Tommy Lee Jones
Plastic surgery used to be a thing where older people would try to go into this dream world of being 28 years old again. But now, in Hollywood, even people at 28 are having work done. Society has made us believe you should look like an 18-year-old model all your life. But I figure I might as well just be what I am.
[on trying to get Million Dollar Baby (2004) made at Warner Bros.] They might have been a little more interested if I said I wanted to do "Dirty Harry 9" or something.
[2005 Academy Awards acceptance speech for Best Director for Million Dollar Baby (2004)] Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. I'd like to thank my wife, who is my best pal down here. And my mother, who was here with me in 1993. She was only 84 then. But she's here with me again tonight. And she just -- so, at 96, I'm thanking her for her genes. It was a wonderful adventure. It takes a -- to make a picture in 37 days, it takes a well-oiled machine. And that well-oiled machine is the crew -- the cast, of course, you've met a lot of them. But there's still Margo and Anthony and Michael and Mike and Jay and everybody else who was so fabulous in this cast. And the crew, Campanelli. Billy Coeand, of course, Tom Stern, who is fantastic. And Henry Bumstead, the great Henry Bumstead who is the head of our crack geriatrics team.
And Henry and Jack Taylor, and Dick Goddard [Richard C. Goddard], all those guys. Walt and everybody. I can't think of everybody right now. I'm drawing a blank right now. But, Warren, you were right. And thank you, for your confidence earlier in the evening. I'm just lucky to be here. Lucky to be still working. And I watched Sidney Lumet, who is 80, and I figure, "I'm just a kid. I'll just -- I've got a lot of stuff to do yet." So thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
 My old drama coach used to say, "Don't just do something, stand there." Gary Cooper wasn't afraid to do nothing.
One of the first films I went to - I went with my dad because my mother didn't want to go see a war movie - was Sergeant York (1941). My dad was a big admirer of Sergeant York stories from [World War I]. It was directed by Howard Hawks. That was when I first became aware of movies, who made them, who was involved.
Most people who'll remember me, if at all, will remember me as an action guy, which is OK. There's nothing wrong with that. But there will be a certain group which will remember me for the other films, the ones where I took a few chances. At least, I like to think so.
The plan was, when I first started directing in the 1970s, to get more involved in production and directing so at some point in my life, when I decided I didn't want to act anymore, I didn't have to suit up.
I feel very close to the western. There are not too many American art forms that are original. Most are derived from European art forms. Other than the western and jazz or blues, that's all that's really original.
In The Bridges of Madison County (1995) Kincaid's a peculiar guy. Really, he's kind of a lonely individual. He's sort of a lost soul in mid-America. I've been that guy.
I think people jumped to conclusions about Dirty Harry (1971) without giving the character much thought, trying to attach right-wing connotations to the film that were never really intended. Both the director [Don Siegel] and I thought it was a basic kind of drama - what do you do when you believe so much in law and order and coming to the rescue of people and you just have five hours to solve a case? That kind of impossible effort was fun to portray, but I think it was interpreted as a pro-police point of view, as a kind of rightist heroism, at a time in American history when police officers were looked down on as "pigs", as very oppressive people - I'm sure there are some who are, and a lot who aren't. I've met both kinds.
You have to trust your instincts. There's a moment when an actor has it, and he knows it. Behind the camera you can feel the moment even more clearly. And once you've got it, once you feel it, you can't second-guess yourself. You can find a million reasons why something didn't work. But if it feels right, and it looks right, it works. Without sounding like a pseudo intellectual dipshit, it's my responsibility to be true to myself. If it works for me, it's right.
None of the pictures I take a risk in cost a lot, so it doesn't take much for them to turn a profit. We don't deal in big budgets. We know what we want and we shoot it and we don't waste anything. I never understand these films that cost twenty, thirty million dollars when they could be made for half that. Maybe it's because no one cares. We care.
[on how he decided to do A Fistful of Dollars (1964)] I'd done "Rawhide" (1959) for about five years. The agency called and asked if I was interested in doing a western in Italy and Spain. I said, "Not particularly." They said, "Why don't you give the script a quick look?" Well, I was kind of curious, so I read it, and I recognized it right away as Yojimbo (1961), a Kurosawa [Akira Kurosawa] film I had liked a lot. Over I went, taking the poncho with me - yeah the cape was my idea.
There's a rebel lying deep in my soul. Anytime anybody tells me the trend is such and such, I go the opposite direction. I hate the idea of trends. I hate imitation; I have a reverence for individuality. I got where I am by coming off the wall. I've always considered myself too individualistic to be either right-wing or left-wing.
I don't like the wimp syndrome. No matter how ardent a feminist may be, if she is a heterosexual female, she wants the strength of a male companion as well as the sensitivity. The most gentle people in the world are macho males, people who are confident in their masculinity and have a feeling of well-being in themselves. They don't have to kick in doors, mistreat women, or make fun of gays.
I don't believe in pessimism. If something doesn't come up the way you want, forge ahead.
The reason I became a Republican is because [Dwight D. Eisenhower] was running. A hero from World War II, a charismatic individual, a military man, a non-attorney - even then I liked that! I was a very young person voting for the first time. A lot of people joke that a conservative is a liberal who's made his first $100,000 and then decides,"Wait a second, I want to save this, why are they taxing it away?". Today the country's in kind of a turmoil over taxing. Being raised in the thirties, watching my parents work hard to make ends meet, with jobs scarce, and then the war years - it tends to make a person a little more fiscally conscious than if you've been born into a wealthier family. You know, if you go to most people who are self-made and ask them what their political philosophy is, usually they're a little more conservative than people who had a better start.
This film cost $31 million. With that kind of money I could have invaded some country.
They say marriages are made in Heaven. But so is thunder and lightning.
I've always supported a certain amount of gun control. I think California has always had a mandatory waiting period, so we were never concerned about it like the rest of the country. Some states didn't have any at all. So I've always supported that. I think it's very important that guns don't get in the wrong hands, and, yes, I would support most of that. I don't know too much about trigger locks. I've never really discussed that with anyone. But I do feel that guns - it's very important to keep them out of the hands of felons or anyone who might be crazy with it.
I've thought about retiring for years now. When I did Play Misty for Me (1971) in 1970, I thought that if I could pull this off maybe I could step behind the camera, and it would be time to see the end of me. Every year I have threatened to do that - and here I am. So it may come sooner than you think.
[on World War II] I feel terrible for both sides in that war and in all wars. A lot of innocent people get sacrificed. It's not about winning or losing, but mostly about the interrupted lives of young people.
I've done a lot of violent movies, especially in the early days. My recent efforts, like The Bridges of Madison County (1995), weren't too violent. In recent years I've done less, and, yes, I am concerned about violence in film. In '92, when I did Unforgiven (1992), which is a film that had a very anti- violence and anti-gun play - anti-romanticizing of gun play theme, I remember that Gene Hackman was concerned about it, and we both discussed the issue of too much violence in films. It's escalated ninety times since Dirty Harry (1971) and those films were made.
Maybe I'm getting to the age when I'm starting to be senile or nostalgic or both, but people are so angry now. You used to be able to disagree with people and still be friends. Now you hear these talk shows, and everyone who believes differently from you is a moron and an idiot - both on the Right and the Left.
I like to play the line and not wander too far to either side. If a guy has just had a bad day in the mines and wants to see a good shoot 'em up, that's great. My involvement goes deeper than acting or directing. I love every aspect of the creation of motion pictures and I guess I'm committed to it for life. Whatever success I've had is due to a lot of instinct and a little luck.
I've always had the ability to say to the audience, watch this if you like, and if you don't, take a hike.
I've actually had people come up to me and ask me to autograph their guns.
[on former President Ronald Reagan] Yes, I liked him very much. When he was a former president of the Screen Actors Guild, I don't think he had the vast support that a lot of other presidents have had. So I don't know why that is, it's just the nature of things.
[when asked if he is still registered as a Republican] Yes, I am. I started - I enrolled as a Republican in 1951 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was running. And I was in the military. I was a fan of his. And that's how I got started off. I was never - my parents were mixed, I think one Republican, one Democrat, so I didn't have any grand-pappies to influence me.
When I was doing The Bridges of Madison County (1995), I said to myself, "This romantic stuff is really tough. I can't wait to get back to shooting and killing."
[when asked if he has disappointed his conservative fans by directing Million Dollar Baby (2004)] Well, I got a big laugh out of that. These people are always bitching about "Hollyweird", and then they start bitching about this film. Are they all so mad because The Passion of the Christ(2004) is only up for the makeup award and a couple of other minor things? Extremism is so easy. You've got your position, and that's it. It doesn't take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.
[on John Huston] It's another aspect of the character that pleased me: he was interested in other things besides his art. He liked women, gambling, living the high life. He could have a life parallel to his work. I could identify with this type of behavior. But, because of this very fact, he became attracted more and more by other things, so that what interested him in life moved him away from his art to the point that he nearly lived a tragedy. And the tragedy brings him back to reality. If you study Huston's life, you realize that at the age of nineteen he thought he didn't have long to live because of a heart defect a doctor has notified him of as a result of a misdiagnosis. It drove him to elaborate a personal philosophy according to which he would profit from life to the maximum. He didn't take care of himself - he was a confirmed smoker, a heavy drinker - and yet he lived to be more than eighty. Paul Newman spoke to me about him when we were acting at the same time, each in a different movie, in Tucson, Arizona. He was starring in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) and I was doing Joe Kidd (1972) with John Sturges. Huston drank martinis and smoked cigars all night long, slept from one o'clock to four o'clock in the morning because he was an insomniac, did everything he shouldn't do to live to be old, and yet he died at a very great age! It was the same thing with John Wayne, who was first of all the opposite of a health fanatic.
I never considered myself a cowboy, because I wasn't. But I guess when I got into cowboy gear I looked enough like one to convince people that I was.
If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.
I always cry when I watch myself on screen.
Guys I thought of as heroes were like Joe Louis and, maybe during the war, there was General [George S. Patton], of course, and maybe [Dwight D. Eisenhower], who was the head of the Allied forces. And Gary Cooper. There were just a handful of men and a handful of women. Now, people become stars who are just heiresses or something.
I also wonder how I got this far in life. Growing up, I never knew what I wanted to do. I was not a terribly good student or a very vivacious, outgoing person. I was just kind of a backward kid. I grew up in various little towns and ended up in Oakland, California, going to a trade school. I didn't want to be an actor, because I thought an actor had to be an extrovert - somebody who loved to tell jokes and talk and be a raconteur. And I was something of an introvert. My mother used to say: "You have a little angel on your shoulder." I guess she was surprised I grew up at all, never mind that I got to where I am. The best I can do is quote a line from Unforgiven (1992): "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
Every movie I make teaches me something, and that's why I keep making them. I'm at that stage of life when I could probably stop and just hit golf balls. But in filming these two movies about Iwo Jima, I learnt about war and about character. I also learnt a lot about myself.
I was a teenager when the battle of Iwo Jima took place. I remember hearing about the bond drive and the need to maintain the war effort. Back then, people had just come through 10 years of a Depression, and they were used to working for everything. I still have an image of someone coming to our house when I was about six years old, offering to cut and stack the wood in our back yard if my mother would make him a sandwich.
The Americans who went to Iwo Jima knew it would be a tough fight, but they always believed they'd win. The Japanese were told they wouldn't come home - they were being sent to die for the Emperor. People have made a lot out of that very different cultural approach. But as I got into the storytelling for the two movies [Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)], I realised that the 19-year-olds from both sides had the same fears. They all wrote poignant letters home saying: "I don't want to die." They were all going through the same thing, despite the cultural differences.
I guess if you see both of the movies [Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)] together, they sum up as an antiwar film. Whether it's about territory or religion, war is horrifyingly and depressingly archaic. But I didn't set out to make a war movie. I cared about those three fellows - Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon [John H. Bradley, Ira H. Hayes, 'René A. Gagnon'] - the headliners on that war-bond circus. The young men were taken off the front lines, wined and dined, introduced to movie stars. But it felt wrong to them.
As for me, I like being behind the camera instead of in front of it. I can wear what I want. Will I act again? I never say never. I like doing things where I can stretch and go in different directions. I'm not looking to take it easy. Like the Marines on Iwo Jima, I understand that if you really want something, you have to be ready to fight.
Life is a constant class, and once you think you know it all, you're due to decay. You're due to slide. I have to keep challenging myself and try something I haven't done before. The studios aren't always happy with that. When I wanted to make Mystic River (2003), the studio said, "Uh-oh, it's so dark." And I said, "Well, it's important. And it's a nice story." Then the next movie, Million Dollar Baby (2004), they said, "Who wants to see a picture about a girl boxing?" And I said, "It's really a father-daughter love story. Boxing just happens to be what's going on." They didn't have much faith. So there are always obstacles and people afraid to take risks. That's why you end up with remakes of old TV shows as movies. But playing it safe is what's risky, because nothing new comes out of it.
[on the Iraq war] My druthers would have been, "Get a more benevolent dictator and stick him in. You know, try somebody a little less mean." You don't go in there and fire the army. The army's got to do something. When you fire 'em, you leave them all unemployed. Worst thing in the world. Just get somebody else who they respect and bring him on your side. That's one way of doing it.
[on President George W. Bush] You've got to admire somebody who stands up for what they believe regardless of how the polls go. A lot of presidents do everything by the polls. They do a focus group then all of a sudden they say, "OK, that's what I'm going to be for because that's where focus group is leading me.
[on the Iraq war] I wasn't for going in there. Only because democracy isn't something that you get overnight. I don't think America got democracy overnight. It's something we had to fight for and believe in.
[on John Wayne] I gave him a piece of material that I thought had potential for us to do as a younger guy and an older guy. He wrote me back critical of it. He had seen High Plains Drifter (1973), and he didn't think that represented Americana like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and other John Ford westerns. I never answered him.
[on Sergio Leone] I spun off Sergio and he spun off me. I think we worked well together. I like his compositions. He has a very good eye. I liked him, I liked his sense of humor, but I feel it was mutual. He liked dealing with the kind of character I was putting together.
"Macho" was a fashionable word in the 1980s. Everybody was kind of into it, what's macho and what isn't macho. I really don't know what macho is. I never have understood. Does it mean somebody who swaggers around exuding testosterone? And kicks the gate open and runs sprints up and down the street? Or does handsprings or whatever? Or is macho a quiet thing based on your security. I remember shaking hands with Rocky Marciano. He was gentle, he didn't squeeze your hand. And he had a high voice. But he could knock people around, it was a given. That's macho. Muhammad Ali is the same. If you talked with him in his younger years, he spoke gently. He wasn't kicking over chairs. I think some of the most macho people are the gentlest.
I was tired of playing the nice, clean-cut cowboy in "Rawhide" (1959), I wanted something earthier. Something different from the old-fashioned Western. You know: Hero rides in, very stalwart, with white hat, man's beating a horse, hero jumps off, punches man, schoolmarm walks down the street, sees this situation going on, slight conflict with schoolmarm, but not too much. You know schoolmarm and hero will be together in exactly 10 more reels, if you care to sit around and wait, and you know the man beast horse with eventually get comeuppance from hero this guy bushwhacks him in reel nine. But [A Fistful of Dollars (1964)] was different; it definitely had satiric overtones. The hero was an enigmatic figure, and that worked within the context of this picture. In some films, he would be ludicrous. You can't have a cartoon in the middle of a Renoir.
In those days, they'd make interview tests, not acting tests. They'd sit you in front of the camera and talk--just as we're talking now. I thought I was an absolute clod. It looked pretty good; it was photographed well, but I thought, "If that's acting, I'm in trouble". But they signed me up as a contract player--which was a little lower than working in the mailroom.
I like working with actors who don't have anything to prove.
[on Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)] Probably the lousiest western ever made.
[on the retirement of friend and fellow actor Gene Hackman]: It is a sad thing. I know his agent and I saw him recently, and he said, 'Can't you talk Gene into coming back?' I said, 'I'd love to see him come back, but I think it's not very nice to ride him.' He's too good an actor not to be performing but, by the same token, he probably thinks that's enough.
[on Gran Torino (2008)] That will probably do it for me as far as acting is concerned. You always want to quit while you are ahead. You don't want to be like a fighter who stays too long in the ring until you're not performing at your best.
There are certain things you have to be realistic about. Dirty Harry would not be on a police department at my age so we'll move on from that.
Having a good person as a foil certainly helps, because acting is an ensemble art form. Clark Gable is only as good as Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (1934).
[on Paint Your Wagon (1969)] It wasn't like Singin' in the Rain (1952), where it had a cohesive plot line. They started out with a real dramatic story and then made it fluffy. When they changed it around, I tried to bail out. It wasn't my favorite. I wasn't particularly nervous about singing on film. My dad was a singer and we'd have sing-arounds. But certainly [Frank Sinatra] wasn't worried.
With Every Which Way But Loose (1978), they gave me the script and I thought, "This is something. This is kinda crazy. But there's something kind of hip about it. This guy's out drifting along and his best friend is an orangutan". I mean, the scenes of talking to an orangutan about your troubles, I'd never seen anything quite like it. He has a romance that falls through, he doesn't get the girl, and then he goes off with the orangutan. I thought, What could be better? I wouldn't put it in the time capsule of films you did that you thought were great, but everything's a challenge.
Gene Hackman was interesting because I gave the Unforgiven (1992) script to his agent and he said no, he didn't want to do anything violent. But I went back to him and said, "I know where you're coming from. You get to a certain age and I'm there too, where you don't want to tell a lot of violent stories, but this is a chance to make a great statement".
At this particular time in my life, I'm not doing anything as a moneymaker. It's like I'm pushing the envelope the other way to see how far we can go to be noncommercial. But I'm definitely not going for the demographics of 13- to 15-year-olds. I didn't know if Mystic River (2003) would go over at all. I had a hard time getting it financed, to tell you the truth. But I just told Warners the same thing I did with Million Dollar Baby (2004): "I don't know if this is going to make any money. But, I think I can make a picture that you'd be proud to have in your library.
People have lost their sense of humor. In former times we constantly made jokes about different races. You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth or you will be insulted as a racist. I find that ridiculous. In those earlier days every friendly clique had a 'Sam the Jew' or 'Jose the Mexican' - but we didn't think anything of it or have a racist thought. It was just normal that we made jokes based on our nationality or ethnicity. That was never a problem. I don't want to be politically correct. We're all spending too much time and energy trying to be politically correct about everything.
[on the possibility of a Dirty Harry (1971) sequel] I'm 78 years old, and you're pretty well drummed out of the police force by that age. There could be a scenario. I suppose if some mythical writer came out of nowhere and it was the greatest thing on the planet, I'd certainly have to think about it. But it's not like I've ever courted it. I feel like that was an era of my life, and I've gone on to other things. I'm not sure about being Dirty Harry again--but who knows?
I keep finding interesting stories, or they come to me, so I'll keep making movies.
[on a possible return to acting after saying he was giving it up with Gran Torino (2008)] I'm like Jaws 2 (1978): "Just when you think it's safe to go back in the water..."
[on Angelina Jolie] She's wonderful. To me, she's like a throwback to the women in film of the Forties. Not to say women today aren't great, but back then there was more individuality. They didn't have the same Botox look. Angelina has that great individuality, her own look and her own style. I think she would have been just as big a name in that era, the same as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman.
[on Million Dollar Baby (2004)] It's a tragedy that could have been written by the Greeks or Shakespeare.
I don't quite understand this obsession about doing remakes and making television series into feature films. I would rather see them encourage writers with new ideas in all different genres like they used to in the heyday of movies.
[in 2002, on Michael Cimino] George Lucas made Howard the Duck (1986), and the guy who made Waterworld (1995) - those films didn't destroy them. Critics were set up to hate Heaven's Gate (1980) . . . the picture didn't work with the public. If it had, it would have been the same as Titanic (1997). "Titanic" worked, so all is forgiven. Certain things may have been his fault. The accolades for The Deer Hunter (1978) probably made him think, "I am a genius, king of the world". But if you say you're king of the world then people will root for you to fall . . . I've always said that if you're prepared to accept reviews saying you're brilliant, you better be prepared to accept reviews saying you're a burn. The guy calling you a bum may be wrong, but the guy calling you brilliant may be wrong, too. Michael needs to make an intimate, smaller picture, do a film for five or six weeks, with no special effects, flying by the seats of his pants, to not be afraid and pull the trigger.
[on death] I don't think older people think about it that much, my mother was 97. She passed away a few years back. The only thing she ever said to me, toward the last, she said, 'I want out of here, I am tired.' And I said 'No, no, three more years. We get the century mark.' I figured I could coax her into more after that, but when she finally did pass away, she couldn't talk because she had had a stroke. They said do you want to be resuscitated for while, and she said 'no.' So, I had to grant her that wish. She had no fear and I think as you get older -- you probably have more fear as a younger person than you do as an older person. Because as an older person you have stacked up a lot of background and time-in-grade, so to speak, so you are probably thinking what the hell 'I have had a good time.
If you believe in reincarnation you're putting too much on the other side. I believe you have just one shot at life, and you should do the best you can with that shot. And I suppose you should be thankful that you've been given the ability to do certain things in life, and not be greedy enough to want to stay around forever.
[on the Rocky (1976) movies] I loved the first one. I always admired Sylvester Stallone's tenacity to go ahead and get that made.
I would never have been able to pass the Bill Clinton-Gary Hart test. No one short of Mother Teresa could pass.
[on directing Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover] He could make a lot of money making mechanical genre pictures but he wants to be challenged. And it's much more of a challenge to play someone who doesn't have the slightest thing in common with you.