With no fewer than four Oscar nods to his name, including one victory, Tommy Lee Jones is one of the most well-respected actors of his generation. However, he just so happens to be one of the most fearsome, too. Indeed, the Hollywood veteran has become just as renowned for his short temper as his considerable talents.
Jones first shot to fame in the soap opera world playing Dr. Mark Toland in One Life to Live, but he soon moved on to bigger and better things. His box office smashes include Men in Black, Under Siege and Jason Bourne. He’s also appeared in critical hits such as No Country for Old Men, Lincoln and JFK and in 1994 won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his turn in The Fugitive.
But it appears as though you hire Jones at your peril. The actor has repeatedly clashed with major names both in front of and behind the camera over the years – with 1995’s Batman Forever a particularly troublesome experience. So here’s a look at the eventful career of one of Tinseltown’s biggest grouches.
The actor was born to a beauty shop owner mother and oil field worker father in the Texan city of San Saba in 1946. After graduating from high school, Jones studied English at Harvard College and rubbed shoulders with a man who would go on to become Vice President of the United States. Yes, Jones shared a room with none other than Al Gore.
Jones also played for the legendary and undefeated Harvard football team of 1968 during his studies. Apparently, he even played at the “most famous Ivy League game of all time,” according to the documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. But his ambitions lay elsewhere; after relocating to the Big Apple, he took to the Broadway stage for the first time in A Patriot for Me. And from then on, he never looked back.
In 1970 Jones appeared on the big screen for the first time in Love Story. And the film wasn’t exactly a stretch for the aspiring star. That’s because he appeared as a student at Harvard, and the plot itself was partly inspired by author Erich Segal’s experiences of sharing a room with Jones.
Jones then enjoyed a four-year stint in One Life to Live as Dr. Mark Toland before starring as the eponymous mogul in the made-for-TV film The Amazing Howard Hughes. By the end of the 1970s the star had also shown up in Jackson County Jail, The Betsy and Eyes of Laura Mars. Jones then picked up the first of many Golden Globe nods in 1980 for his turn in Coal Miner’s Daughter as Loretta Lynn’s spouse Mooney.
In 1983 Jones got the chance to make an acceptance speech when he was awarded Best Actor at the Emmys for his performance in The Executioner’s Song. He then went on to achieve further awards recognition at the end of the decade for his turn as a Texas Ranger in the adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. However, it was in the 1990s that Jones finally made the A-list.
Jones bagged his first Academy Award nod for his portrayal of suspect Clay Shaw in Oliver Stone’s 1991 hit JFK. Two years later he got his hands on one of the coveted statues for his performance in The Fugitive. Jones won Best Supporting Actor for playing Samuel Gerard, the Deputy U.S. Marshal who makes it his mission to track down Harrison Ford’s man on the run.
But Jones wasn’t afraid to embrace more popcorn fare, either. He was a terrorist in action movie Under Siege, played Harvey Dent in Batman Forever and starred alongside Will Smith in the hugely popular Men in Black. The Client, Natural Born Killers and Volcano were just a handful of the other hits that helped cement Jones as one of the most successful actors of the 1990s.
Jones continued his winning streak into the new century – appearing alongside Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys. He also took the director’s chair for only the second time in 2005 with the western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Jones was also awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his bilingual performance in the same film.
After delivering another impressive performance in mystery In the Valley of Elah, Jones once again attracted awards attention for No Country for Old Men. Here, he picked up another Oscar nod for his turn as an assassin-hunting Texas sheriff in the Coen brothers classic. The actor then ventured into the superhero world in 2011 with a supporting role in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Jones then pulled triple duty on The Sunset Limited – producing, directing and co-starring in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s play. After a surprise reprisal of his Agent K role in the belated third Men in Black instalment, Jones made a rare foray into the rom-com genre in Hope Springs. He then picked up his fourth Academy Awards nod for his portrayal of Thaddesus Stevens in Lincoln.
As he entered his seventh decade, Jones remained just as prolific as ever. He was cast as Robert Dewey in 2016’s highly anticipated return for Jason Bourne. He showed up in action vehicles Mechanic: Resurrection and Criminal. And in 2019 he played Brad Pitt’s estranged father in sci-fi epic Ad Astra.
However, Jones’ private life has been a little more turbulent than his professional one. He first walked down the aisle with screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr.’s daughter Kate in 1971, but the pair divorced seven years later. He became a father of two while wed to Kimberlea Cloughley, however after they split, Jones said “I do” for a third time in 2001 to Dawn Laurel.
Jones may be one of the most well-respected actors of the modern era, but he’s certainly not one of the most approachable. The star has built a reputation for being Hollywood’s ultimate grouch, thanks to a series of difficult interviews and various horror stories from ex-colleagues.
Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell are just two stars who are likely to have given Jones a wide berth since 2013. While cracking jokes during their presenting stint at the Golden Globes that year, the camera cut to Jones in the audience. And his unimpressed face had many comparing him to the popular meme, Grumpy Cat.
In 2011 The A.V. Club included Jones in their list of “17 notoriously prickly interview subjects.” The entertainment site wrote, “While he isn’t averse to giving a detailed response, particularly on a subject like the state of his cattle ranch, Jones makes little attempt to hide his contempt for interviews and those who conduct them. If [he] hates interviews so much, maybe he should just stop doing them.”
And there are many notable examples of what The A.V. Club referred to. When asked about the qualities he looks for in a director by Yahoo! Movies, Jones replied, “A paycheck.” And while promoting Men in Black III, the star was asked by Vulture to talk about what makes him laugh. His answer? “I don’t think I would describe my sense of humor. Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I’d do.”
Entertainment Weekly also weren’t afraid to call out Jones’ grouchy demeanor after interviewing him in 2012. The piece began, “Tommy Lee Jones is in a good mood. So I’ve been told. But you can’t tell by looking at him.” The writer later added, “We shake hands. There is no small talk. Once you’ve met Jones, you know better than to make any.”
Johanna Schneller from the Globe and Mail was also left cursing the day she ever agreed to interview Jones in 2011. After a curt interview with the star, the writer admitted, “I felt like I was on a game show, where I was presented with a locked door and 1,000 keys, and given 15 minutes to try as many as possible.” Schneller was still left surprised by just how uncooperative Jones was – despite previously knowing all about his reputation.
Schneller continued, “I’d heard the stories. He’d made a GQ colleague of mine cry. They were at a ranch he owned in San Antonio, Texas, and for two days he offered little but critiques of her questions and corrections of her grammar, while – I kid you not – cracking walnuts with his bare hands. When his name came up at assignment meetings, every journalist who’d interviewed him would decline.”
Of course, it’s not just journalists that Jones appears to have contempt for. He hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to become friends with his co-stars at times, either. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Josh Brolin recalled the moment he met the fearsome actor at a table read for the third movie in the Men in Black franchise. And as you might expect, things soon became unbelievably awkward.
Brolin decided to pass on regards from both his friend Charlize Theron and his spouse Diane Lane. The former had shared the screen with Jones in 2007 drama In the Valley of Elah, while the latter had co-starred with him in 1980s miniseries Lonesome Dove. Apparently, Jones responded to these greetings with nothing more than, “Okay.”
Understandably, Brolin was left flustered by Jones’ complete lack of effort. He told Entertainment Weekly, “And I’m thinking, ‘What kind of f***ing response is that?’ That’s the weirdest… I don’t know what to say. That’s his genius, ‘How can I make this the most uncomfortable moment anybody has ever had in the world?’”
Even those who actually get along with Jones acknowledge that he can be a prickly character. One such name is Samuel L. Jackson, who appeared alongside the star in both Rules of Engagement and The Sunset Limited. He told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ve seen people come out of a room with [Jones] and their hair’s standing on end, because he just won’t let you ask him a stupid question.”
And although they have since become friends, Sally Field admits she and Jones “fought like cats and dogs” while shooting Back Roads in 1981. She also told the same magazine, “He is eccentric. And it’s a true, real thing. He is who he is. I guess it comes off gruff. It is gruff.”
However, there’s one famous person who appears to have incurred Jones’ wrath more than any other. And that’s his co-star in 1995’s Batman Forever, Jim Carrey. The rubber-faced comedian revealed just how much the pair clashed while filming the superhero movie on a 2017 episode of podcast Norm Macdonald Live.
Carrey, who played The Riddler in the third modern Caped Crusader movie, told Macdonald that he felt jealousy was at the heart of Jones’ dislike. He said, “I was the star and that was the problem.” However, Carrey was still more than happy to compliment Jones’ talents, adding, “He’s a phenomenal actor, though. I still love him.”
And Jones, who starred as Harvey Dent/Two-Face in Batman Forever, didn’t even try to hide his contempt for his fellow villainous co-star. Carrey claimed that the actor explicitly told him of his hatred during a tense meeting in a restaurant. The incident apparently occurred when the comedian just happened to wander into the same eaterie that Jones was already enjoying a meal at.
Carrey recalled, “The maitre said, ‘Oh, I hear you’re working with Tommy Lee Jones. He’s over in the corner having dinner.’ I went over and I said, ‘Hey… how are you doing?’ and the blood just drained from his face. And he got up shaking – he must have been in mid kill me fantasy or something like that.”
Unfortunately for Carrey, things only got worse from then on. He added, “And he went to hug me and he said, ‘I hate you. I really don’t like you.’ And I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ and pulled up a chair, which probably wasn’t smart. And he said, ‘I cannot sanction your buffoonery.’”
Macdonald argued that Jones may have had a major issue with the fact that Carrey had become a bigger star than him. However, Carrey believes that the nature of the film they were working on together may have also played a part. He said, “He might have been uncomfortable doing that work, too. That’s not really his style of stuff.”
Carrey’s claims were backed up by Batman Forever director Joel Schumacher – who knows all about how difficult Jones could be. The filmmaker described the Oscar winner as an “a*****e” in an interview with People magazine in 1996. He said, “I’m tired of defending overpaid, over-privileged actors. I pray I don’t work with them again.”
Of course, Schumacher had already worked with Jones before on 1994 legal thriller The Client. But he told Vulture in 2019 that the actor was a completely different person when it came to shooting the superhero movie. And the director said that Carrey bore the brunt of Jones’ bad temper.
When asked explicitly what the actor did to his much younger co-star, a candid Schumacher told Vulture, “[Jones] is, and I say this with great respect, a scene stealer. Well, you can’t steal the scene from Jim Carrey. It’s impossible. And, I think it irked [Jones]… He wasn’t kind to [Carrey].”
Schumacher continued, “He did not act towards [Carrey] the way an Oscar winner with a star on Hollywood Boulevard, being the oldest member of the cast, and having such a distinguished career and the accolades to go with it, should have acted towards [Carrey]. But what happens on the set stays on set.” Well, until you reveal everything in a tell-all interview 24 years later, that is.
However, it turns out that Jones isn’t the only Hollywood name who has taken umbrage with Jim Carrey. During his interview with Norm Macdonald, the star also revealed that Bugs Bunny creator Chuck Jones also wasn’t a fan. Carrey acknowledged, “Every once in a while, somebody you really admire hates your guts.”
And Carrey proved just how difficult he can sometimes be on a movie set in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. Compiled of footage taken from the shoot of Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, the documentary shows the star repeatedly testing the patience of the cast and crew. And producer Danny DeVito is just one of several names who grows increasingly frustrated with Carrey’s bizarre method approach.
After a four-year break from the movie industry, Carrey will return to the big screen in 2020 to play the villainous Dr. Ivo Robotnik in the troubled Sonic the Hedgehog. Tommy Lee Jones also has two movies in post-production. He will first play Jimmy Cleats in the thriller Wander before co-starring alongside Robert De Niro in remake The Comeback Trail.