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Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones, co-star of the "Man Of The House" Movie!

An eighth-generation Texan, actor Tommy Lee Jones attended Harvard University, where he roomed with future U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Though several of his less-knowledgeable fans have tended to dismiss Jones as a roughhewn redneck, the actor was equally at home on the polo fields (he's a champion player) as the oil fields, where he made his living for many years. After graduating cum laude from Harvard in 1969, Jones made his stage debut that same year in A Patriot for Me; in 1970, he appeared in his first film, Love Story (listed way, way down the cast list as one of Ryan O'Neal's fraternity buddies). Interestingly enough, while Jones was at Harvard, he and roommate Gore provided the models for author Erich Segal while he was writing the character of Oliver, the book's (and film's) protagonist. After this supporting role, Jones got his first film lead in the obscure Canadian film Eliza's Horoscope (1975). Following a spell on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, he gained national attention in 1977 when he was cast in the title role in the TV miniseries The Amazing Howard Hughes, his resemblance to the title character -- both vocally and visually -- positively uncanny. Five years later, Jones won further acclaim and an Emmy for his startling performance as murderer Gary Gilmore in The Executioner's Song.

Jones spent the rest of the '80s working in both television and film, doing his most notable work on such TV miniseries as Lonesome Dove (1989), for which he earned another Emmy nomination. It was not until the early '90s that the actor became a substantial figure in Hollywood, a position catalyzed by a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Oliver Stone's JFK. In 1993, Jones won both that award and a Golden Globe for his driven, starkly funny portrayal of U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive. His subsequent work during the decade was prolific and enormously varied. In 1994 alone, he could be seen as an insane prison warden in Natural Born Killers; titular baseball hero Ty Cobb in Cobb; a troubled army captain in Blue Sky; a wily federal attorney in The Client; and a psychotic bomber in Blown Away.

Jones was also attached to a number of big-budget action movies, hamming it up as the crazed Two-Face in Batman Forever (1995); donning sunglasses and an attitude to play a special agent in Men in Black (1997); and reprising his Fugitive role for the film's 1998 sequel, U.S. Marshals. The following year, he continued this trend, playing Ashley Judd's parole officer in the psychological thriller Double Jeopardy. The late '90s and millennial turnover found Jones' popularity soaring, and the distinguished actor continued to develop a successful comic screen persona (Space Cowboys [2000] and Men in Black II [2002]), in addition to maintaining his dramatic clout with roles in such thrillers as The Rules of Engagement (2000) and The Hunted (2003). Tommy was born on September 15, 1946, in Texas.

In building a picture of Tommy Lee Jones, it's interesting to compare him to others born in the same year. Like Dolly Parton, he's a down-home country-type, but with a similar wild streak to David Lynch's. Onscreen, he possesses the same outlandish charisma as Alan Rickman. Off-screen, his passion and artistic tunnel-vision have caused him problems with his peers, much like Syd Barrett. But then that year also saw the arrival of Ted Bundy and Ian Lavender, so go figure.

Perhaps it's more revealing to compare him with Oliver Stone. Both are challenging and controversial in their work, both have risen from rough, macho beginnings to the heights of Hollywood (a system in which they excel yet somehow do not fit), and both have peculiar and uncompromising views of how things should be done. And strangely, considering they have so many similarities and have worked together so many times, Stone and Jones were born on exactly the same day - the 15th of September, 1946.

Tommy's birthplace was San Saba, Texas, about 80 miles north-west of Austin. He's an 8th generation Texan, though he's one quarter Cherokee, with Welsh ancestry. His father, Clyde C. Jones (he had no middle name, just the C), was an oil-field worker, who'd laboured in Libya, but mostly in Texas. Tommy's mother, Lucille Marie (nee Scott, known as Marie), was a police officer and a hairdresser, later owning a beauty parlour. She bore another child, a son, when Tommy was 3, but the child sadly died in infancy.

Tommy's early life was tough. The family originally raised cattle, but were crushed by an extended drought in the early Fifties and forced to rethink their lives. Clyde was a drinker and Tommy's described his relationship with him as "combative and emotionally abusive. He wasn't there for me that much". Clyde and Marie would divorce when Tommy was still young, then remarry and divorce again.

Disturbed by his turbulent home-life, Tommy threw himself into both studies and sport. At Alamo Junior High, in Midland, he was a fine student and a keen football player, and these qualities won him a scholarship to St Mark's School of Texas, a prestigious prep school for boys, in Dallas. Football came to dominate his life, but did not prevent him from getting involved in the most un-jock-like pastime of acting. Having accidentally burst in upon a rehearsal of Mister Roberts, he was intrigued and enthused, quickly scoring parts in Under Milk Wood (perfect for a fine Welsh lad), and The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. "My feelings at this discovery," he said later "were indescribable".

In his late teens, he worked to finance himself on the oil-fields and in underwater construction, building the rugged persona we know so well today. Then came another football scholarship, this time to Harvard. Here, between 1966 and 1968, he was a real football star, an All-American who made the All-Ivy and All-East teams. In '68, he played offensive guard in The Tie, a famous 29-all draw with Yale. His ambition, naturally for a Texan kid, was to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Trouble was, despite being 6 feet tall and fairly well-built, he was too small. "I played a good game," he's said "but I was often at the mercy of the bigger guys". So Tommy turned his attention to the liberal arts, and went back to acting. He joined the Drama Club and, in the summers, he worked in rep in Boston and Cambridge, playing alongside the likes of James Woods, Stockard Channing and John Lithgow, doing a fair amount of Shakespeare. Then, in 1969, having graduated cum laude in English and American Literature, he said goodbye to Harvard (and his room-mate Al Gore, later to be Bill Clinton's Vice-President, and still a good friend of Tommy's), and took off for New York, to seek a career in theatre. There had been no acting classes - he was all about experience.

Amazingly, he got a job within 10 days, in a Broadway adaptation of John Osborne's A Patriot For Me, both a spy story and a study of early 1900's decadence in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Over the next few years, there'd be plenty of stage work, including Fortune And Men's Eyes, Four In The Garden (with Carol Channing and Sid Caesar), Blue Boys, Ulysses In Nighttown (with Zero Mostel), and the New York Shakespeare Festival's staging of Sam Shepard's True West. And there would be love, too. Soon after moving to New York, Tommy met Kate Lardner, an actress and soon a writer, and grand-daughter of the famous writer and columnist Ring Lardner. The couple would marry, with Tommy taking on Kate's two kids.

Things were moving fast. 1970 saw Tommy's big screen debut. Incredibly, it wasn't as a rough cow-hand or a smiling psychopath, but as Ryan O'Neal's roomie in the massively popular Love Story. Indeed, it was said that the book's author, Erich Segal, had based O'Neal's character, Oliver, on both Al Gore and Tommy himself. There'd also be Eliza's Horoscope, a weird-out Canadian production about a freaky girl seeking a soul-mate, with many scenes coming over like hallucinations.
But Tommy's first breakthrough was in soap. One Life To Live was a very popular and very long-running series, involving the grand and the lowly folk of Llanview, Pennsylvania. And, like today's efforts, it made conscious attempts to deal with the issues of the day, like inter-racial relationships, drug addiction, cultism and even time travel. Many future stars would serve an apprenticeship here. Laurence Fishburne would show up a couple of years after Tommy, then Tom Berenger, Jeff Fahey and, in the early Nineties, Ryan Phillippe.

In One Life To Live, Tommy played Dr Mark Toland, a clean-cut medic with an increasingly obvious dark side (Toland was once described as being "more heel than healer"). Marrying into one of Llanview's richest families, he quickly showed himself to be horribly mendacious, uncontrollably adulterous and eventually murderous. But it was his penchant for blackmail that finally undid him. Trying to shake some poor woman down, he was shot dead - ironically, he was mistaken for a different adulterer.

The real reason behind Toland's sudden death was Tommy's decision that, after 5 years on the show, he needed to move on. He'd been working onstage at night, but his career was not really progressing. "I was reasonably well-known as a young actor," he said later "but Broadway was going through a phase of decay. The plays were getting bigger, broader, less dramatic and coarser... If I wanted my creative life to grow, the marketplace was telling me I needed to be more famous".

So, off he went to Los Angeles, taking Kate and the kids with him. And the parts came his way. Having appeared in the pilot episode of Charlie's Angels, where the girls went undercover at a vineyard, and the cheapo disaster flick Smash-Up On Interstate 5, he won his first stand-out role. This was as Coley Blake in Jackson County Jail where Frenchwoman Yvette Mimieux was robbed, jailed for having no passport, then raped by a copper who she promptly killed. Then she goes on the run with a charismatic, golden-hearted convict - Tommy.

This was a showy part, much like Martin Sheen's in Badlands, and brought Tommy to prominence in Hollywood. His next part would garner him national attention. The title role in The Amazing Howard Hughes really allowed him to open up. Funny, kind, cold, paranoid and wholly enigmatic, he wasn't exactly likeable, but he was genuinely sympathetic, making the mysterious Hughes far easier to comprehend. He was enjoying (newfound) wealth in real life, too. The end of 1976 had seen his marriage fall apart (he'd be divorced in 1978), and now he was fully engaging in the Hollywood lifestyle, with flashy cars and pneumatic starlets.

Work-wise, he was on the rise. In Rolling Thunder, he played a war veteran helping his old military buddy William Devane take bloody revenge in Civvy Street. Then came The Betsy, a blockbusting tale of race-driving and corporate skulduggery. Here Laurence Olivier played a patriarch who hires whizz-kid driver Tommy to help develop a fuel-efficient motor, against the wishes of Robert Duvall, Olivier's grandson and head of the family business, who actually wants to shut the motor division down. It was typical Seventies fare, a pre-Dynasty epic, but it was interesting for two reasons. One, Tommy worked for the first time with Duvall, who'd become a close friend and later co-star in one of Tommy's biggest hits. And it set Tommy against Olivier. Critics at the time said Olivier was near-sleepwalking through the production - apart from his scenes with Tommy. Legendarily competitive, Olivier came alive when Jones was present, his survival instinct kicking in when he was threatened by this ebullient, scene-stealing newcomer.

After The Betsy came another film typical of the decade. Written by John Carpenter, The Eyes Of Laura Mars had Faye Dunaway as a fashion photographer who starts having visions. More accurately, she starts seeing what a serial killer is seeing as they go about their beastly business. Tommy was the cop on the case, keeping it cool while Dunaway freaked and twitched in her usual histrionic manner.

Now came Tommy's second spell in the national limelight. Plans were afoot for a biopic of Country star Loretta Lynn, with Sissy Spacek set to star. Mike Nesmith, formerly of the Monkees but by now a respected solo musician and writer, was down to co-star as Loretta's husband, Doolittle Lynn, who married her when she was 13, recognised her talent, bought her a guitar and helped her on her way to superstardom. But Spacek, a Texas girl herself, had other ideas, and fought, successfully, for Tommy to play Doolittle. He did and, unbelievably charming and utterly credible, was nominated for a Golden Globe.

After this success, as is the way with Hollywood, Tommy was offered a plethora of down-home roles. He mixed pride and evil as Abner Snopes in Barn Burning, a revenge tale based on the work of William Faulkner. Then came Back Roads, a comedy directed by Martin Ritt and starring Sally Field, who'd recently won an Oscar for Ritt's Norma Rae. This was a hit-and-miss affair, concerning a Southern hooker (Field) who meets up with boxer-on-the-slide Tommy and takes off West in the hope of a better life. It was also one of the first examples of people reacting badly to Tommy's working practices. As tough on others as he is on himself, he's notoriously impatient with people he believes to be wasting his time. After the shoot, Field was quoted as saying "I never want to work with him again".

Yet Back Roads did bring Tommy some joy, as onset he met Kimberlea Gayle Cloughley. The couple would marry in 1981, remaining married till 1996, and producing two children - Austin Leonard, known as Bubba, and Victoria Kafka, called Tory.

Difficult though he was, Tommy was making a career playing difficult characters. Now came one of his finest hours, when he played Gary Gilmore in Norman's Mailer's The Executioner's Song. This was a biopic following Gilmore from May 1976 to January 1977. Released from jail, he'd killed two men in separate robberies and was sentenced to death by firing squad. Much controversy surrounded the case. The US government had only re-instated capital punishment in '76 and many were vehemently against it. But Gilmore, rather than appealing for the support of the decent millions, instead demanded that his sentence be carried out. And Tommy was brilliant in the lead role, wild and disturbed, for sure, but also genuinely human, asking the audience to consider what it is that makes such a criminal. Rosanna Arquette was tremendous, too, as a woman fatally attracted to bad men. Tommy earned his first major award, an Emmy.

Jones now played a series of troubled yet charismatic characters. In John Frankenheimer's The Rainmaker he was Starbuck, a travellin' witch-doctor promising to bring much-needed sky-fall to a drought-bound farm. Next he was Captain Bully Hayes in the 19th Century pirate adventure Nate And Hayes, written by a pre-Breakfast Club John Hughes. Then he was Martha Plimpton's ex-jailbird dad in The River Rat, where an idyllic country childhood is complicated by a murder mystery.

After this came a prime (and more theatrical) role in Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Here Tommy and Jessica Lange took the roles of alcoholic Brick Pollitt and his sexually rapacious wife Maggie, originally played by Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. It was a storming success, using a Williams script that reintroduced much of the sexual candidness missing from other productions.

Despite his evident talents, and the success of The Executioner's Song, Tommy was now slipping away from the big time. In The Park Is Mine, he played a Vietnam vet who, determined that his dead colleagues won't be forgotten, seizes hostages and takes over Central Park, defying the authorities with his cunning booby-traps and jungle warfare tactics. After this came Black Moon Rising, again written by John Carpenter, where he was an ex-thief, forced by the FBI to steal an incriminating tape from an evil corporation. Nearly caught, he hides it in a prototype super-car, itself then stolen by Linda "Terminator" Hamilton. Next came Yuri Nosenko, KGB, where Tommy played a CIA agent trying to ascertain whether a defector is for real. Then, in Broken Vows, he was an urban priest losing his faith who, intrigued by the last words of a murdered good-guy, helps his girlfriend seek the killer, at the same time learning about love and spiritual life in the city.

1987 brought Big Town, a Matt Dillon star-vehicle where Dillon was a small-town gambler making his way in the city. Scoring big in Tommy's club, he attracts Tommy's wife, leading to a final crap-table confrontation. Then came Stranger On My Land, where he played yet another Vietnam veteran, this time struggling to keep his farm from being snatched by the air-force. In April Morning, he played a gruff father tangled up in the outbreak of the American Revolution, while in Gotham he was a private dick hired to stop some fellow's wife from ripping him off. Trouble is, she's been dead for ten years!
Now things began to improve rapidly. Having played an American hard-nut, bringing his cool brand of mayhem to Newcastle's underworld, he hit the heights once more with the miniseries Lonesome Dove. This reunited him with Robert Duvall as they played two former Texas Rangers, now running a cattle company, who decide to run their herd up to Montana on one last great adventure. Along the way, they battle with bandidos, wind-storms, snakes and unfriendly Indians, and encounter lovers both old (Angelica Huston) and new (Diane Lane - earlier Tommy's co-star in Big Town). The show, with its detailed depiction of life in the Old West, was hailed as a classic, with Tommy, as Woodrow Call, being nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Now the roles became bigger again. In The Package, he played an assassin out to nail to Soviet premier and thus ruin an upcoming arms deal, while being pursued by agent Gene Hackman. The thriller was directed by Andrew Davis, later to direct Tommy in his greatest triumph, The Fugitive. Next he was a maverick flight instructor, schooling an unruly Nicolas Cage in Wings Of The Apache. Then came a classic role as Clay Shaw in Oliver Stone's JFK. Here he was the gentleman and businessman that Kevin Costner's Jim Garrison brings to trial over the Kennedy assassination. Was he lying? Was he working for the CIA? Jones gave nothing away, behaving with a constant and "impenetrable bemusement". His performance won him his first Oscar nomination.

Next came some fun, in Andrew Davis's Under Siege, where Tommy hammed it up as the malicious mastermind who takes over the USS Missouri, only to be foiled by that pesky chef Steven Seagal. Then there was more Oliver Stone, when he played a military man who can't let Vietnam go in Heaven And Earth. After this he played a child psychologist, helping Kathleen Turner's autistic son in House Of Cards. And then came the big one - The Fugitive. This, an adaptation of the old TV series, saw Harrison Ford wrongly accused of killing his wife and trying to track down the one-armed man who did it. Tommy was superb as Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, relentlessly on Ford's tail. Jones would win an Oscar for his efforts, and star in a sequel, US Marshals, where he went after Wesley Snipes. The movie was not quite as successful as The Fugitive, but still knocked Titanic from top spot.

After The Fugitive came Blown Away, where he played crazy bomber Ryan Gaerity, bringing chaos to the streets of Boston and persecuting his old terrorist mucker Jeff Bridges, now a respectable member of the Bomb Squad. Next came The Client, where he played the Scripture-quoting, thunder-stealing prosecutor of a Mob boss, causing problems for lawyer Susan Sarandon and her young star witness. Then he was flamboyant once more as warden Dwight McClusky in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, running his prison like a labour camp and revelling in the presence of the TV cameras following psycho-couple Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis.

Next came some smaller, but equally interesting projects. Blue Sky had been completed in 1991 but, due to the collapse of Orion Pictures, was shelved till 1994. Here Tommy was a US major, monitoring nuclear tests in Alabama while his beautiful but disturbed wife (Jessica Lange, winding him up once more) seeks comfort in the arms of Tommy's peer Powers Boothe. After this came Cobb. This was a biopic of the infamous baseball player Ty Cobb, a brilliant athlete seemingly keen to hurt both his opponents and friends. With a subject close to his own confrontational persona, Tommy was excellent, showing Cobb as angry, violent, racist, misogynist but, as with Gary Gilmore, very human.

After Cobb came a pet project, The Good Old Boys, which Tommy himself directed, having written a tele-play based on Elmer Kelton's novel. Here he played another charismatic cowpoke who, after years of carousing, returns to his brother's farm and tries to save it from foreclosure. His reputation for artistry brought in some heavyweight performers, like Frances McDormand and Sam Shepard, and he also repaid a favour by casting Sissy Spacek. A pre-Good Will Hunting Matt Damon was on hand, too.

With his Fugitive Oscar, Tommy was now resolutely of the Big League, and proved it by playing arch-villain Harvey "Two-Face" Dent in Batman Forever, directed by Joel Schumacher, helmsman of The Client. Two-Face is a former DA who blames Batman (Val Kilmer) for the accident that disfigured him, so he teams up with The Riddler to bring about the Dark Knight's downfall, as well as those of Robin (Chris O'Donnell, Tommy's Blue Sky co-star) and Batman's belle, Dr Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman). By now, Tommy was more than capable of hamming it up outrageously and, often standing beside Jim Carrey's frenetic, cane-wielding Riddler, was forced to really go for it, chuckling and gurning without cessation. Given Carrey's insane prancings, it was miraculous that Tommy wasn't blown off the screen. But, no matter how deranged Carrey's antics were, you still found your eyes drawn to Jones's manic grin.

It wasn't an easy shoot. Perhaps the competition between Jones and Carrey grew too intense but, afterwards, Schumacher claimed that Tommy had given Carrey "a horrible time" and "treated him with disdain", adding that "He's a bully... Not all the talent in the world excuses that kind of behaviour".

After Batman came more mayhem with Volcano, where he played the head of LA's Emergency Management team, trying to save his daughter, and everyone else from waves of lava that have just popped up in the city centre.

Then came his biggest hit yet, Men In Black. Here, as Agent K, he recruits Will Smith into an agency monitoring and often countering alien activity on Earth, basically blowing away creepy-looking things with great big guns. It was a monster, and spawned an equally monstrous sequel wherein K, who's had his memory removed on retirement from the agency, must have it restored if he's to help Smith save the world again. Hitherto known purely for his charisma and intensity, now Tommy was seen as a talented comedian. He commented on this with typical dryness, saying "the secret to being funny is to do everything Barry (Sonnenfeld, MIB's director) tells you and to stand very close to Will Smith %u2026 and then people think you're funny".

Tommy was now big news. US Marshals was a smash, as was Small Soldiers, for which he provided the voice of Major Chip Hazard. Even Double Jeopardy, a fairly weak remake where he played Ashley Judd's parole officer, beat off George Clooney's Three Kings to take top spot. After this came Rules Of Engagement, where he played a lawyer who must defend Samuel L. Jackson, an army man and former colleague, who saved his life in Vietnam. Tommy would get on well with the movie's director, fellow maverick William "Exorcist" Friedkin, and the pair would later collaborate on The Hunted. Here Tommy played a "deep woods tracker" for the FBI, pursuing Benicio Del Toro, himself playing a hunter who likes to hunt other hunters. It was a prequel to Shooter, another Friedkin-Jones collaboration yet to see the light of day.

After Rules Of Engagement, Tommy joined up with a team of ageing astronauts sent to save a falling Russian satellite in Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys. As "Hawk" Hawkins, a crazy test pilot who's now a crazy crop-duster, he was more than a match for Eastwood and fellow renegade Donald Sutherland. Then, of course, there was Men In Black 2, placing Tommy high up there in the Hollywood pantheon and ensuring his professional future for many years to come.

By this time, Tommy was married again, this time to Dawn Maria Laurel, 18 years his junior. She'd been an assistant camera-woman on The Good Old Boys, having earlier worked on Back To The Future 2 and Passenger 57. Tommy would live with her on his 3,000-acre ranch near San Antonio, where he raises cattle and ponies and invites such friends as Gore and Duvall, as well as Gary Busey, Willie Nelson and Oliver Stone. Each Autumn, too, he invites Harvard's best polo players down to practise - Tommy also raising ponies and being a fine polo player himself.

So, from the implausible beginnings of Love Story and soap operatics, Tommy Lee Jones has risen to the pinnacle of his profession, and plays action heroes well into his fifties. Such is his personality and mighty energy, it's impossible to think that he'll ever fade away.

 

More fast facts about Tommy Lee Jones

Imminently starring in MEN IN BLACK II, Jones has now signed on to another comedy project, cheerleading film CHEER UP.
In the futuristic action film ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), studio heads wanted Tommy Lee Jones for the lead role, but Kurt Russel landed the part.
According to author Erich Segal, Jones and his then Harvard roommate Al Gore, were the models for the character of Oliver in LOVE STORY (1970).
After graduating cum laude from Harvard in 1969, he made his stage bow that same year in A PATRIOT FOR ME.
Never took an acting class.
Part time cattle rancher, owns 3,000-acre ranch near San Antonio, TX.
Billy Dee Williams appears as Harvey Dent in BATMAN (1989), who in the comics became Two-Face. In BATMAN FOREVER (1995) it was Jones who played Harvey Dent/Two-Face.
Halted production of THE FIGHT (2001) for four months after Benicio Del Toro broke his wrist while doing a fight scene and pushing back the release date.
When he returns to the bombed-out embassy in RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (2000), there is a picture of Vice President Gore on the charred wall. Al Gore and Jones were roomates at Harvard.
Actually wrote his own monologue in EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978), unbeknownst to the Writers' Guild, but accredited it to film's director Irvin Kershner.
Was nominated for Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actor - Suspense in 2000 for DOUBLE JEOPARDY.
Tommy's father was abusive to him when Tommy was a child as Tommy himself has said on many occasions.
Trade mark: Deadpan delivery
He and Al Gore were roommates while the two were students at Harvard University. The two remain close friends.
Plays and raises polo ponies. His team recently won the U.S. Polo Association's Western Challenge Cup (1993). Invites the Harvard's best polo players to his ranch to practice each fall.
Father's name was Clyde C. He did not have a middle name, just an initial.
Real life son Austin played his son, Tommy, in Yuri Nosenko, KGB (1986) (TV)
Injured after falling from horse during polo match. (30 October 1998)
Writes most of his own most memorable lines in films: THE FUGITIVE (1993)... when Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) tells Marshal Gerard, I didn't kill my wife, Gerard replies, I don't care! Under Siege (1992)... William Strannix's speech after he loses his mind: Saturday morning cartoons... This little piggy... Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) ... John Neville's revealing speech at the end of the movie.
Ten days after graduating from Harvard, he landed his first role in the Broadway production of A Patriot for Me with Maxmillian Schell. Closed after 49 performances.
Good friends with: Al Gore, Willie Nelson, Gary Busey, Oliver Stone and Robert Duvall.
His ex-wife, Kate Lardner, is Ring Lardner's granddaughter.
Speaks Spanish fluently.
Is a first cousin of Box Car Willie, a famous country singer.
Was paid $20,000,000+ gross % for MEN IN BLACK II (2002)
Was paid $10,000,000 for U.S. MARSHALS (1998)
Was paid $7,000,000 for MEN IN BLACK (1997)
Played offensive guard in the famous 29-29 Harvard-Yale game of 1968
Nominated for Best On-Screen Duo at MTV Movie Awards for MEN IN BLACK (1998) - shared with Will Smith
Nominated for Best Villain at MTV Movie Awards for BATMAN FOREVER (1996)
Nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries at Screen Actors Guild Awards for THE GOOD OLD BOYS (1996)
Nominated for Best Villain at MTV Movie Awards for BLOWN AWAY (1995)
Nominated for Best Actor Supporting at BAFTA Awards for THE FUGITIVE (1994)
Nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at BAFTA Awards for JFK (1993)
Nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at Academy Awards for JFK (1992)
Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV at Golden Globe Awards for LONESOME DOVE (1990)
Nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special at Emmy Awards for LONESOME DOVE (1989)
Nominated for Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy at Golden Globe Awards for COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1981)

Tommy Lee Jones: "The Hunted"

In Paramount Pictures' "The Hunted," Tommy Lee Jones plays L.T. Bonham, a man who is riddled with guilt over decades of training men to kill. One of his star pupils, Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), reaches out for help as the nightmares of death and war overwhelm him, but Bonham's unwilling to respond to Hallam's cry for help. Bonham's inaction sets up a deadly chain of events and pulls Bonham out of retirement and back into his former life as a tracker.

During "The Hunted's" Los Angeles Premiere, actors Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro joined their director, William Friedkin, to discuss the special skills needed to portray these intense characters.

TOMMY LEE JONES (L.T. Bonham)

What new skills did you learn for this film?
Well, I learned a lot more about fighting with knives than I want to know. We had two guys working with us daily on what they referred to as 'the art of the blade.' If it is an art, it is an old one, very old. These guys had good teachers and their teachers had good teachers, all the way back through the ages. This style of fighting has an unpronounceable Malaysian name, actually. It is an art form to some people's way of thinking.

When the cameras are off, who can really kick who's butt? You or Benicio Del Toro? Who is the better fighter off-camera?
I don't know. I don't fight anybody anytime or anywhere and I expect it's the same with Benicio.

After completing “The Hunted,” what are you the most proud of?
I look upon pride as a sin (laughing).

Okay, then what are you the most excited about?
Just having a job (laughing).
How do you describe your character?
My character is kind of like to Tommy Lee Jones as Frankenstein's monster is to Dr. Frankenstein.

Can you discuss your experience working with Tommy Lee Jones?
It was great. When you are surrounded by good actors, your job is much easier. You are only as good as your co-stars, and he's amazing.

What was it like fighting Tommy Lee Jones? Is he as tough as he looks?
He's pretty damned tough (laughing). You want to fight on his team; you do not want to fight against him.
Connie Nielsen's practically the only female in "The Hunted." Why did you cast her as an FBI agent?
I met her and she has a quality that is the one thing I look for in an actor - intelligence. She has tremendous intelligence. She understood what to do with this, and that helps. You meet a lot of people, but what I look for in an actor that I'm going to work with is intelligence.

She had to do a scene where everybody in the room were real FBI agents and she had to be the boss. That was very hard for her - you can imagine - talking to a bunch of FBI people and really being concerned about being authentic. It's more than just being an actor, you've got to pass muster with the guys who are doing this job - men and women. That was difficult for her, I think, but I think she's great.

Why was it important to have real FBI agents on the set?
I always do that. If I'm doing a film about law enforcement people or bad guys, I use the real thing. I use real doctors playing doctors. Not in major roles, but what happens is it gives the actors who are playing a scene - and let's say they are supposed to be playing a cop or a doctor or a lawyer - it helps them to work with real lawyers and doctors and cops because they get a lot of feedback about what they are doing, from the people who are doing that.

Have you ever encountered any actors who are intimidated by having the 'real thing' in a scene?
It happens from time to time - I'm not going to name them - but I've never met anyone who wasn't helped by it. They get a lot from it. If you are playing an FBI agent and you're doing a scene with FBI agents and they say, “That was good,” that's better than the director telling you that's good. They know, they do it every day. I love to use that ability, to use the real thing.

What impressed you the most about working with Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones?
Their work ethic. They have the best work ethics of any actors I've ever worked with. They just don't stop. You can keep shooting with them all day and they would love it. They are absolutely marvelous people to work with. They arrive at the same destination from different directions. They have different methods.

Can you describe your style of directing "The Hunted?"
I talk to them about what we are trying to do and then I trust them to fulfill it. I don't rehearse with them. I don't believe in rehearsals. Once we have a chat about what we are all trying to do, I just tell them what the shot is going to be and then they do it and invest it with their incredible personalities and talents.

The greatest direction ever given was given by Serge Diaghilev to the great ballet dancer, Nijinsky. Diaghilev said to Nijinksy before he went out to perform, “Etonnez-moi,” which means “surprise me.” I try to always say the equilavent of that to an actor, and they always do.

Tommy Lee Jones stars in "Men in Black 2"

Tommy Lee Jones has often showed a visible disdain for the press. Now doing the rounds for the much-anticipated Men in Black 2, Jones is coolly cordial, shaking hands and responding simply. His lines on his weathered face are ones of age and experience. After all, Tommy Lee Jones has been carving a comfortable niche as a film star for over two decades. One of his MIB2 co-stars, Lara Flynn Boyle, happily defines him as not only the coolest guy in film, but also "the last real man in Hollywood." Jones smiles at the definition. "I don't know about that." Quietly stoic, Jones seems the perfect choice as apparent straight man to Will Smith in the MIB films. The sequel, which took close to five years to get off the ground, has Jones' Agent K with no memory of his alien-hunting days with one-time rookie Agent J [Smith], and is now working as a supervisor for a regional post office. But 'J' needs his help when a dangerous alien is bent on destroying earth. Despite the amount of time between the two films, Jones says he was more than happy to don the familiar black garb with no hesitation. "The best thing about THIS script was that it was going to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and it had Will in it. It also meant the chance for us to get back together and have some fun again", he matter-of-factly explains in his familiar Texan drawl. Jones, whose reputation for maintaining a serious work ethic in Hollywood is well known, also feels that having fun on a set is important. "That's a very important part of the process, especially on a project like this. Barry does not believe that you can ask the audience to have any fun, if YOU'RE not having any fun yourself. He dedicates himself to being sure that the day is fun, and Will and I try to do everything we can to do to help him."

Jones, who won an Oscar for his colourful performance in The Fugitive, agrees, comedy, this type especially, is tough. "A wise old actor once said that death is easy; comedy IS hard, which it is. I'm very lucky to be in the company of a couple of masters in Will and Barry." But in preparing to do a comedy, Jones insists he doesn't do anything differently from a drama. "I just learn my lines and pay attention; it's the same thing." Asked whether the sense of humour that permeates through MIB2 is akin to his own, Jones is adamant that not only is that the case, but that he would see the film if were not in it. "Hell yes I'd go and see this and everybody else should too. I think it's very funny and I hope I made some contribution to its sense of humour."

On this film, Jones had his daughter, Victoria, appear in one scene, and it was a proud day on the set. "She put in a solid day's work and is very conscientious. She was brought up on movie sets, so she felt comfortable." Jones wouldn't be drawn as to whether he necessarily would want her to pursue an acting career. "I just encourage her to be happy", though the actor does admit that acting is a hard game. "To start one's life as an actor is very, very difficult. There's no emotional or financial security to it."

Yet Jones has been a working actor for a little over 30 years. An eighth generation Texan, actor Tommy Lee Jones attended Harvard University, where he roomed with future U.S. Vice President Al Gore. After graduating cum laude from Harvard in 1969, Jones made his stage bow that same year in A Patriot for Me; in 1970 he appeared in his first film, Love Story (listed way, way down the cast list as one of Ryan O'Neal's frat buddies). After this supporting role, Jones got his first film lead in the obscure Canadian film Eliza's Horoscope (1975). In 1976, following a spell on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live, he gained national attention when he was cast in the title role in the TV miniseries The Amazing Howard Hughes (his resemblance to the title character, both vocally and visually, was positively uncanny). Six years later, Jones won further acclaim and an Emmy for his startling performance as murderer Gary Gilmore in The Executioner's Song. Jones spent the rest of the '80s working in both television and film, doing his most notable work on such TV miniseries as Lonesome Dove (1989), for which he earned an Emmy nomination. It was not until the early '90s that the actor became a substantial figure in Hollywood, a position cemented by a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Oliver Stone's JFK. Two years later, Jones won both that award and a Golden Globe for his driven, starkly funny portrayal of U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive. His subsequent work during the decade was prolific and enormously varied. In 1994 alone, he could be seen as an insane prison warden in Natural Born Killers, titular baseball hero Ty Cobb in Cobb, a troubled army captain in Blue Sky, a wily federal attorney in The Client, and a psychotic bomber in Blown Away.

Jones was also attached to a number of big-budget action movies, hamming it up as the crazed Two-Face in Batman Forever (1995), donning sunglasses and an attitude to play a special agent in the first Men in Black (1997), and reprising his Fugitive role for the film's 1998 sequel, U.S. Marshals. The following year, he continued this trend, playing Ashley Judd's parole officer in the psychological thriller Double Jeopardy.

Driven and passionate about his work, Jones and his family avoid Hollywood domesticity, preferring to reside in San Antonio, Texas, "a couple of blocks from my wife's mother, and a couple of blocks from MY mother." Far from the glitter of Hollywood, the 56-year old enjoys another passion that has emerged as a second career. "We're in the cattle business. We have two ranches, one is 164 miles from San Antonio, which is where I was born, and then there's another ranch 385 miles to the west." Yet being a rancher, Jones insists, has little to do with keeping it real from his life as a substantial player in the movie business. "I actually LIKE the movie business and work in it all year round, as well as ranching. One is not an antidote to the other, more a complement to the other, though acting is still what I like doing the most." When he has time, in between the ranching, the acting and the time spent developing his own projects, Jones also finds the time to indulge in polo, which he describes as not so much a passion, "but a game that I play; we're very serious about Polo here." Injured in a match a few years ago, Jones attacked a reckless media "for claiming that I'd been paralysed from the waist down, just to get a spike in their ratings. That was before I could call my mother and daughter to tell them I was ok."

Describing the press in relation to that incident as "predatory", Jones adds that in dealing with a frequently irresponsible media, "you have to watch it all the time, of course, and at the same time, not become cynical." And how does Tommy Lee Jones succeed in avoiding that cynicism? "I work at it ----- sometimes it's impossible", he concludes smilingly.

Tommy Lee Jones: The Hunted

The last time Tommy Lee Jones was in dogged pursuit of someone, he won an Oscar for his troubles. New thriller "The Hunted" can't match 1993's "The Fugitive" for fun, games, and train wrecks, but it does allow the 56-year-old Texan to go mano-a-mano with Benicio Del Toro and reteam with old pal William Friedkin.

This has to have been one of the most physically demanding roles you've done...

Well, I don't know if that's true or not, but it's safe to say it was extremely physical.

Tell us about the knife fighting you and co-star Benicio Del Toro had to master...

It's a Malaysian type of knife fighting. I worked with teachers who are experts in the art of the blade. It's a kind of fighting that's thousands of years old. We started training three months before filming began and we worked on it every day. It was really fun.

So were all the fight scenes carefully choreographed?

Absolutely. Nothing was improvised during the fight scenes. That would have been unsafe. We're not interested in danger; only the illusion of danger. Those fight scenes were done with very precise choreography.

What was it that drew you to the film?

I liked the cast and I had worked with the director William Friedkin before [on the 2000 thriller "Rules of Engagement"], and so I knew him and I liked him. And we would be shooting in exotic locations, which seemed like it would be fun.

Tommy Lee Jones: Space Cowboys

Where were you during the first moon landing:

I was in prep school trying to do homework at the time. No, I was at college. And also worrying about homework. You tend to forget when you get older.

You’re younger than your co-stars. How did that feel and how do you stay young:

I am a bit younger. I am barely 53 years old and I tried as hard as I could to fit into the company appropriately and I have not heard anyone complain about my youth. I stay young and fit by leading an athletic life and I have always been insured.

How did you find the nude scene:

The nude scene? That was no problem. It was just another day at the office. All you had to do was stand on a piece of paper marked on the floor and the camera dollied from right to left and it was over.

How was it wearing the space suit?

Here on earth it weighed 800lbs, and it was hard to put it on and take it off. Wearing one for six or seven hours and strapped to the end of a crane on a sound stage was difficult. You have fun for a little while, and then it is uncomfortable.

How would you like to make your stage exit?

The ideal situation would be to be playing "King Lear" on stage and you would be giving your 999th performance. You would then lay down at the end and say, "Never, never, never, never" and not come back for the curtain call.

Tommy Lee Jones: Rules Of Engagement

There are obviously insights into the character of Colonel Hodges in the script, but there’s a lot of history, there’s a lot to get over in his personality. How do you go about doing that?

Well Hayes Hodges is a fellow with little self-esteem and for good reason, he is essentially a failure at life. But on behalf of a friend he finally has to reach within himself to find the strength to do something heroic. It was an interesting set of problems for an actor [...] I know some people who lack self-esteem, I’m sure you do too. Well it’s my job to understand those people and to recreate that.

From the outside looking in, particularly when the battle scenes are up on the screen, it looks like it must be the best fun to do. In reality, is it really hard work or is it great fun to do?

Acting is fun for me and it doesn’t really matter how, whether it’s hard work or easy work, it’s always fun.

To get into character for that part of your role in Vietnam, did you have to spend a lot of time prepping?

We made a brief study of small arms combat tactics, taking turns ambushing one another and what it amounted to basically, was learning how to use the weapons and wearing clothes.

What is it about military, particularly US military movies, that people like do you think?

If military movies were automatically successful we'd make nothing but military movies. But seriously, patriotism is one thing that all Americans have in common.

Tommy Lee Jones: Men in Black II

How did you feel about doing a sequel?

No problem. I immediately wanted to do it because I had a lot of fun on the first one. The first 30 minutes of "MiB" were dedicated to putting forth a premise, creating a world in which there is an agency called Men In Black and we invited the audience into this world and then the story went on. When the film was over, I thought "I want to know what happens next. I want to go on some more adventures with these guys."

Did you and Will click straight away on set?

Well we had to. I was making another film when Barry Sonnenfeld [the director] started shooting so he had to shoot all the scenes in which I didn't appear first. Then he had Grand Central Station booked for a day's shooting - and that isn't easy to get - and I was filming up until the day before that in Washington State. So I flew in and we had to go that day at Grand Central. So we really had no choice, no warming up between Will and I. But happily that wasn't necessary, we were already good friends and have a good solid working relationship. And we worked really hard.

Do you like doing comedy?

Comedy roles haven't come my way a lot. I've really had a wonderful time doing this. I didn't have a lot of experience in my professional life with comedy so, after doing "Men in Black" and now this one, I now know everything there is to know! Really, the secret to being funny is to do everything Barry tells you and to stand very close to Will Smith... and then people think you're funny.

Why do you think the idea of aliens among us and agents tracking them down is so appealing to people?

I think it's funny, exciting, adventurous, scary, mysterious and then it's funny again. After you've seen it, you like to think back. If we've done our job right, the film is a lot of fun to remember.

Would you do "MiB III"?

Oh sure. I'd be ready to go tomorrow. They're some of the happiest days of my working life. I have a lot of fun and it's a great opportunity to make a lot of people laugh.

 

 

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