Star of such films as No Country for Old Men, Men in Black and The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones is renowned for his rugged and deadpan characters.
Jones walked out of Harvard University straight into the film industry where he soon shot to fame, ultimately earning an Academy Award for The Fugitive in 1994. Aside from acting, he’s also a keen adventurer and investor in the rural Texas of his childhood. Here are some other things you may not know about Jones.
20. He played football for Harvard, could have gone pro
Although he has enjoyed a long and hugely successful screen career, Jones wasn’t always dead-set on becoming an actor.
Earlier in life, he looked far more likely to become a professional football player, as he excelled at the sport.
When Jones got into Harvard, he played guard on the prestigious college’s football team.
He was part of the undefeated 1968 line-up, and part of what has been called “the most famous football game in Ivy League history” against Yale.
Years later, Jones recounted this celebrated game and his role in it in the 2008 documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.
Because of this, Jones naturally considered pursuing football professionally – ultimately, the lure of acting won out.
19. A typo on his contract landed him a $15 million bonus for No Country for Old Men
Tommy Lee Jones’ star power helped Joel and Ethan Coen secure a studio-backed budget for the acclaimed 1997 film No Country for Old Men.
However, the movie contract signed by Jones contained – through no fault of the actor – one very expensive mistake.
Studio Paramount Pictures promised Jones that, every time the film grossed half of a particular target, he would get a bonus.
However, what Paramount meant to say was that every time the film made twice the target, this bonus would be paid.
Nonetheless, the contract was legally binding and earned Jones a significant payday when the film proved successful.
Jones landed a $15 million bonus as a result of this slip – four times what Paramount intended.
18. He told his Batman Forever co-star Jim Carrey when they first met: “I hate you”
Tommy Lee Jones was at the height of his fame when he was cast as Two-Face in Batman Forever.
However, Jones was not the only villain of the piece, as he found himself sharing the screen with Jim Carrey as The Riddler.
Unfortunately, Jones and Carrey had one of the most infamously icy working relationships in Hollywood history.
Carrey once told Howard Stern that when the pair met for the first time, “the blood drained” from Jones’ face.
“I hate you. I really don’t like you,” Jones reportedly told Carrey while leaning in for a hug. “I cannot sanction your buffoonery.”
17. He’s surprisingly popular in Japan thanks to a long-running series of TV commercials
Tommy Lee Jones is sure to be recognised just about anywhere he goes, but it may come as a surprise that he’s an especially big celebrity in Japan.
Jones’ popularity in the Far Eastern country is largely down to him appearing in a long-running series of TV commercials for Boss Coffee.
Jones made the first of these commercials in 2006, and they went down such a storm that he’s continued to do them for many years since.
The ads feature Jones speaking in Japanese, and getting up to some fairly bizarre things, as the character he portrays is an alien with otherworldly powers.
Despite Jones’ curmudgeonly reputation, the actor is said to hugely appreciate his success in Japan, and by all accounts greatly enjoys working there.
Japanese culture has taken Jones to heart to such an extent that he was the only Westerner to be invited to perform in the above music video in 2011.
Intended to help boost optimism in Japan following that year’s tragic earthquake and tsunami, the clip features Jones singing in Japanese, and like everyone else involved the actor agreed to appear for free.
Jones has appeared in new ads in Japan as recently as this year, featuring in a specially produced PSA to highlight the importance of social distancing.
16. He hates being interviewed
When actors hit the big time, publicity is part of the job whether they like it or not – and by all accounts, Tommy Lee Jones really doesn’t like it.
Jones has long been infamous for his dislike of being interviewed, and for his lack of patience with questions he finds stupid.
Oftentimes, it seems the best interviewers can hope for from Jones is dumbfounded silence followed by a monosyllabic response.
However, if the questions really rub him up the wrong way, Jones is known for being a bit more volatile.
His interviewers are briefed with subjects which are off-limits (namely anything remotely personal), and any deviance from that has been known to result in Jones walking out.
There have been instances when interviewers have veered into such territory regardless, prompting Jones to angrily overturn the furniture.
Jones has said of his notorious dislike of interviews, “There are certain contractual obligations and one does the best that one can do.”
15. His “I don’t care” line in The Fugitive was an ad-lib
For many of us, the movie role that really made Tommy Lee Jones a legend was Deputy US Marshal Samuel Gerard in 1993’s The Fugitive.
Harrison Ford may have taken the lead as Richard Kimble, the titular man on the run, but it was widely agreed that Jones totally stole the show.
The Fugitive also gave Jones some of his most memorable dialogue, first in the iconic monologue in which Gerard barks his orders to his team about finding and catching Kimble, delivered at machine-gun speed by Jones.
However, as well as this oft-imitated monologue, Jones delivered a much shorter and simpler piece of dialogue which became equally iconic: when Kimble has him at gunpoint and cries, “I didn’t kill my wife!”, Gerard flatly responds, “I don’t care!”
While it’s pretty much impossible to imagine that scene now without Jones’ response, this was actually an ad-lib by the actor.
In the original script, Gerard’s response was the slightly more ponderous “That isn’t my problem.”
Most would agree Jones made the right call – and his performance proved impressive enough to land Jones the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. (Note: as Jones made a point of declaring in his acceptance speech, he isn’t actually bald, he’d shaved his head for the film Cobb, which was in production at the time.)
14. He refused to take any acting classes
Tommy Lee Jones has long had a reputation as one of the most no-nonsense actors in the business.
Even so, it may come as a surprise that he’s managed to become one of the most respected figures in his industry despite having no formal training.
That’s right: Tommy Lee Jones became a professional actor without having ever taken a single acting lesson.
Despite this, he landed his first paid acting job only ten days after graduating from Harvard University.
“I don’t want to be told how to do it,” a young Jones told After Noon TV in 1972.
Not lacking for confidence, the actor explained, “I don’t think I could get along very well with a teacher unless I was absolutely convinced he was better than me. And I’m not all that convinced anyone would be.”
13. His reaction to Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig at the Golden Globes became a meme
When Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell took to the stage to present the Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy award at the 2013 Golden Globes, they pretty much brought the house down.
However, as you’ll see if you skip to 3:37 on the video below, not everyone was quite so amused.
While most of Hollywood’s finest laughed and cheered, Tommy Lee Jones couldn’t have looked less amused if he’d tried.
While Jones himself didn’t seem to be having a good time, the internet had an absolute field day with his reaction.
The shot of the actor looking thoroughly miserable became a widely-shared meme all over social media.
Most famously, Jones’ mirthless expression was likened to that of another internet celebrity, Grumpy Cat.
If we had to hazard a guess as to whether or not Jones was amused by all this, we’d have to say… no.
12. Al Gore was his roommate at Harvard
Jones majored in English at Harvard University, where he had a roommate who also went on to big things.
Jones shared a room at Harvard with Al Gore, who would go on to become a major figure in US politics.
Most notably, Gore served as Vice President of the United States under Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2000.
Jones and Gore built a lasting friendship, and the actor even delivered the nominating speech when Gore ran for President himself.
After a fiercely contested battle, Gore narrowly lost the 2000 Presidential election to George W. Bush.
Jones has largely avoided politics otherwise; in 2012 he declined a request from the Texas Democrats to run for Senate.
11. The director of Under Siege only agreed to make the film because Jones had more screen time than Steven Seagal
Before making The Fugitive with director Andrew Davies, Tommy Lee Jones had previously worked with the director on two occasions.
Jones and Davies first collaborated on 1989’s The Package, then reunited on 1992’s Under Siege. The latter film was a big action hit, and a mainstream breakthrough for leading man Steven Seagal.
However, Davies only agreed to make the film once he realised that Jones, though officially a supporting actor, would actually be on screen for longer than Seagal.
Davies had called the shots on Steven Seagal’s very first movie, 1988’s Above the Law (AKA Nico), and – while the director has never outright badmouthed the actor – the action star has a reputation for being difficult to work with.
The top brass at studio Warner Bros convinced Davies to direct Under Siege by pointing out that Seagal’s character Casey Ryback is actually only in the movie for 41 minutes, with more of the spotlight taken by Jones’ bad guy William Strannix.
It all worked out well for both Jones and Davies, as both men were hired for The Fugitive on the strength of Under Siege’s success.
10. He owns a 3,000-acre cattle ranch in Texas
Born in San Saba, Texas, Tommy Lee Jones still spends much of his time in the area he grew up.
A good chunk of the fortune he’s made from acting went on a sweeping cattle ranch across his home turf.
He owns a second ranch in Van Horn, where he filmed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
West Texas was also among the filming locations for No Country for Old Men.
To stay true to the novel, Tommy Lee Jones persuaded the filmmakers to shoot it in Texas.
Writer-director-producers Joel and Ethan Coen had originally planned to make the movie in New Mexico.
9. His first acting role was Sneezy in a Snow White radio play
Like a lot of actors, Tommy Lee Jones got his first taste of performing during his school days.
The first role Jones found himself cast in was a bit less gruff than the characters on the backs of which he would later make his name.
In an interview with Meryl Streep, Jones recalled how he first tried acting in the second grade.
He was cast in the role of Sneezy in a school radio play of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
The actor recalls that he impressed his teachers by showing off his ability to sneeze on demand.
Jones jokes he still has that skill now, “but I charge more for it than I did when I was seven years old.”
8. He claims to be of Cherokee descent
Tommy Lee Jones has stated that he has some Native American heritage in his ancestry.
According to Jones, his grandmother was a descendant of the Cherokee.
“It’s not a tribe. It’s a nation,” he said while describing his heritage. “The Cherokee Nation.”
Jones has made a number of films which feature Native Americans, including 2003’s The Missing.
For that film, directed by Ron Howard and co-starring Cate Blanchett, Jones and several other cast members learned to speak dialogue in the Apache dialect Chiricahua.
Jones also faced some criticism for his 2014 film The Homesman, in which Native Americans were presented as villains.
7. He was in the very first episode of Charlie’s Angels
Jones spent much of the 1970s quietly making his way up through the ranks in Hollywood, which meant taking his share of smaller film and TV roles.
One such role which proved to be memorable was in the pilot episode of a new TV series called Charlie’s Angels.
The 1976 episode introduced Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith as the world’s most glamorous detectives, and Jones was along for the ride.
Jones took a key supporting role as a good guy named Aram Kolegian, who helps the Angels on their case.
The show was a hit and wound up running for five seasons, as well as being adapted into three feature films and a short-lived TV reboot.
6. He almost played Snake Plissken in Escape from New York
In one of those fascinating ‘what if?’ stories from Hollywood history, Jones came very close to playing the role which made Kurt Russell an 80s action star.
Jones was the preferred casting of production house AVCO Embassy Pictures for the role of Snake Plissken in 1981’s Escape from New York.
The film’s writer-director John Carpenter always wanted Kurt Russell, but the backers had concerns because of Russell’s history in family-friendly Disney movies.
AVCO felt Jones had the machismo to convincingly play the role; their other preference was Charles Bronson, whom Carpenter ruled out for being too old.
Eventually, AVCO agreed to Russell’s casting, and the film kicked off a long working relationship between the actor and Carpenter, culminating in the 1996 sequel Escape from LA.
However, Jones has made two films written (though not directed) by Carpenter: 1978’s The Eyes of Laura Mars, and 1986’s Black Moon Rising.
5. He speaks fluent Spanish
Jones is fluent in Spanish, a skill which has proved helpful in a number of his films.
In Men in Black, one scene sees his character Agent K address a group of Mexicans in Spanish.
Meanwhile, parts of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada are also spoken in Spanish.
“I think in my educational process, there’s eight-and-a-half-years of academic Spanish,” he said in a BBC interview.
“I’ve also travelled extensively in Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and when we work cattle in US Texas, we speak Spanish and English.”
Jones says he learned the language as a child, both in school and from being friends with Spanish-speaking children.
4. He loves polo and plays it regularly
It’s no great surprise that former Harvard football player Jones is still a sportsman, but his current sport of choice may come as a surprise.
The actor is a major enthusiast of polo, the time-honoured team game played on horseback.
“Polo brings out some really raw, inspirational emotions,” the star said in an interview with POLO+10.
Jones has been playing the sport for over two decades, and enjoys it in a number of locations.
Reportedly the actor has put many millions of his own money into the game in Florida and Buenos Aires, as well as his home of Texas.
An $11.5 million polo farm in Florida was part of Jones’ real estate portfolio until he sold it in 2013.
3. He’s also taken up screenwriting and directing
After he’d been working in front of the camera for over 20 years, Tommy Lee Jones decided to try working behind the camera as well.
Jones made his debut as writer and director with 1995 TV movie The Good Old Boys, in which he also appeared with Sissy Spacek. (Years earlier, Jones got one of his breakthrough roles alongside Spacek in The Coal Miner’s Daughter.)
He’s gone on to direct on three more occasions to date, firstly on 2005 theatrical release The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (AKA Three Burials).
Jones followed this with 2011 TV movie The Sunset Limited (his second adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel, after No Country for Old Men).
Jones’ last directorial effort to date was 2014 theatrical feature The Homesman, which he also co-wrote as well as starring alongside Hillary Swank.
Jones has indicated he hopes to continue directing, although it is not known if he has any other projects in the works at present.
2. He’s been married three times
As we know, Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t like to discuss his private life, but it’s known that he is on his third marriage.
The actor was wed for the first time in 1971 to Katherine Lardner, but the couple divorced in 1978.
In 1981 Jones was married for a second time, to Kimberlea Cloughley, with whom he had two children.
Cloughley gave birth to their son Austin Leonard Jones in 1982, and their daughter Victoria Kafka Jones in 1991.
This marriage also ended in divorce, Jones and Cloughley ending their union in 1996.
Finally, Jones married Dawn Laurel in 2001, with whom he remains wed to this day.
1. He owns the movie rights to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘unfilmable’ novel Blood Meridian
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2007 film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men was a definite career highlight for all involved, Tommy Lee Jones included.
The film was a hit, and while Jones himself did not get an Oscar nomination, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director for the Coens, and Best Supporting Actor for co-star Javier Bardem.
Three years after No Country for Old Men, Jones himself directed another Cormac McCarthy adaptation, The Sunset Limited, as a TV movie.
So great is his passion for McCarthy’s writing, Jones later decided to buy the film rights to another of his novels: 1985’s Blood Meridian.
However, this particular McCarthy novel is widely considered impossible to film – by actors and directors alike. We’ll have to wait and see if Jones will take McCarthy’s grisly magnum opus to the big screen.