Kumail Nanjiani and the French dancing duo Les Twins also join what’s shaping up to be one iconic ensemble.
Every so often — provided that any given blockbuster does its job right — the film industry at large suddenly becomes a little more attuned to the talents of certain actors. In the case of Rafe Spall, who has spent a long time playing peripheral characters, this could be exactly what’s happening.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, F. Gary Gray’s Men in Black spinoff has added Spall to its burgeoning cast list. The production has also hired French street dancing duo Les Twins, and THR confirms an earlier report by That Hashtag Show that Kumail Nanjiani would feature in the film.
The MIB universe is about to go global with a new pair of agents kicking intergalactic butt, but we’re still waiting on actual details about the spinoff to drop. In the absence of a concrete plot, a lot of the excitement surrounding the next Men in Black movie actually centers on the film’s cast and crew.
Most of us still celebrate the dominion of the four white Chrises over big-budget Hollywood productions… as long as they have the right onscreen partner. Hence, to know that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will indeed be re-teaming on Gray’s Men in Black kicked up excitement levels tenfold. This is a dynamic that we can absolutely count on for chemistry, wit, and equality, and they made a formidable pair in Thor: Ragnarok.
The further addition of Liam Neeson as the head of the MIB’s London faction is perhaps less groundbreaking. However, even filling an inconsequential role with such a noteworthy name in a massive ensemble film like this makes perfect sense. For Neeson, it’s about getting paid, and for us it’s about recognizing an old film star doing exactly what he’s most famous for.
Where do Spall, Nanjiani, and the Les Twins fit into this jumble? With newcomers like the dancing duo, who’ve made a name for themselves via YouTube, music videos, and modeling, there’s not very much we can say about them except “we’ll wait and see.”
Meanwhile, Nanjiani has been on a roll for some time, and this is just the next wonderful addition to his filmography. Nanjiani may be playing a wisecracking alien who serves as comic relief in the Men in Black spinoff, but the role feels less trivial when considered alongside the rest of his upcoming starring slate. His excellent comedic timing would perfectly add to the levity of the film.
Spall, who feels like he’s been teetering on the edge of greatness for a long time, has appeared in extremely commendable films. He invariably pops up in Edgar Wright’s films as a supporting actor, with Shaun of the Dead being one of his earliest films. He continued to feature in the rest of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy plus Wright’s contribution to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse — the fictitious trailer Don’t.
Spall’s earlier career was filled with British dramas, with a notable collaboration being Lexi Alexander’s Green Street starring Elijah Wood and Charlie Hunnam. Then, 2011 brought about a slight turn of the tide, and he featured prominently in two films in completely different genres. He portrayed William Shakespeare as a drunken manipulative mess in Roland Emmerich’s period drama Anonymous and an important love interest to Anne Hathaway’s character in Lone Scherfig’s romantic drama One Day.
Spall has worked with big directors throughout his career, collaborating with Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, Adam McKay, and Steven Spielberg. Yet a wider breadth of his talents is usually displayed in the smaller works in his filmography: X+Y and The Ritual are solid examples. Both of these movies still happen to be ensemble pieces, but Spall manages to steal the show in different ways.
X+Y is a film about a mathematics prodigy who learns about life and love through his mother, a tutor (Spall) who struggles with his own demons, and a girl he eventually falls in love with. As a complicated father figure to the film’s young protagonist, tension, anger, and eventually love and understanding suffuses every scene Spall inhabits with micro precision. He also holds his own against the Sally Hawkins, which is exceptional.
Meanwhile, The Ritual balances out its creepy atmosphere with some attempts at character building, and out of four main characters, Spall takes center stage the most. The film taps into a similar sense of latent resentment that Spall portrays in X+Y, as he makes the main moral quandary of the film particularly compelling amidst the visceral terrors of a monster movie set in the woods.
Which brings us to Spall’s latest movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, in which he reverts to a smaller role but continues to hold onto our attentions commendably. By no means does he play a character with much depth – in fact, it’s distinctly a caricature – yet he is able to portray the duality of charm and repulsion.
A performance like that would definitely work well in the Men in Black spinoff, even in a film that’s filled to the brim with such boisterous personalities. Ensembles big and small simply benefit from Spall’s performances, and he’s moving on up in the world.