If there is ever an actor with such credibility to play in every single genre, that would be Tommy Lee Jones. From gracefully starting as soap opera actor, it seems improbable that he is one of the familiar faces in military films. His career was indeed prosperous in the particular genre for his face might have been chiseled out of marble, so hard that it's more suitable to be in action movies. As a matter of fact, hard act movies are not always everybody's favorite compared to drama or comedy. Tommy seemed to realize it, saying “If military movies were automatically successful we'd make nothing but military movies. But seriously, patriotism is one thing that all Americans have in common.”
As tough as his feature, his childhood was not that easy too. Tommy who was born on September 15, 1946 in San Saba, Texas came from a family that raised cattle to make a living. They had to face the impact of long drought in early fifties that devastated the farm. At the age of three, Tommy was supposed to have a sibling but the child died while still a baby. His parents, Clyde C. Jones and Lucille Marie were easily divorced and remarried before eventually divorced again. Furthermore, Tommy described his relationship with his father as abusive and very much distant. “He wasn't there for me that much.”
Instead of immersing himself in sadness, Tommy directed his life to a better track. He was apparently a clever student and very good at football. These attributes brought him a greater future. He received a scholarship for admission in a prominent boys school, St Mark's School of Texas. By then, he managed to make a living for himself by being a construction worker and working in an oil field. Unexpectedly, the continual football interest earned him another scholarship to Harvard, majoring English and American Literature. However, his ambition to be part of the famous football team, Dallas Cowboy, should be abolished when his small built didn't support the role to be a pro. This was the time when he led himself to acting. Joining drama club, he gained the opportunity to perform Shakespeare's works on stage until he graduated from Harvard in 1969 with the rank cum laude.
His next mission was to move to New York for the sake of a better job. Astonishingly, the job was retrieved ten days later. He got the role in Broadway's production of John Osborne's “A Patriot for Me” (1969), which was quite an achievement, remembering how difficult it was to appear in American's most prestigious theater headquarter. Soon Tommy was occupied with plenty of theater works. He joined the controversial off- Broadway production “Fortune and Men's Eyes” which depicted eroticism in prison and Sam Shepard's “True West” which was panned by critics and disavowed by Shepard himself for its failure. Despite the rocky road in his earlier career, he remained true with acting, “Acting is fun for me and it doesn't really matter how, whether it's hard work or easy work, it's always fun.”
Tommy began to act on wide screen when he secured a small part on “Love Story” (1970) and then there came the real love life. Shortly after moving to New York Tommy met Kate Lardner, the grand daughter of Ring Lardner, the renowned columnist and short story writer in early 1900. They were married in 1971 but then decided to split up after 7 years of marriage. Tommy's name was more recognizable in “One Life to Live” (1968). He joined the longest soap opera ever in 1971 and it gave him the role Dr. Mark Toland until five years later he felt that he had stayed longer than he should. He planned to move on but didn't come back to Broadway either since it was going through a depleted phase.
TV series “Charlie's Angels” (1976) engaged him as the golden heart convict who braved himself to help one of the girls. From this point Tommy's bright career seemed imminent. Another big TV production “The Amazing Howard Hughes” (1977) put him in the leading male role, Howard Hughes himself. The furtive character who was piling up wealth as a Hollywood producer was fairly similar to Tommy's condition at that time. He was gaining fame and amassing his bank account at the same time.
While in the air, Tommy enrolled two 'O.K.' movies in the same year, “The Betsy” (1978) and “Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978). The former one portrayed Tommy as a young and seductive car designer who was hired by big-time car manufacturer played by Laurence Olivier. What's behind the scene was equally interesting. Olivier, who was known as a very competitive actor, saw Tommy as a new threat and 'spot-stealer'. It was actually a benefit for Tommy with the pioneer actor implicitly considering him a rival. Meanwhile, the producer of “Eyes of Laura Mars” made use of the most popular genre at that time, suspense-thriller to gain profit. The movie told about a fashion photographer played by Faye Dunaway who suddenly had the ability to 'see' a serial killer in his work, then she hired a police detective played by Tommy to catch the killer.
The 1981 Golden Globe Awards nominated Tommy for his role in “Coal Miner's Daughter” (1980) while ironically his opposite, Sissy Spacek won an Oscar in the same year. Not learning from his mistakes, the next year Tommy showed a bad-working attitude in “Back Roads” (1981). He was impatient towards people whom he thought were wasting his time. His co-star Sally Field expressed her disappointment “I never want to work with him again”. The disgrace, however, didn't stop him from meeting his second wife, Kimberlea Gayle Cloughley. They were married on May 30, 1981 and had two children, Austin Leonard Jones and Victoria Kafka Jones.
Being only nominated so far, this time he came out as a winner in the 1983 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Limited Special category through TV movie “The Executioner's Song” (1982). The brilliantly portrayed character of a criminal, who chose to be executed than life-imprisoned, was regarded as very disturbing yet very human at the same time. After such a gleaming performance, he didn't score anymore hit until seven years later in mini series “Lonesome Dove” (1989) where he worked with Robert Duvall and nominated for 1989 Emmy and 1990 Golden Globe. After that, he presented uncanny suspect of the assassination of Kennedy in successful movie “JFK” (1991).
Next appeared in “The Package” (1989) had earned him an opportunity to work with director Andrew Davis who would later direct him again in his biggest strike, “The Fugitive” (1993). With Harrison Ford as Dr Richard Kimble, a husband who was wrongly accused of killing his own wife, Tommy acted as the U.S. Marshal who pursued Dr. Kimble. This movie noted him as very apt to such character. For the worth-watching acting, in 1994 he finally got his first Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, and an MTV Movie Award for Best On-Screen Duo shared with Harrison Ford.
With several fine movies between 1993 until 1995, such as biopic “Cobb” (1994) and “The Good Old Boys” (1995) which he directed himself, he moved to a commercial movie “Batman Forever” (1995). His character as Harvey Dent aka 'Two-face' was in competition to steal the spotlight with Jim Carrey's lunatic 'Riddler'. However, Tommy would not consider himself as competitive. “I don't fight anybody anytime or anywhere.” Then, like many natural disaster movies that sprang up in that time, “Volcano” (1997) put Tommy as the hero of this movie. When he was already notified as resolute Hollywood actor, he joined Barry Sonnenfeld in action comedy sci-fi “Men in Black” in 1997. He was agent K who brought a large gun to shoot anything monstrous together with his teammate agent J, played by Will Smith. Though Tommy was always known to play tough characters, he didn't fail to amuse the audience with his own version of 'funny'. Yet he simply said he did what the director told him to do and just stand beside Will Smith would make him funny. “I do not have a sense of humor of any recognizable sort.”
Coming back to serious role, he stood as a lawyer who must defend Samuel L. Jackson who was accused to be responsible to the failure of a mission in “Rules of Engagement” (2000). Meanwhile, in Clint Eastwood's “Space Cowboys” (2000), Tommy who was 54 then, was a match to the role of aging astronaut who was in mission to save the earth from satellite crashing. In addition, another earth saving task was still coming up. The duo agents in “Men in Black” were ready to save the earth once again in the sequel titled “Men in Black II” (2002). By this time, Tommy was ready to get married again with a camera assistant girl named Dawn Maria Laurel whom he met on the set of “Men in Black II”. Tommy and his wife who was 18 years his junior settled in a spacious ranch near San Antonio where he could play polo freely.
Like his role in “Space Cowboys”, Tommy didn't hesitate to take an old character in “The Missing” (2003) as Cate Blanchett's father. Two years later, he sat in the position of director and actor of “The Three Burial of Melquiades Estrada”, a movie very close to his heart as the Mexican influence was rather thick. As in 2006 he joined the veteran director, Robert Altman in a, surprisingly, drama musical movie “A Prairie Home Companion”.
Great start makes great finish. Tommy was successful as a soap star and he is still on track in his sixties. Keeping his persona at the age, he was determined to keep fit, “I stay young and fit by leading an athletic life and I have always been insured.” With such spirit, his career is definitely still a distant away. He stated how important his job for him, “Somebody's gonna give you some money to perform a job, you do your best to make 'em a good hand...”