face. It does help when the actor says I don`t understand what they`re going through, because I do.
Men In Black II opens 24 May.
– Read more about Rick Baker, plus an exclusive interview of Will Smith in the Jun issue of F***, out on newsstands now.