Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones is renowned to be a notoriously hard interview – and yes, he is. But you know what? The man has made so many terrific movies, and giving us such amazing performances over the years, that whining about someone not being overly talkative or enthusiastic about giving an interview seems stupid. In short, Tommy Lee Jones is a bonafide legend and it’s a simply pleasure to just get to spend time in the same room with the man. Just as we did on the day of the “MIB 3″ junket.

You like the 3D?
I have not seen the movie in 3D.

Do you have any thoughts on 3D in general?
No. Not really. I hope it’s fun.

When you think of 1969, was it an interesting year for you?

It’s the year I graduated from college. That was interesting. It was a different era. For most of 1969 I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The only way to describe it is the best of times and the worst of times.

K gets to show a little of his softer side in this film. I loved the more emotional scenes you had with Will. Good not to always play K so.. gruff?
I keep hearing the word gruff. I’m trying to play the screenplay as it’s written but I had a good time yeah.

Those scenes are fun with Will?

Every scene is… every day. Every minute is fun with Will.

What did you think of how Josh [Brolin] picked up on some of your mannerisms and the way you treated the dialog the first two times?

I thought it was just fine. I’ve only seen the movie in the form of rough work print. He seemed to have done a fine job.

Was it weird knowing that another actor is playing your character so he’s going to be observing you and trying to fit and mesh with what you’ve done?

Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve never done it before. It never happened to me before.

How does it feel coming back for a third installment of a film?

How does it feel coming back to do what?

For the third installment of the film.

For the third installment, well, how does it feel? It feels like you have a job.

How quickly did that chemistry that we see as an audience between you and Will onscreen happened? Was it in the first scene you guys did in the first film or did you have to figure it out and develop it?

Both. He’s a very good actor. He’s a fine actor. We developed a rapport right away and became friends as time went on.

Is there something that you know you can draw out of him that’s going to play well? Do you have certain instincts towards what you’re going to do that’s going to provoke a great response out of Will.

No, not really. I don’t think we do anything by instinct. I think birds fly south by instinct but we don’t make movies by instinct. We work very hard.

Other than Sam Gerard, I think K is the only other character that you’ve actually come back to. So it seems to me that doing either a franchise or a sequel is something that you need to be talked into? Is there a character, for instance, that you’ve done that you would like to return to?

I can’t think of any character that I’ve done that I want to return to. I don’t have to be talked into doing a sequel. I simply have to be convinced that it’s worthwhile and that it pays very well.

Fun doing the restaurant scene with the aliens? Hard acting opposite… nothing?

No. It wasn’t different than any other experience of shooting a scene in Men in Black. You point the ray gun and imagine that there is an alien there and then he explodes into a blob of goo because you know that’s what’s going to happen. It’s simple once you learn how to do it.

What’s the best part of playing this role?

The best part is again, having a job…working.

Are there certain type of characters you like to play over others?

No.

With Josh, you worked together on ”No Country for Old Men”, right?

We were in the same movie but we did not work together.

Did you sit down with him with this at all or did he get all your mannerisms from watching the movies or did you talk with him at any point?

No. We didn’t talk much if any about this character because you can’t learn more about the character by talking to me than you can by looking at it.

He did a lot of that I think watching the movies.

I don’t know but I assume he did.

Were you able to recognize that Josh was doing you, I mean, with the thing that you saw or was it all completely foreign to you?

Neither. I just watched the movie.

Have you ever had to play a role where you’ve had to borrow from another actor like somebody playing a different age or something like that.

No. Okay. Next.

You directed again last year I guess it was a TV…a Cormac McCarthy adaptation.

It was a play written by Cormac.

The Sunset Limited. It seems as though when you did Melquiades Estrada there was a sense that you might be moving more in that direction but it’s taken awhile to see you in the director’s chair again. Is it a matter of the material? What goes into your choice to direct a film?

First of all, thank you for being able to pronounce the name. The rest of the question was…I’ll need to hear the rest of the question again.

Just a sense of is that a direction that you’re moving in because I think that you really felt good when we spoke to you for The Three Burials. There was a sense that you felt good about that experience. So I thought perhaps we’ll see you do more of that.

I hope so. Those jobs are hard to get.

It’s a different investment in time and creative energy as well.

Yeah it is but it all has to do with cinema. I want to be a movie director to answer your question simply, yeah.

Do you enjoy directing rather than acting?

No. I like doing both.

How was to work with Sonnenfeld? You talk about the special effects it was kind of the same thing for you, the action sequences than in the past. Was it the same with him? Did he wanted to add anything in particular to your character in this movie or to the dynamic with Will’s character in this case?

I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.

Sonnenfeld directed you in a different way. In this case, did he want to add anything? Did he suggest anything?

No. Barry is rather consistent. He didn’t do anything different.

This was actually filmed in New York. What was that experience like?

I don’t know. All of the parts of this franchise that I worked on was in New York.

Is the on-location filming on the street with people watching, is that a different experience especially with a movie with so many special effects?

Actually, the people of New York are beautiful people but when it comes to our movie set in Men in Black, their uniform men held at bay so you’re not really aware of them.

Do you have a favorite moment in this movie?

No. Actually I don’t. I hope all the moments are good ones.

Because you’ve had a really expansive career, do you feel like you’ve accomplished everything you want or is there a thing that you still want to do?

No. I haven’t accomplished everything I want.

What’s left?

I want to direct a bunch of movies and act in a bunch of movies and write some from now on.

You might be able to comment on Rick Baker’s work and his team. It’s interesting as time progresses technology progresses, he has to change what he does in terms of adjusting to making monsters and aliens digitally rather than some of the prosthetics. I was just kind of wondering what your commentary is on his work. On this movie there are some pretty spectacular creatures.

I agree with you. Rick’s work is spectacular and original and fun to watch.

How much of it is ever practical on set that you get to see?

I don’t know. On the set you see a lot of really interesting special effects makeup and creatures that are just really fun to look at and to interact with or not interact with. Whatever they motivate, it’s a really beautiful box of toys.

Are you still able to be impressed by what they’re able to do with all that technology in creating creatures and monsters?

Impressed. I don’t get bored. I appreciate work of the highest quality when it comes to moviemaking.

Are you interested in how “MIB 3″ will go down with the kids who never saw the original two?

Yeah. I’m interested in how younger people approach this movie because that’s our audience. We play to and play for the younger imaginations, the fresher imaginations in the audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people who have lived the shortest amount of time. Some people maintain a fresh imagination well into their 20s and others never lose it.

What does it do for your sense of imagination? I think acting is an exercise in imagination. When you have a historical character, you’re playing Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln and you got Doris Kearns Goodwin’s work that’s there. I don’t know if she’s actually present on the set.

Yes. She came to us one day.

Is there a sense when you know that there is historical fact and you can look at photographs and read documents that this person wrote, how does that tie into the imagination part of creating a character?

It ties in. You’re recreating – I don’t know if you recreate – you’re representing an image of a historical figure. Not a lot of people know who Thaddeus Stevens was or what he did or what he wanted to do. To represent him as a character in a movie you need to read some books and study history and draw some conclusions from that – inspiration you might say are resources for the actor’s imagination.

Have you already read those books or did you do research for the role?

Both.

Older K or younger K, which one is better looking?

I don’t know. I don’t have any idea how to answer that question.

What are some of the qualities of Barry as a director that you – you’ve been working with him for three times – really have come to greatly appreciate or maybe even admire?

Barry is silly as a goose for starters. Also, he knows how cameras work. He knows a lot more about cameras than he’ll let on. He has a great deal of control on a movie set. That’s something that he tries to hide or gloss over. He would like you think that he’s a great big silly baby but he’s not fooling me. I know that he can shoot.

Are there any directors that you’ve worked with throughout your career that you’ve drawn particular inspiration from in terms of your own ambitions to direct?

Yeah.

Who might they be?

I don’t know. I like the way Oliver Stone works. I like the way Barry works. I like the way Clint Eastwood works. I have just now named three directors and I’ve left out 40 or 45. I don’t mean to sleight anyone. The real answer is I take inspiration from every one of them – inspiration from what they do well and from the mistakes they make that I’m determined not to repeat.

Is there anyone in history that you admire that you want to do one-man-show on like a play maybe?

No.

You don’t like anybody that well.

No. I don’t like one-man-shows that well. I like a lot of people.

You were talking about Barry as a director; one of the things that he has said about you that he really appreciates is how rapidly you can deliver dialog. He says, faster and funnier seems to be his classic directing advice when he’s doing comedy.

Also, he has other exhortations, “Tommy, could you be more Jack Webby?” for example.

What does that mean to you?

I don’t have a clue. I think it means to be more like Jack Webb on Dragnet, monosyllabic maybe.

Just the facts.

Yeah.

How did you prepare for this part?

You learn the lines, show up, hit the mark, and interact with people.

Is there anything about yourself that you put in this character?

No. No. No.

Do you look forward to ”Men in Black 4” coming up?

Sure. I hope we can start tomorrow. {laughing}

At this point in your career, what validates the work, do you know when you’ve hit it?

Do I know what?

Do you know when you’ve hit it, about the mark?

I’m talking a piece of tape on the floor when I use the word ‘mark.’

But do you know when you’ve hit your mark?

Yeah. It’s a mark of where you’re supposed to stand if you’re going to be in focus and if you’re going to be in the light like you’re supposed to be. Once I see those things, after years of practice, I can hit one without looking at it. I can pretty much tell what the light is doing by just feeling it.

What about your creative mark?

Oh my creative mark, I’m pretty well convinced that my reach will always exceed my grasp.

Sci-fic films have become very mainstream. I’m curious, what are your thoughts about that kind of a shift in audience? Does it make sense to you that these movies are now being appreciated by everyone as opposed to just a small group of people?

I don’t do that kind of thinking. I don’t know about trends in audience behavior or preference. I don’t know anything about trends at all or fads or fashion. My mind is a total blank in that area.

When you initially read the script, was there anything in the 1960’s portion of the script that informed you about your character and that you didn’t already know?

No. I didn’t read that part of the script very much. I read it once but after that, since I wasn’t in it, I didn’t pay much attention.

You were talking a bit about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and knowing where the light is and being aware of that, but the changing technology is making that more flexible now. We’ve been hearing a lot of directors talking about working with digital cameras means they’re more forgiving of the lighting, that if the actor decides to move to a different place, the camera can stay with you and still get usable material. Do you get a sense that something is changing? Have you been working on sets where there is digital cameras?

Oh yes, I worked with digital cameras as an actor and as a director. First of all, I don’t live in a world where an actor decides to change the mark, as an actor or a director. I wouldn’t depend on digital photography to correct a whimsical actor and I wouldn’t be a whimsical actor. I think the control comes in postproduction. It’s a color correction and then a change of color becomes handier in a big factor. At Deluxe Color Lab, for example, you can change color anywhere. You can change small pieces of a frame or all of it. You have a lot more control and it’s instant. It’s not a chemical process.

You need to wait to see results.

Yeah. It’s not a witch’s brew. It’s a dial. You understand?

Yeah.

Thank you