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Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones Solo

“I just like being around a movie camera.”

Tommy Lee Jones
By E.C. Gladstone

Tommy Lee Jones is not exactly the first Oscar-awarded actor you would expect to “go Indie.” After all, the most recent flick from this soap opera veteran (One Life To Live, 1971-75) was cheerleader comedy Man of the House, and his biggest hits of the last ten years are the ultra-commercial Men In Black(s), Space Cowboys and Batman Forever. Then again, Jones, 59, is one of those Teflon performers who manages to maintain a certain grit in any venue, thanks to unforgettable roles in The Missing, Rules of Engagement, The Fugitive (there’s the Oscar), JFK, Lonesome Dove, the Executioners Song, and Eyes of Laura Mars.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, then, is not just another vanity-project Indie film. As Jones’ feature-directorial debut (he directed the cable movie Good Old Boys for TNT ten years ago), it may not be surprising that it takes place in the actor’s native West Texas. What will surprise, though, is the slow, contemplative tone of the film, and it’s decidedly non-flag-waving tenor. Jones plays a gringo cattle ranch foreman whose Mexican friend is mysteriously shot along the border region. Fed up with the inept and racist local law enforcement (represented in an ambitious performance by a nearly unrecognizable Dwight Yoakam), the foreman takes matters into his own hands, forcing a suspect border patrolman (Barry Pepper) to help him find an appropriate resting place for his friend’s remains.

Jones is clearly a deliberate filmmaker, choosing everyone he works with carefully, from screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) to the aforementioned actors, and score composer Marco Beltrami. And it can’t be an accident that director Luc Besson is one of the film’s executive producers. It won Best Screenplay (Arriaga) and Best Actor (Jones) at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Phoning from his San Antonio home, Jones is admittedly tired from traveling and on his way to a Spurs game, both elements further exaggerating his generally established reticence as an interview subject. Nevertheless, we managed to get a few chuckles out of him…

EG: You’ve been in the business for about 35 years, and only directed a film once before ten years ago. What made you want to do this project, and why now?

TLJ:“I had a simple desire to satisfy my lust for creative control. I’m interested in making movies about my country, and Guiermo’s interested in making movies about his country, and it doesn’t take much time to realize the countries are the same.

EG: How did you find the script?

TLJ: “Guillermo and I pretty much developed it together. I asked him to make himself aware of a kid killed at the hands of the United States Marine Corps a few years ago in the town of Redford, but I didn’t want to make a movie about that kid. The incident revealed social tensions that were of concern

EG: You’ve done an awful lot of roles. This might not be the kind of role people would expect to see you do, or the type of film. Was that part of what was of interest to you?

TLJ: “I’d have to double check on the assumptions in the question. I’d have to ask you what kind of role it is and what kind of movie it is. If this is not what I do, what kind is this?

Continued at Pt. 2

Read More

-FF-

copyright 2007, ECG

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