It’s safe to say that Tommy Lee Jones is a brilliant actor, but one who often gets overlooked. He has given us some iconic roles over his long career and his strong Texan accent and pronounced, lively eyebrows have marked him out as a truly unique and iconic actor. Often playing surly lawman types, he can at first thought be placed into a similar category as Harrison Ford, but by all accounts, is no way near cantankerous.
Born on September 15, 1946, in San Saba, Texas, Jones is of part Cherokee descent and was raised in Midland, Texas. An intelligent student, he passed through school with ease before making it to the prestigious Harvard University in 1966. There, he shared a room with future Vice President, Al Gore.
Unsurprisingly, he graduated with distinction with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1969. Ever the cerebral character, his senior thesis was on the “mechanics of Catholicism” within the works of Southern Gothic writer, Flannery O’Connor. Here, he would be a pupil of famed dramatist Robert Chapman and this would give him an early taste of acting and galvanise his want to become an actor.
After finishing university, Jones moved to New York to pursue acting, and made his Broadway debut in 1969’s A Patriot for Me, in a host of supporting roles. By 1970, he had secured his first film role in Erich Segal’s big-screen adaptation of his book, Love Story. Jones had a minor role as Hank Simpson, but the film went on to be one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. This was to be his first true experience of the excitement of blockbuster films.
For a time he would return to Broadway, but gradually over the 1970s and ’80s, Jones’ stature as an actor would increase due to both his stage and on-screen efforts. In 1977, he starred as the protagonist in the acclaimed TV movie The Amazing Howard Hughes, which can now be taken as his first foray into stardom. In 1978, he then starred alongside one of the most celebrated actors of all time, Laurence Olivier, in The Betsy, and also shone as Police Detective ‘John Neville’ opposite Faye Dunaway in John Carpenter’s 1978 underrated noir, Eyes of Laua Mars.
Later, in 1980, he earned his first Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of country icon, Loretta Lynn’s husband, Doolittle ‘Mooney’ Lynn, in Coal Miner’s Daughter, which signified the start of his career as one of Hollywood’s hottest prospects. Fast forward to the onset of the ’90s and he had established himself as one of the go-to leading men. Famously, in 1991, he sported a distinctive white hairdo when he starred alongside Kevin Costner and Gary Oldman as seedy New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in Oliver Stone’s classic JFK.
He then went on to give us roles in The Fugitive, Natural Born Killers, Batman Forever and Men in Black. A versatile character actor, well-versed in the traditional craft, Jones is the definition of an actor that we rarely see. Cut from the same cloth as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, there is no surprise that we have seen Jones deliver us a wide range of roles over his long career.
This got us thinking, what are Tommy Lee Jones best film roles? Join us as we trim it down to just five iconic outings that best display his prowess as an actor. This is just our opinion but should be used as a starting point for healthy discussion.
Tommy Lee Jones’ best film roles:
Ed Tom Bell – No Country for Old Men 2007
One would argue that Ed Tom Bell is Tommy Lee Jones’ finest outing. Expertly portraying the world-weary, aged Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who is the central character of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel, Jones augments the Coen brothers’ masterful 2007 adaptation, and without him, the film would not have been the same. Out of all of his film roles, this is the clearest indication of his foundation as a stage actor.
Subtle but emotionally affecting, Jones’ portrayal of a man from a bygone age coming to terms with how the world is rapidly changing around him, and his own mortality, is nothing short of iconic. The film is always worth a revisit.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face – Batman Forever 1995
No list of Jones roles would be complete without his madcap take on one of the caped crusader’s most enduring enemies, Harvey Dent, AKA Two-Face. Ironically, he is somewhat of a watered-down version of No Country for Old Men‘s own antagonist, Anton Chigurh, who also has a penchant for flipping a coin that seals his victims fate, although on a much more philosophical level than Two-Face.
Jones is brilliant in Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton‘s colourful third instalment in their Batman trilogy. Totally unhinged and a tad camp, Jones’ portrayal of Two-Face shows that he can carry off the comedic as much as the dramatic. A lot of people hate on the film and the role, but when you take in the environment from which it came, we will wager that it’s pretty damn good.
Sam Gerard – The Fugitive 1993
We mentioned Harrison Ford right at the inception of this piece, and in 1993, both of Hollywood’s resident stoics would come head to head in the big-screen adaptation of the 1960s television series of the same name. Jones is the walking antithesis to Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble, an innocent father who is framed for the murder of his family.
Famously, Jones plays the unrelenting Deputy US Marshal Sam Gerard across the film’s explosive cat and mouse plot. Featuring the iconic face-off scene where Ford dives into the dam hundreds of metres below, Jones’ depiction of Gerard fed into him subsequently being cast as the tough-guy, lawman type. This is understandable, as he does it so well in this outing.
Kevin Brown / Agent K – Men in Black 1997
The whacky sci-fi universe of the Men in Black franchise is one of the most memorable from the turn of the millennium era. The foil to Will Smith’s affable Agent J, Agent K is a cantankerous, humourless older agent. Reflecting the spirit of the character, Steven Spielberg initially wanted global curmudgeon number one, Clint Eastwood for the role.
Either way, Jones made the part his own and his ice-cool use of the memory-eraser stick ‘The Neuralyzer’ is one of the most memorable points in 1997’s original entry. The complete opposite to his portrayal of Two-Face, his pinned-back portrayal is a fantastic example of the effectiveness of deadpan humour, a refreshing riff on the overdone tough-guy trope that Clint Eastwood embodies. Remember the scene where he speaks Spanish to the illegal immigrants at the border?
Dwight McClusky – Natural Born Killers 1994
The evil Warden Dwight McCluskey in Oliver Stone’s 1994 Mansonoid take on the story of Bonnie and Clyde, is one of the most conniving characters Jones has ever played. Dastardly in every sense of the word, he embodies state oppression and conservative values all the while instilled with the pure insanity of Two-Face. McCluskey is a comedic character, constantly up against it and often owing to his own, flawed machinations.
A Shakespearean villain packaged in the guise of a stereotypical Texan, McCluskey’s violent promise to hunt Mickey and Mallory down as they escape from prison is hilarious. Just like a pantomime villain, he gets his comeuppance, which Jones comedically carries off.