On the horn from L.A., Tommy Lee Jones — butt of a Seth MacFarlane joke at the Oscar ceremonies, where he was nominated for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln” — has a short break from a daylong shoot.
It’s a commercial for Japanese television, kind of like the Bill Murray character in “Lost in Translation” shooting a commercial for Japanese television. Only Jones didn’t have to go to Japan.
“The product is Boss Coffee,” Jones says. “It’s their equivalent of Red Bull, I suppose. Manufactured by the Suntory Beverage Company” (the same company Murray promoted).
Is Jones big in Japan, as they say?
“I don’t know,” he cracks dryly. “I’m the same size in Texas as I am in Japan.”
The subject of Japan is not beside the point. The veteran actor is in movie theaters right now in “Emperor,” playing Douglas MacArthur, the five-star general, in the earliest days of the occupation of Japan after World War II. Decisions about who to bring to trial as war criminals — the country’s military leaders, but also the godlike emperor, Hirohito — must be made.
Matthew Fox plays the general’s aide, assigned to sort out this business. But Fox’s character, the real-life Gen. Bonner Fellers, has another agenda in the movie: He was in love with a Japanese exchange student before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and now, in the wake of the atomic bombs that devastated two Japanese cities, he hopes to find his girl.
“The movie, of course, is not about Douglas MacArthur,” Jones says. “It’s a love story. … It’s both a personal and historical study of East meeting West, but the personal story is the most important.”
Jones is getting set to direct again. He made the beautiful “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” a half-dozen years back, and now he’s doing another western, this one based on Glendon Swarthout’s novel “The Homesman.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to keep that title or not,” Jones says. “It has to do with the Nebraska Territory in the middle of the 19th century, and the Homestead Act, and what people were willing to endure for some free land. And the effect of the Homestead Act on the women who went west as homesteaders.”
Those women, says Jones, will be played by Hilary Swank, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer “and Grace’s mother, Meryl Streep.” Shooting begins late this month.