17 years after the release of the second opus of Bad Boys, the duo Will Smith/Martin Lawrence met again this year for a new and highly dangerous mission. This third movie named Bad Boys For Life wasn’t produced by Michael Bay, but with a Belgian duo instead : Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah whom we discovered in 2015 with their movie Black.

I had the honor of being able to interview one of them: Adil El Arbi. For, he accepted to tell us about the project, the filming and the influences which guided him.

How did you happen to produce an American movie, the sequel to a franchise as cult as Bad Boys nonetheless ?

It all began with our movie Black, a Romeo & Juliet like movie, which had been selected back then to the Toronto International Film festival (Black received the Discovery Award). This is where we met for the first time the Hollywood agents (CAA Agency) and we signed with them at this moment. They showed the movie to several of their clients and one of them was none other than the producer Jerry Bruckheimer. We were big fans of his style and the movies he produced. It was kind of like a student joke with Billal where we were promising that one day, we would produce a Bad Boys 3 movie. We saw ourselves like the « bad boys of our school » ! When we had the chance to meet Jerry, it was the first thing we asked him. However, the movie wasn’t available yet, there was another producer on this project. In the meantime, Will Smith had seen Black. The legend says he particularly enjoyed it. He absolutely wanted to work with us on a project. When Joe Carnahan left the production of Bad Boys 3, Will Smith himself submitted our names!

Something I noticed was that the violence was more intense and there was a real dramatic feel to the story with the death of Conrad Howard the Police Officer (Joe Pantoliano) or Mike Lowrey’s tragical past. Are those aspects of the film which convinced you to produce Bad Boys 3 ?

Exactly. When we receive a script – especially one like Bad Boys 3 – there is some apriorism. We ask ourselves « Will this be like the first two movies ? Will the story and the scenario be interesting ? ». When we were reading the script, there was really unexpected things happening, great surprises, and like you said, a really dramatic feel. And this really spoke to us as filmmakers. We didn’t want Bad Boys 3 to be like any simple American Blockbuster. When you look at the films we shot in Belgium, it was mainly drama and emotions. And Bremmer and Craig’s script had that. We fell in love. And morevover, it wasn’t a copy of the 2 first Bad Boys movies, we had the opportunity to take risks, and that is something we like.

In the world of the cinema, sequels are often criticized. Did you feel some pressure about that ? Did you ever think this could have been a
« non-needed sequel » ?

Of course, this sequel comes 17 years after the first two opuses, whom had been produced by Michael Bay. Michael has his own genre, his own public so of course, the expectations are higher. The whole world is watching you and your work. We were really scared to mess everything up. There was a lot of pressure. But luckily, we had skilled people around us, with a lot of experience – some of them even worked on the previous Bad Boys. This comforted us, helped us and we even could use their experiences to make ourselves at ease.

There is a little Michael Bay cameo in the movie. He appears during Markus’ daughter wedding. Could you tell us more about this incredible sequence ?

It was important to us to have Michael Bay somewhere in the movie. Bad Boys For Life is also a tribute to his cinema, especially his 90’s cinema. Having him with us for a scene was also like he was passing it on to us. The first day we met him and filmed this sequence, we were really anxious. All our team worked with him before, and they were telling a lot of stories on how he was on set, how he was used to shout a lot, of being « hardcore » and almost military-like, and I was scared he would think that our work (Billal and I) was shitty. And finally, I was really nice and caring, almost like a brother. We really wanted his apparition to be a success. So we chose to film in 360 with a Steadicam where he was supposed to turn around. He told the Steadicam-Filmer how to do the shot, and we let him do it.

Among the influences, I found that the bonds between Mike and Armanda kind of looked like the ones between Henry Brogen and his Clone in Gemini Man. There was this sentence : « He is like me. He is reckless and with no mercy, like me. » Then this scene where Mike and his son are on the ground and see themselves in the mirror. Was Gemini Man a film that inspired you ?

It’s funny because film-makers of Bad Boys 3 were the same that Gemini Man. When they were finishing up Gemini Man, we were preparing for Bad Boys so we couldn’t have seen or read anything. And because of this, when we had shots made up in our heads, Jerry would come up to us and say « Guys, we can’t do this, we have a very similar scene (or shot) n Gemini Man ». It was stressful for us, we didn’t want Bad Boys to look like Gemini Man either, even if in the themes there is similarities. However, it was Will Smith and Jerry Bruckheimer’s wills ton explore those themes in Gemini Man and Bad Boys.

Which was / were the most difficult scene(s) to film ?

The most difficult scene to film is certainly the chase, the motorcycle sequence. You should know that this scene was not filmed in Miami, but in Atlanta, at night, in the middle of winter. Atlanta in winter looks like Europe and it doesn’t look like Miami at all (laugh). It was very difficult, we had to play with the lights and use computer graphics, to make appear water, bridges, that there was color, that it was hot, etc. But, we didn’t want to have too many computer generated images for this scene, we wanted the stunts, the explosions to be true, we wanted a real helicopter on site, etc… This chase asked us a lot of work and brought a lot of stress, especially on the safety aspect. It’s a dangerous scene, the harsh conditions (night / winter), it was a big challenge.

In an interview, Will Smith said he wasn’t « tougher than Tom Cruise » regarding action scenes. Did he do some of the stunts on his own ?

Will Smith is very athletic – and so is Martin Lawrence by the way. We had planned the scenes with the stuntmen. Once on set, the ego comes in and Will used to say : « Ah guys, I wanna try anyway. » (laugh). The two have always tried to do their stunts. They even did more than we expected. Will and Martin went all the way, every time. Nevertheless, there are really too dangerous stunts on which we cannot ask the actors to do.

Did Martin Lawrence apprehend the filming ? We didn’t see him in an action movie for several years and, contrary to Will Smith who trains frequently, he physically changed…

He is also older than Will, who is a real force of nature. They have two different lifestyles. Martin had stopped acting to devote himself to his family, he became a father, but he was super motivated. He was honest and told us that he couldn’t do the same things (physically speaking) as he used to. He did his best and, surprisingly, the more the filming progressed, the better it went, the more insurance and endurance he gained. Towards the end of the shooting, Martin did most of his stunts himself. And then he also lost weight so, with this film, it is as if he had found a second youth. If he makes the fourth film, he will have more confidence.
On the other hand, it perfectly matched the image of his character, who wants to retire and spend time with his grandson.

In the end, Martin is a reflection of Marcus and vice-versa…

Exactly. This film is more personal than the other two. It tells the story of Mike and Marcus’ relationship, where they are in their lives now that they are older. On the one hand, there is Mike who wants to stay a Bad Boys for life and on the other, Marcus, who wants to hang up before it is too late.

Before, you mentioned a 4th movie. Would you accept to produce it if you were offered to ?

We would be honored to. In Hollywood, you are never told yes right away, they always wait a bit. But we will be there, it is an immense privilege to be able to work with these actors, this team. We’re going to start talking about it, we can still write a last story.
Making Bad Boys 3 allowed us to learn how to stage an action movie. I believe that now we can do even better.

At the end of the movie, with Mike’s offer to his son, is there an opportunity to tell a story ? Maybe a opportunity to pass the torch.

We are not a 100% sure about the passing of the torch. As a Bad Boys fan, you can’t imagine making a film without the original Bad Boys. If we were offered to make the fourth movie without Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, it would not be so interesting and, I do not know if we would be ready. However, working again with the two of them and their characters, as well as Armando, who is a really great person, and the younglings, I would say yes . There are things to conceive, to tell and it would be fun to go a long way with them.

How are Will Smith and Martin Lawrence on set ?

Will is dynamic and you hear him coming from afar (laugh). It’s a bit like Mohamed Ali coming to a boxing match (laugh). It’s really a ball of energy, everyone wakes up when he’s there. He arrives on time, he is very respectful to the team, super professional and hard working.
As for Martin, he is very concentrated and even shy sometimes. He says it himself, but once we say « action », he is there, present. The timing, the text, the rhythm, it’s set like a clock, it’s unimaginable how well he is prepared. And when we say « cut », he’s cool, calm and kind.

Do you have a filming anecdote ?

The first week of filming, Will did not want to film with his police badge around his neck. It’s pretty funny since now on the movie posters, we can see him with it around his neck. But each time, he had a good argument for not putting it on. The scene in the bar, for example, we asked him to put it on and he told us that it was not necessary, that his character was not in intervention. In another scene, he explained to us that it was useless, that he was just walking, that his character was not on a mission.
However, there was another scene where he had to wear it and it was the last opportunity to see him with the badge. We were ready to shoot but he was not wearing it. I went to see him, I asked him where the badge was and he said again that it doesn’t make sense. I retort : ​​How is that? It’s an intervention, you must have it on you. To which he asserts me that it is illogical, that it is not natural. He turns to Martin to find out if he is going to wear it. Martin answers yes. Will refuses anyway. I retaliate by telling Will that if he doesn’t put the badge around his neck, no one will. It’s both or no one. It was only after 45 minutes of discussion on the set, in front of everyone, that he accepted : « You know what, as you are the directors, I will do it, just for you. Even if I find it a bad idea. ». We felt a little bad about having annoyed Will Smith, but I think it was a test. It was the first week of shooting, and he surely wanted to see how much we could get our creative ideas across.

Many thanks to Adil El Arbi for this interview, his availability and his kindness.
Bad Boys For Life, currently in theaters.

Translation by Trystan Doré
Crédit photo :

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