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Tommy Lee Jones

UXL Biographies. 2011. Lexile Measure: 1100L.
Born: September 15, 1946 in San Saba, Texas, United States
Other Names: Jones, Tom Lee
Nationality: American
Occupation: Actor
Full Text: 

From a small part in Love Story in 1970 to an Oscar-winning performance in 1994's blockbuster The Fugitive, Tommy Lee Jones has had a successful acting career.

Craggy-faced and athletic, actor Tommy Lee Jones's appearance and deadpan delivery have made him a natural for tough guy, law enforcement, military, and villain roles. And while the Oscar-winning actor has enjoyed success portraying characters in these types of roles, Jones's versatility as an actor has helped him land a variety of starring roles in television and in films.

Despite his success in Hollywood, however, Jones has never granted many interviews and is known for his reclusive tendencies. Jones has appeared in a wide variety of movies throughout his career, including notable roles in the Men in Black film series, The Fugitive (1993), U.S. Marshals (1998), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), No Country for Old Men (2007), The Company Men (2010), Men in Black III (2012), Hope Springs (2012), and Emperor (2012). Jones also received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln. As of early 2013, he also was working on a movie called Malavita.

Early interest in the theater

Jones was born in San Saba, Texas, on September 15, 1946. He was the only child of an oil-drilling contractor and a homemaker (who had a short stint as a police officer). Jones attended St. Mark's School of Texas, a reputable boarding school near Dallas. Here he first became interested in the theater and began acting in dramatic roles.

Based on his ability and the quality of his secondary schooling, Jones was accepted into Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When questioned by Bernard Weinraub in the New York Times about the apparent contradiction between his west Texas upbringing and the Harvard, Ivy-League image, Jones retorted "If you're saying, Tommy Lee, you don't fit the image of the East Coast, social elitist wealthy people who comprise Harvard, the only thing I can say is you have no idea what comprises [makes up] Harvard."

Jones spent his undergraduate career pursuing a degree in English and playing football. Vice president Al Gore, who also was a Harvard student at that time, became a good friend. (During the 1992 presidential campaign, Jones helped the Clinton/Gore election bid by campaigning for the Democratic team in Texas.)

Finds work on Broadway

At Harvard, Jones continued to be fascinated with the stage, even though he never took an acting lesson. He tried out for many parts both at college and in the Boston/Cambridge area. Following graduation, he decided to move to New York and try his hand at theater there. Unlike many young and relatively inexperienced actors, Jones had little problem finding work. Less than ten days after arriving in the city, Jones was cast in a Broadway play. He played five different characters in the production Patriot for Me, yet spoke only five words. But it was a start, and also a sign of good luck to come. Jones soon was earning roles on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in such places as the New York Public Theater.

Jones had the opportunity to act alongside one of his idols, Zero Mostel, in a performance of Ulysses in Nighttown. Jones commented in the New York Times that "it was great to watch Mostel's energy, where he succeeded, where he failed. Every day was a brave new world for me. It was an important period in my life." In addition, Jones worked relatively steadily in soap operas during the daytime hours.

Even though Jones had found success in his New York stage acting career, he realized that he would have to make a move if he was to become more creatively challenged. "I was bumping against a ceiling in the theater," he told Weinraub. The character of Broadway was changing, and Jones felt that the standards for acting were dropping—that the name of the performer outweighed the importance of a quality performance. Consequently, Jones was rejected for roles that often went to actors with less experience, but who were more well known from television or film appearances.

Moves to California

Factors such as these convinced Jones of the need to move to California. Once again, he had little trouble landing roles. His first film appearance was in Love Story in 1970. A short time later, he had a major part in the film Jackson County Jail, where he played the reckless, on-the-loose hero. While the film did not draw large box-office receipts, Jones remembered it fondly in the New York Times as "a neat little film." From then on, getting parts never seemed to be a problem for Jones.

Jones also has appeared in a number of other television and film roles. He played the well-intentioned husband who has trouble handling Loretta Lynn's fame in Coal Miner's Daughter, as well as convicted killer Gary Gilmorein the television production The Executioner's Song alongside actress Rosanna Arquette. For his portrayal of Gilmore, Jones earned an Emmy Award in 1982.

In April Morning, a 1988 Hallmark Hall of Fame production, Jones appeared as the strict father during the American Revolutionary War era (1775-83) who believes that being stern is the way to keep his son from growing up lazy. Also in 1989, Jones starred in the television miniseries Lonesome Dove, based on the Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. Jones was at home in this movie about two former Texas rangers who lead a three-thousand-mile-long cattle drive that winds from Texas to Montana, with a ragtag crew to help them. Critics were enchanted with both the series and Jones's performance in it.

Big-screen success

In the early 1990s, Jones found continued success on the big screen. He portrayed Clay Shaw, an accused conspirator in President John F. Kennedy's murder, in director Oliver Stone's J.F.K. Jones teamed up with Stone again in 1993's Heaven and Earth, in which Jones plays the G.I. husband of a Vietnamese woman.

In Under Siege, a Steven Seagal action-adventure film released in 1992, Jones played a psychotic terrorist. A People reviewer found that in this movie "Jones, especially, makes a convincing psycho." This movie became a surprise hit with the public, and allowed Jones to work with director Andrew Davis. The two clicked, and have since worked together in several pictures. In the 1993 release House of Cards, directed by Michael Lessac, Jones had the role of a child psychologist opposite Kathleen Turner.

The Fugitive receives critical praise

One of Jones's most memorable and rewarding film roles was as U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard in the film version of the popular television program The Fugitive. The television program, which aired for four years, centered on a doctor wrongly accused of killing his wife. The challenge of the film version was to boil down four years of action into a two-hour package. Critic Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, wondered if the movie would be nothing more than a rehashed television program. "There was no reason to expect much from a feature-length Fugitive," Maslin said, "since it had the makings of one more present-day project with a desperately nostalgic ring." She found, however, that "the film version of The Fugitive turns out to be a smashing success, ... an action-adventure saga that owes nothing to the past."

In the movie, Dr. Richard Kimble (played by Harrison Ford) makes a daring escape during a bus crash on the way to prison for his wife's murder. He then relentlessly pursues evidence to convict the one-armed man who was the actual murderer. Jones plays the leader of the team pursuing Kimble, and manages to make his character both steely hard and sympathetic at the same time. The film was directed by Davis, who had helped Jones achieve a memorable performance in Under Siege. For his performance in the film, Jones won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The relationship between Davis and Jones has always been a mutually respectful one. "We work very collaboratively," Davis told the New York Times. "He's like a jazz musician improvising. The thing he fights is clichés; he's always fighting clichés. Whether it's a terrorist or the marshal, he wants it to be more theatrical, more alive than you would traditionally think of." Jones tended to have a similar opinion to the director, commenting to Weinraub that he took the part because he would be "working for Warner Brothers, working for Andy Davis and working with Harrison Ford."

Jones appeared in several films that were released in 1994. He starred in Cobb, a biography of baseball great Ty Cobb; Blue Sky, which was actually completed in 1991; the action thriller Blown Away; The Client, based on a John Grisham novel; and Natural Born Killers, which gave Jones the opportunity to work with director Stone once again.

Directs a television movie

Jones made his directorial debut in 1995 with The Good Old Boys. A made-for-television movie, Jones also starred in the well-received production and co-wrote the teleplay. That same year, Jones appeared as Two Face in Batman Forever. Then in 1997, he starred in Volcano, in which lava threatens Los Angeles, and Men in Black, as a government agent who has to deal with extraterrestrial aliens on Earth. Men in Black, which was inspired by a comic book series, did well enough at the box office to inspire sequels (Men in Black II (2002) and Men in Black III (2012)). Although it was not a sequel, but more of a spin-off, Jones returned to the role of Sam Gerard from The Fugitive in U.S. Marshals in 1998. That same year, he also had a voice acting role in the movie Small Soldiers. Jones finished out the 1990s with a role in the movie Double Jeopardy in 1999.

In 2000, Jones appeared in two films—Rules of Engagement and the Clint Eastwood-directed film Space Cowboys. In 2000, Jones also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Jones returned to the screen in the sequel, Men in Black II in 2002. The following year, Jones had acting roles in The Hunted and The Missing.

In 2005, Jones appeared in the comedy Man of the House. That same year, he received a Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in the movie The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which he also directed. The film earned Jones a number of other award nominations as well, including a nomination for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), the highest award presented at the Cannes Film Festival to the director of the best feature film. He also received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Feature, as well as a Satellite Award nomination for Best Actor.

In 2006, Jones had a cameo role in the movie A Prairie Home Companion. Then in 2007, he appeared in the movies In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men. Both movies netted Jones several awards and nominations. For his performance in In the Valley of Elah, Jones received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, as well as a London Film Critics Circle Award nomination for Best Actor and a Satellite Award nomination for Best Actor. Jones's performance in No Country for Old Men also earned him several awards and nominations, including a San Diego Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. Along with the other cast members in the film, Jones received the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Performance by an Ensemble and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Jones next appeared in the 2009 film In the Electric Mist, which was based on the novel by James Lee Burke called In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. The movie bypassed American theaters and went straight to DVD, but was released to theaters in Asia and Europe. Jones then had an acting role in the 2010 movie The Company Men, which tells the story of the impact that corporate downsizing has on four men. In 2011, he appeared in the television film, The Sunset Limited, along with Samuel L. Jackson. Jones also was executive producer and director of the film, which was based on a play written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy. That same year, he also appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger. In 2012, Jones appeared in several other films, including Lincoln. For his performance in Lincoln, Jones received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens—the House Ways and Means Chair during Lincoln's presidency and the father of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. In 2012, Jones also appeared in Men in Black III Hope Springs, and Emperor. In early 2013, Jones received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln. As of early 2013, Jones also was working on a movie called Malavita.

By any standards, Jones is considered a well-respected actor. Director Andrew Davis has plenty of praise for Jones. As he told the New York Times, "He's very disciplined, and you can do nine takes with him and they'll all be different and all be fascinating." When asked about why he decided to get into the profession, Jones can be a big cagey. He told Weinraub that "the simple answer is it seemed like fun. The complicated answer is it has to do with an enjoyment of and necessity for a vital imagination. But I'm not that analytical. I'll stick with the simple answer. It's fun."

Jones has won a number of honors and awards throughout his career. One of the most recent was awarded in April 2012 by his alma mater when he received the Harvard Arts Medal.

Off screen

Jones has always been extremely protective of his private life, and has rarely granted interviews. His first marriage to actress-writer Kate Lardner in the early 1970s ended in divorce after seven years. In 1981, he married Kimberlea Cloughley. They have two children, Austin and Victoria. After fourteen years of marriage, Kimberlea filed for divorce in 1995. Then in early 2001, Jones married his third wife, Dawn Laurel.

The somewhat reclusive actor maintains an expansive cattle ranch in San Saba County, Texas, as well as a ranch near Van Horn, Texas, which was where his movie The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was filmed. Jones lives in a suburb of San Antonio and also owns a home and farm in Wellington, Florida. Apart from his acting career, Jones rides, breeds, and sells horses, and also is an avid polo player. He also built and runs a world-class polo operation in Florida.

In addition to these pursuits, Jones has acted as a spokesman for Chesapeake Energy, as well as a Japanese brewing company called Suntory. Jones also is fluent in Spanish. While attending Harvard, he lived with former Vice President Al Gore. Jones, who has remained in contact with his college roommate, presented the nominating speech for Gore—the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States—at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

FURTHER READINGS:

  • Current Biography, H. W. Wilson, 1995.
  • Hample, Henry S., "Tommy Lee Jones," Premiere, January 1994, p. 96.
  • Laporte, Nicole, "True Gruff," Newsweek, February 14, 2011.
  • Lee, Chris, "Tommy Lee Jones on playing a real firebrand, in fake hair," Los Angeles Times, November, 29, 2012.
  • Marill, Alvin H., The Films of Tommy Lee Jones, 1996.
  • New York Times, August 1, 1993; August 6, 1993.
  • People, September 4, 1989; October 26, 1992; August 16, 1993; September 6, 1993; August 28, 1995, pp. 42+.
  • Ross, Lillian, "Keeping up with Mr. Jones," New Yorker, April 4, 1994, pp. 57+.
  • Smith, Gavin, Film Comment, January/February 1994.
  • Swartz, Mimi, "The Fugitive: Tommy Lee Jones," Texas Monthly, October 1993.
  • Thomas, Mike W., "Tommy Lee Jones scores fourth Oscar nomination for Lincoln," San Antonio Business Journal, January 10, 2013.
  • "Tommy Lee Jones," Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Vol. 108, Detroit: Gale, 2011.
  • "Tommy Lee Jones," International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Vol. 3, Detroit: Gale, 2000 (updated 2006).
  • TV Guide, April 23, 1988; February 4, 1989; August 10, 1991.
  • Us, February 20, 1989; June 25, 1990.
  • Variety, February 15, 1993.
  • Western Horseman, April 1992.
  • Zucker, Carole, Figures of Light: Actors and Directors Illuminate the Art of Film Acting, New York, 1994.

 
RELATED INFORMATION
Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Tommy Lee Jones." UXL Biographies, UXL, 2011. Kids InfoBits, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FEJ2108101203%2FITKE%3Fu%3Dj043905119%26sid%3DITKE%26xid%3De2294862. Accessed 22 Aug. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2108101203