I’d only just arrived in Miami. After checking into my junior suite at the historic Biltmore Hotel, I made the quick walk over to the Bad Boys production office. Ground zero for the movie was an entire floor of abandoned office space adjacent to the hotel. I was told the previous tenants were a teleconferencing operation gone belly-up. Because our movie hadn’t yet officially been green-lit, I could only hope the former occupants hadn’t left behind any lingering negative mojo.
Once I’d been shown my little office — a shadowy corner space with a desk, a chair, and like me, not much apparent personality — I summoned a production assistant to conduct my first order of business. Cigars. I peeled off a crisp Benjamin and asked the young PA to locate the El Credito cigar factory and buy me however many La Gloria Extras that hundred bucks could buy. The young man had barely cleared my office threshold when the telephone rang.
“I’m here five minutes and I’ve already got a call,” I said to the film’s exec-producer and all-around-go-to-guy, Lucas Foster.
“The writer’s office,” said Lucas as he glibly answered my phone.
“Cool,” I said. “You gonna be my secretary?”
“We can’t afford one,” said Lucas, waiting for the caller to get patched through from the production desk.
While I looked for the most efficient way to set up my writing space, Lucas held out the telephone.
“Martin Lawrence wants to talk to you. Probably more of the same kinda stuff I talked to you about on the plane.”
On the flight from Los Angeles to Miami, Lucas had updated me on the sticky situation with one of our stars. It seemed Martin Lawrence liked to roll pretty large. He’d already expressed to the producers that his primary ambition was to sport a fatter posse than Eddie Murphy. Martin had been grinding the production office to accommodate his significant crew.
I grabbed the telephone and Lucas stepped out.
“Martin?” I answered.
“Hey, man,” said Martin. “Gotta talk to you about somethin’.”
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Need you to know that I ain’t shootin’ no brothers or no Mexicans.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My character,” said Martin. “Marcus Burnett. Can’t have him killin’ no brothers and no Mexicans.”
Okay. I’d heard him right the first time. The second recitation only confirmed that the rollercoaster I’d signed on to had just hit its first loop-de-loop.
“Why?” I innocently asked.
“My show,” said comedian, who at the time was starring in TV sitcom titled, aptly enough, Martin. “My viewer demo has a lotta black people and Mexican people. So you can understand.”
“Understand why your character can’t shoot African-Americans or Hispanics?” I confirmed.
“Blacks and Mexicans.”
“Gotcha,” I answered, completely uncertain how I’d accomplish the task.
The script had hardly been written. My task was to turn the modern-day-farce into a laugh-out-loud action comedy. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith were playing Miami narco-cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowry. To protect a witness, the characters would have to switch identities and lives, not to mention face a significant amount of bullets. I began thinking about the scenes-yet-to-be-written in which I’d have to describe the various bad guys detective Marcus Burnett would most likely gun down. “Non-Black Henchman #2” and/or “Non-Hispanic Goon #8?”
“Look,” I half-joked to Martin. “I’m figuring most of the bad guys Burnett shoots will be cast by the stunt director. What if we just tell him to leave all the black and Hispanic bad guys for Will to kill?”
“I don’t care how you do it,” said Martin. “But this guy I’m playin’ can’t shoot no brothers or Mexicans. That’s just the way it is.”
I’d just arrived. I hadn’t even unpacked a suitcase yet. So what else could I say at the moment other than, “yes?”
“Another thing,” said Martin. “Gotta change the name.”
“Of the movie?” I asked, figuring he had similar issues with the title as the movie studio. Bad Boys had been the title of a critically acclaimed film starring Sean Penn released some ten years earlier.
“No, man,” said Martin. “Will’s character’s name. Mike Lowry.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I can’t say the last name. Lowwwwwry.”
I really hadn’t noticed it yet. But every time Martin Lawrence had tried to fit his mouth around the name, it came out elongated and strange.
“Okay,” was all I could muster. The call ended, I passed along Martin’s central request to Lucas Foster and Michael Bay. They both rolled their eyes.
Two weeks later, the script had barely begun to take shape. And we were an equal number of days away from photography. We’d been having trouble casting the character of the witness, Julie Mott. Columbia Pictures had insisted on employing an “actress of color” in order to serve the “urban quality” of the movie. In other words, Bad Boys had already been earmarked as a black film, thus requiring all black leads. But in Miami, we cared far less about color than we did about funny. And without a completed script, we were having trouble attracting quality talent. Enter the very game Téa Leoni who’d been introduced to us via the casting director. I threw together a test scene. We put her on tape. Téa killed it.
Then my phone began ringing again. It was Martin.
“Need to tell you something,” said the comic. “I ain’t doin’ no sex scenes with a white girl.”
“We haven’t cast the part yet,” I told him.
“I know you haven’t,” said Martin. “That’s why I’m callin’ you and everybody else so they know I’m not doin’ no sex scenes with a white chick. Not a racist thing. It’s a TV show thing. Gotta think about my audience.”
After a few minutes of verbal wrestling, I was finally able to explain it this way to our reluctant star: Martin’s character, Marcus Burnett, is a happily married man who is put in the unfortunate position of guarding a reluctant female witness. In order to get the witness to trust him, Marcus must pretend to be his partner, cop-slash-lothario Mike Lowry. I explained to Martin that the funny stuff will come from his character trying to remain faithful to the woman he loves while posing as a playboy.
“I getcha,” said Martin, swallowing my sales pitch. “But that name. Mike Lowwwwry. Hate it, man. You gotta change it.”
I pocketed the win and moved onto my next challenge. In the meantime, I totally forgot about Martin’s request to change Will’s character’s name.
One week later. The cast arrived in Miami. We’d begun three days of rehearsals with our three principals. Joining Michael Bay, Lucas Foster, and myself were producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. The sessions were fast and loose and loaded with laughs. Then, once again, Martin tried to fit his mouth around that name.
“Julie? My name is Mike Lowwwwwwwry.”
Everybody laughed. That’s when Martin spun on me.
“Goddammit. I thought you were gonna change that dumb-ass mother-fuckin’ name!”
“Sorry, Martin,” I said, quickly falling on my sword. “My bad. Just slipped my to do list.”
“What’s wrong with the name?” asked Will.
“Can’t fuckin’ say it,” admitted Martin. “I can say Mike okay. Just change the last name to Jones or Wilson. What the fuck do I care as long as it’s not Lowwwwwwry.”
Everybody laughed again. Martin was not amused. I made a note to change the character’s last name.
After the lunch break, Will was quick to take me aside.
“You are not changing that name,” Will insisted.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Funny every time he tries to get his mouth around it.”
“So we’re good. You’re not changin’ it, right?”
“And when Martin tries to fire me, you’re gonna protect me?”
“Got your back, brothuh.”
The following Monday we started filming. And come Tuesday evening we were on the first scene where Martin would have to pretend to be Mike Lowwwwwwwry. I’d not-so-coincidentally driven down to our South Beach set for the big moment Martin knocked on Julie’s apartment door, flashed his Miami PD badge, and announced that he was Mike Lowwwwwry.
I glanced around. Will Smith was nowhere in the area code. Our assistant director informed me that the future world’s biggest movie star had jetted up to New York City for the night.
Sure, Will, I griped to myself. Who’s got my back now?
“Action,” yelled Michael Bay.
“Julie? It’s Mike Lowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwry,” said a dutiful Martin Lawrence.
Four takes later, the new director was on to his next set up. This is where Martin Lawrence sidled up to me.
“Mother fucker,” he began rather softly. “You didn’t change the name.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Need every laugh we can get.”
“S’pose that shit’s funny,” said Martin. “When I get back to L.A., gonna ask my TV show producers to hire you as a writer.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But I’m not a sitcom guy.”
“I hear ya,” said Martin, who gave me a friendly nudge before disappearing into his trailer.
With the Martin hurdle cleared there would be five thousand more before we wrapped. Maybe someday I’ll tell you how Jerry Bruckheimer kindly asked me to write Don Simpson out of the movie. That was a doozy.
Read my new thriller, THE SAFETY EXPERT. Available in trade paperback and ebook at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.