Meanwhile back on the ranch: Tommy Lee Jones honored by SBIFF for accomplished career

January 31, 2008 8:19 AM
For more then 30 years, actor Tommy Lee Jones has found a comfortable niche playing both hero and villain and characters that share a little bit of both.
He’s played killer Gary Gilmore in “The Executioner’s Song” — his first Emmy Award — and Loretta Lynn’s husband in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” He’s been in some of 1990s biggest blockbusters — “The Fugitive (his first Oscar, too, for Best Supporting Actor) and its sequel; “Men in Black” and its sequel.
But 2007 turned out to be a dramatically successful year for Mr. Jones as well. His grief-stricken father in Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah” and his troubled sheriff in “No Country for Old Men,” both embody a country that still knows what it takes to be great but fears it has irrevocably lost its way. The actor receives the American Riviera Award from Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday at the Lobero Theatre.
In interview, however, Mr. Jones remains serious and taciturn. And though he does own a ranch outside of San Antonio, he’s reluctant to draw any comparisons between his characters and himself. “I don’t identify with any of the characters I play,” he says. “I think that professional objectivity is important to me.”
Yet his desire to act and his big break stem from a desire to be something larger than life. Although his first film role was in “Love Story” (in which the Ryan O’Neil character was modeled on both Mr. Jones and his roommate at Harvard, Al Gore), Mr. Jones managed seven years in New York theater, some appearances in episodic TV drama, and then scored his breakthrough with Roger Corman, who cast him as Coley Blake in “Jackson County Jail.”
“I left (New York City) saying what I really want to do . . . was play a character who gets to carry a big pistol and have a woman at his side. And I got to do that . . . and that’s when I started making American movies. I earned enough money I could buy myself a second-hand pickup.”
In answering several questions about acting, Mr. Jones’ views are utilitarian. There’s no mystery to it. It’s a job. His ability to navigate a career without the typecasting is equally without special meaning. “I don’t put it down to anything. I just do my best in the role.”
What does animate Mr. Jones is talking about the San Antonio ranch, and even then, it’s to note that it isn’t a getaway — there’s hard work, too.
“When I’m there I drive around in my truck with a clipboard and make sure things get done. I try to be on hand for cattle working. I’m there when we buy cattle, and I deal with stocking rates. I could tell you more, but it would sound like Agriculture 101.”
Mr. Jones’ Hollywood clout and determination to tell stories has led to directing, once in 1995 (“The Good Old Boys”) and in 2005 for “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” It’s a film he holds dear — and one that few people have seen.
He urges his fans to seek it out.
Mr. Jones also holds rights to Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” and another novel adaptation he is trying to get off the ground, Ernest Hemingway’s last novel, “Islands in the Stream.”
“It was made into a bad movie once,” Mr. Jones says. “But I believe there’s a good movie in the book.” He has co-written the script and plans to direct.
Regardless, he begins 2008 ready to work as usual. Does he have time to relax? The answer is typical Tommy Lee Jones:
“Well, I’m pretty well relaxed most of the time. I’m relaxed on set. The faster you work, the more you have to relax.”
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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