Tommy Lee Jones is without a doubt one of the more esteemed actors of our time. But, the Oscar winner also knows how to play his persona for laughs as he does in the Men in Black films. Jones is back as Agent K in Men in Black 3 and spoke with Movie Fanatic about re-teaming with Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld as well as giving us some insight into his role in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming epic Lincoln.
For Jones, making Men in Black 3 was a chance to have a film capture a year that saw a great life event for him — 1969. “It’s the year I graduated from college! That was interesting. And it was a different era. For most of 1969, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” Jones said. “The only way to describe it is: The best of times, and the worst of times.”
Working with Smith is something that Jones was game for a third time, even if his role was slightly diminished with the time travel aspect that had Josh Brolin playing the younger Agent K. “Every scene, every day, every minute is fun with Will,” Jones said, smiling. “I mean, he’s a very good actor — a fine actor — and we developed a rapport right away and became friends.”
And it was a little odd for the Oscar winner to have to share a role with someone else in the same movie. “Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve never done that. It’s never happened to me before,” Jones added.
Working on a special effects film again with Men in Black 3 was a joy for the Harvard trained actor, something that always challenges the acting muscles. “On the set, you see a lot of really interesting special effects, make-up and creatures, that are really fun to look at and interact with — or not interact with, whatever they motivate. It’s a really beautiful box of toys,” Jones said. “I appreciate work of the highest quality when it comes to movie-making.”
Jones also returned to the franchise for a third go-around because he’s keenly aware of how the movie industry must cull younger viewers all the time and get them invested in a form of entertainment that they will revisit as they grow older. “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,” Jones said. But, he cautions that it doesn’t always have to be targeted at a young audience, merely fans that are new to the cinema. “That doesn’t necessarily mean the people who have lived the shortest amount of time. Some people maintain a fresh imagination well into their 20s [laughs] and others never lose it.”
It is clear that Jones has an affinity for Sonnenfeld and their work together on the Men in Black series. In fact, he finds him quite funny. “Barry is silly as a goose for starters,” Jones said and laughed.
“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 and that’s something that he tries to hide or gloss over. He would like you to think that he’s a great big, silly baby, but he’s not fooling me. I know that he can shoot.”
The man is no stranger to directing, having taken the director’s chair once for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Having had so many stellar helmers in his career, choosing ones who influence him was rather difficult as he didn’t want to alienate any of the artists he’s worked with prior.
“I like the way Oliver Stone works. I like the way Barry works. I like the way Clint Eastwood works, but I’ve just now named three directors and I’ve left out 40 or 45, but I don’t mean to slide anyone,” Jones said. “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.”
Movie Fanatic is beyond thrilled to see his work in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. The actor portrays Thaddeus Stevens, and relished the opportunity to inhabit an important man whom many Americans are not aware of. “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,” Jones said. “Inspiration you might say or resources for the actor’s imagination.”
In the end, Jones feels he is far from done — there is still much for the Men in Black 3 star to accomplish. “I want to direct a bunch of movies and act in a bunch of movies. Write some,” Jones said. “I haven’t accomplished everything I want.”