True Gruff

By Laporte, Nicole | Newsweek, February 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

True Gruff


Laporte, Nicole, Newsweek


Byline: Nicole Laporte

Tommy Lee Jones, crusty and cerebral as ever, plays a suicidal academic in HBO's 'The Sunset Limited.'

There is something about Tommy Lee Jones and Southern California that does not fit. The persistently pleasant weather, the happy-go-lucky esprit de corps, all the damn sunshine. These things are wasted on Jones, who at 64 is a monument of somber gravitas. His moods are permanently etched into the lines of his famously craggy face--a Mount Rushmore profile offset by deep, slightly mournful eyes that, in a certain light, look like tiny oil wells.

It therefore seemed entirely appropriate that when the actor agreed to sit down in a hotel suite in the lush Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena recently, he did so in a dimly lit room with the shades drawn. There was no preliminary chitchat as he sat erect in a leather chair, his jaw set in that familiar lock, his eyes blinking only occasionally. Dressed in the uniform of his native Texas--jeans, a corduroy blazer, boots--he gave off the air of a magisterial outlaw.

Jones has built a career around playing exactly this type of tough-seeming, laconic Marlboro Man: wiseacre U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive, crusty old-timer Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men. Audiences can be forgiven for associating those characters with the man playing them. But underneath the grizzle, there is another persona that cracks through the imposing exterior: Tommy Lee Jones the Thinker and Big Ideas man, who studied at Harvard (he was Al Gore's roommate) and can still talk eloquently about his senior thesis ("the mechanics of Catholicism" in Flannery O'Connor). This man is an uncompromising artist who believes deeply in his craft and has a scholar's devotion to the uses and construction of language. In recent years, in tandem with his literary hero and friend, Cormac McCarthy, he has sparked a kind of movement--call it Texas Apocalypse Intellectuals--devoted to interweaving big and very bleak themes with the straightforward jargon of the American West. McCarthy wrote the novel upon which the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, was based, and Jones has written a screenplay adapted from the author's most seminal work, Blood Meridian.

Now comes The Sunset Limited, Jones's television adaptation of McCarthy's 2006 play about a theological debate between a professor (Jones) determined to kill himself and a God-fearing ex-con (Samuel L. Jackson) who has just interrupted the professor's attempt at suicide. The film, which Jones directed, airs Feb. 12 on HBO, and it is based on one of the novelist's lesser-known works, which originated at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre and played off-Broadway in New York. "I read the play a long time ago, and I read it several times since, and I always thought it would be really good," Jones says in a booming voice that does not speak so much as declare. He then pauses, carefully considering his words, which often come out in a spare, two-fisted syntax.

"It's filmworthy."

Pause.

"Entirely shootable."

Pause.

"And I said so to Cormac."

Perhaps most appealing to Jones about the project was that the play is so much about language, a love of his that comes from "reading a lot of books and going to some pretty good schools," he says. (Before attending Harvard, Jones was a student at the St. Mark's School of Texas, a prestigious prep school in Dallas.) "We ended up having a lot of conversations about the words--literally, the choice of a word or a sentence or a phrase in the script. I find that really invigorating as a writer," says John Wells, who directed Jones in The Company Men, the recently released film in which Jones plays an alpha-male executive facing the recession. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

True Gruff
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.