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Tommy Lee Jones Biography


Home > Actors > J > Jones, Tommy Lee > Biography


Birth Name: Tommy Lee Jones
Born: 09/15/1946
Birth Place: San Saba, Texas, USA


Born on Sept. 15, 1946 in San Saba, TX, Jones was raised an only child by his father, Clyde, a ranch hand-turned-oil rigger, and mother, Lucille Marie, a beauty parlor owner. His father's job led the family from one West Texas oil town to another before finally settling in Midland. Despite a rough-and-tumble image, even as a child, Jones excelled both in both academics and athletics. He received an athletic scholarship to attend St. Mark's School of Texas - an elite all-boys prep school in Dallas - where he played both football and soccer. It was at St. Mark's that Jones' interest in performing on stage reached fruition - he watched a group of boys rehearsing for a production of "Mister Roberts" and soon followed suit. His first play was Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood," which was soon followed by several other performances, including a turn as Sir Thomas More in "A Man For All Seasons."

After graduating from St. Mark's, the erudite Jones attended Harvard University where he wound up rooming with future vice president and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. He also continued playing football and acting, though the latter took on more significance as time wore on. During the summer, Jones performed in repertory theater alongside contemporaries John Lithgow, Stockard Channing and James Wood in Cambridge, MA, a time he described as "the best experience I had in theater." (The Lost Angeles Times, Aug. 1, 1993). Jones thrived at Cambridge, honing his already considerable gifts in productions of Shakespeare, Brecht, and Pinter. He graduated Harvard cum laude in 1969 with a degree in English, then moved to New York City to continued performing on stage. Unlike most actors, however, Jones landed work right away and worked steadily for the rest of his life. He landed his first film role in "Love Story" (1970), playing one of Ryan O'Neal's roommates, then had more prominent roles in two low-budget indies, "Life Study" (1972) and "Eliza's Horoscope" (1972). Right from the start, Jones' career was off and running.

Despite a foray into the film world, Jones continued doing theater in New York for a few years. He then made the jump to the small screen after landing the role of Dr. Mark Toland on the soap opera "One Life to Live." He learned the ins and outs of three-camera productions in about a month, then spent the next four years grinding away in the vapid wasteland of daytime television. Jones eventually quit the show, though producers convinced him to stick around another couple of weeks so they could appropriately write the character off the show. He agreed, and in that time saw the once impeccably decent Dr. Toland get turned into an adulterer, drug addict, rapist and murderer without rhyme or reason. Back on film, Jones had his first starring role in "Jackson County Jail" (1976), playing a con on the lam with a fellow jailhouse inmate (Yvette Mimieux) who kills a psychopathic prison guard after getting raped and beaten.

Before there was Leonardo DiCaprio, Jones played his version of Howard Hughes in the made-for-television miniseries "The Amazing Howard Hughes," an intriguing, but ultimately dull look at the airline tycoon's life and loves. Jones continued his rise to leading man status, starring opposite William Devane in "Rolling Thunder" (1977) and playing a police detective supposedly protecting a successful photographer (Faye Dunaway) from a serial killer in "Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978). He was overshadowed by Sissy Spacek's Oscar-winning performance as country-western singer Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1980), then failed to attract much attention as an unemployed drifter who goes in search of his California dream with a prostitute (Sally Field) in "Back Roads" (1981). But Jones received his proper due with his performance as convicted murderer Gary Gilmore in the made-for-television miniseries "The Executioner's Song," based on Norman Mailer's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. His searing portrayal of Gilmore during his final nine months - which included parole, re-imprisonment and finally death by firing squad - earned Jones his first major award: an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Special.

Returning to his theatrical roots, Jones starred as the charismatic Bill Starbuck, a traveling pitchman who tries to con a farm spinster (Tuesday Weld) into letting him cure the drought devastating her family's farm in "The Rainmaker" (HBO, 1982). After taking to the high seas as the captain of a pirate ship in "Nate and Hayes" (1983), Jones returned to the small screen for an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" (PBS, 1984), playing Brick, a former football player having marital problems with his wife, Maggie (Jessica Lange), that stem from him questioning his own sexuality. Up to this point, Jones had made a significant impact on television, but had failed to do the same on the big screen. Roles in movies like "Black Moon Rising" (1986) and "The Big Town" (1987) failed to propel the actor further in his feature career. Back on television, he delivered one of most important and noted small screen portrayals in "Lonesome Dove," playing Woodrow Call, a taciturn cowboy who convinces his fun-loving partner (Robert Duvall) to go on one last adventure before riding off into the sunset. The acclaimed miniseries earned 18 Emmy award nominations, including one for Jones for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special.

Despite his film career not living up to his work on television, Jones began to make a turn around as the 1980s came to a close, establishing himself as a bone fide film star. He delivered an unnerving portrayal as Cosmo, a swaggering mobster who competes with a Jazz club owner (Sting) over property and the attention of a beautiful woman (Melanie Griffith) in "Stormy Monday" (1988). After teaming with director Andrew Davis and Gene Hackman on "The Package" (1989), he finally came of age on the big screen with a riveting performance in "JFK." Jones played Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman and former head of the International Trade Mart who became the only person ever prosecuted in connection with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, thanks to the tireless and often ridiculed investigation by Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). Because of his engaging performance, Jones earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Now firmly atop the heap of leading actors, Jones continued to delight in eccentric heavies like "Under Seige" (1992), playing a disgruntled ex-CIA agent who leads a team aboard a nuclear submarine in attempt to snatch the nuclear warheads and sell them to a Middle Eastern country. Jones' fun performance elevated what could very well have been another forgettable Steven Seagal actioner. He pulled out all the stops for his next project, "The Fugitive," the stunning remake of the classic 1960s television series. Jones played a crafty and relentless U.S. marshal on the hunt for an escaped convict (Harrison Ford) trying to prove his innocence after being convicted of murdering his wife. Come award season, Jones found himself the winner of a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. Jones followed his A-list making role of U.S. Marshall Gerard with sub-standard, but high profile genre fare like "Blown Away" (1994) and "The Client" (1994). Jones turned up the creepiness factor to full throttle in "Natural Born Killers" (1994), playing a seedy warden of a prison housing a murderous couple (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis)-turned-media darlings after going on a kill-crazy rampage across the country.

Jones continued a fruitful year with an uncompromising portrait of ambiguous baseball great Ty "Cobb" (1994) in the well-acted, but little-seen biopic. However, he went way over-the-top in "Batman Forever" (1995), chewing scenery as Two-Face, a crusading district attorney turned dualistic bad guy. Although the disaster picture "Volcano" (1997) blew up in his face, Jones was back on top with the blockbuster hit "Men in Black" - an "X-Files" meets "Ghostbusters" action-comedy for the eye-candy crowd. Based on the comic book creations of Lowell Cunningham, "Men in Black" chronicles two alien busters (Jones and Will Smith) in the pan-galactic version of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) who track down and subdue extraterrestrial invaders, "neutralizing" any witnesses (with the enormous ray guns atop their 1962 Ford LTDs) into believing the saucer that just flew by was St. Elmo's fire or swamp gas. Played with maximum tongue-in-cheek kitsch, Jones' Agent Kay - with his dead pan comic sense - was the perfect foil for Smith's smart-alecky freshness.

Jones once again stepped into his award-winning role of Sam Gerard for the lesser-quality sequel "U.S. Marshals" (1998), this time hunting down a fugitive (Wesley Snipes) accused of two New York assassinations. After voicing the hard-nosed action figure-come-to-life Maj. Chip Hazard in "Small Soldiers" (1998), Jones appeared in the routine, but popular thriller "Double Jeopardy" (1999) opposite Ashley Judd, setting the template for a series of similar, affordably made films that typically teamed a woman in jeopardy (frequently Judd) with an older, father-figure-like A-list male star (typically Morgan Freeman). He also carried the weight of director William Friedkin's slightly-better-than-routine military legal drama "Rules of Engagement" (2000) opposite Samuel L. Jackson, before lending his considerable charisma to his role as a daredevil pilot in director Clint Eastwood's amusing comedy adventure "Space Cowboys" (2001), joining Eastwood, Donald Sutherland and James Garner as a quartet of over-the-hill astronauts who suit up to solve a world threatening crisis in space.

After reuniting with Smith to reprise Agent Kay for the successful, but not well-received "Men in Black II" (2002), Jones starred in "The Hunted" (2003), an efficient, stripped down chase film that saw Jones play a retired FBI agent scouring the wilderness for a Special Forces assassin (Benecio del Toro) he trained who has dropped out of society while committing a series of murders. He then portrayed a world weary part Native American shaman who reunites with his distant daughter (Cate Blanchett) when one of her children is kidnapped in director Ron Howard's disappointing Western thriller "The Missing" (2003). Radically shifting gears, Jones tried his hand at a lightweight comedy with thriller elements in "Man of the House" (2005), playing a no-nonsense Texas Ranger forced to oversee a quintet of ditzy college cheerleaders who witness a murder. Jones gamely tried his hand at comedy and light romance, but seemed far too accomplished to have much tolerance for the lowbrow material.

It was only a matter of time that Jones would try his hand at directing. With "The Three Burials of Melquiadas Estrada" (2005), a bleak, but poignant western centered around a brand new border patrol agent (Barry Pepper) who, in a panic, hastily guns down an illegal immigrant (Julio Cesar Cedillo), then unceremoniously buries him in the desert. Along comes a grizzled rancher (Jones) upset over the dead man's shoddy treatment, who kidnaps the border agent, forces him to dig up the body, then takes both on a dangerous journey to Mexico in order to seek justice. Jones was hailed by many critics for his triumphant debut and even earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Feature. Jones next turned in a cameo performance as a hit man-turned-door keep in "A Prairie Home Companion" (2006), Robert Altman's fictional take on Garrison Keillor's long-running radio show that featured an unusual cast of local talent and the host's rambling monologues about the ideal town, Lake Wobegon.

In 2007, Jones had perhaps his best year to date in front of the camera. For "In the Valley of Elah" (2007), he played a former military MP who goes in search of his son - an Iraq war veteran - after receiving a call that he's gone AWOL. The father teams up with a reluctant police detective (Charlize Theron) and, along the way, discovers that his son may have been murdered. Jones gave a muted and agonizing performance as a grieving father learning the truth behind his son's time spent in Iraq, rightfully earning heaps of critical praise and several award nominations, including one for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Right on the heels of "Elah" came "No Country For Old Men" (2007), a bleak, but tense crime thriller about a down-and-out Vietnam vet (Josh Brolin) who finds a briefcase containing $2 million in the desert near the remains of a bloody drug deal gone bad. Taking the satchel of cash only makes Moss' life worse, forcing him to elude all manner of pursuers, including a deadly assassin (Javier Bardem) who flips coins for human lives and an aging sheriff (Jones) at the end of his tether. For his work, Jones earned nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actor.

From there, Jones played a small town Louisiana sheriff on the hunt for a serial killer in the direct-to-DVD thriller, "In the Electric Mist" (2009), co-starring John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald. He went on to play the long-standing partner of a firm going through severe layoffs in "The Company Men" (2010), John Wells' low-key drama about the lives ruined by corporate greed. Jones next directed, executive produced and starred in "The Sunset Limited" (HBO, 2011), an adaptation of the play by Cormac McCarthy about an ex-con (Samuel L. Jackson) who saves a suicidal college professor (Jones) from throwing himself in front of a moving train, only to struggle to comprehend his unwavering despair. Returning to blockbuster studio films, Jones co-starred in "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011), playing Col. Chester Phillips, who enlists a meek and mild wannabe Army recruit (Chris Evans) into a secret government program that creates super soldiers. Meanwhile, he once again reprised Agent K for "Men in Black 3" (2012), where Agent J (Will Smith) goes back to the 1960s in order to save K's younger self (Josh Brolin) and the future from catastrophe. The film was a massive global hit, guaranteeing there would be a fourth installment to the series. Meanwhile, he starred opposite Meryl Streep in the romantic comedy, "Hope Springs" (2012), in which both played a couple attending an intense counseling program after 30 years of marriage, and he essayed Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens in Steven Spielberg's historical epic, "Lincoln" (2012); the latter performance garnering him nominations at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards as Best Supporting Actor.




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