Tommy Lee Jones’ life story is as interesting to me as his no-nonsense movie characters. It’s not often that we hear about his acting technique, relationship to his fellow stars, or his thoughts on American history.
In Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Mr. Jones plays Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Sharon Knolle pinned Tommy down for a fun interview.
As he says of Stevens’s and Lincoln’s often-contentious relationship, “They could laugh together.” Jones also discussed whether Stevens could exist in today’s political climate and the fiery on-screen exchange he has with Sally Field’s character, Mary Todd Lincoln.
Did Spielberg give you your choice of roles for the film or did he always want you to play Stevens?
I don’t know if he always wanted me to play Stevens, but I never had a shot at playing Mary. He just called and said, would I read the screenplay and consider the part of Thaddeus Stevens? I did and called back immediately and said, “This is a wonderful undertaking. I feel lucky to be asked to join the gang.”
What kind of research do you do when you’re playing a historical figure?
It’s never the same. For this one, I found all the biographies that I could. There are three. Two of them are worth reading. I learned as much as I could about the life of Thaddeus Stevens because it’s informative to me, as I interpret the screenplay.
Sally Field told me she stays in character throughout filming. Is that something you like to do as well?
It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to do what you do. I don’t have any way of working. I want to work the way the other actor or the director works.
So when you go home at night, are you still Thaddeus Stevens?
I wasn’t too sure about Tommy’s character when I saw him in the trailers, but after reading the interview I have warmed up to him. It’s encouraging, for what it is worth, to know that Tommy studied a few biographies about Thaddeus. I think that the impression on the audience will be that Lincoln is historically authentic.
My previous concerns regarding the historical inaccuracy still stand. I am looking forward to watching Lincoln this weekend when it comes to Georgia, and will be reviewing the film here.