Life sometimes imitates art. In the role that solidified his status as one of the great Western actors, Tommy Lee Jones portrayed the inimitable Woodrow F. Call, one of the rugged and taciturn protagonists of Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.” At the end of the saga, a bubbling journalist trails Call like a puppy dog. He questions Call about his legendary exploits – Call remains silent.
Finally, the journalist cries, “They say you’re a man of vision! Is that true?”
Call considers this. He answers, “A man of vision. One hell of a vision.”
Then he gazes into the sunset. The music swells and the West is officially won.
Pete Hammond, film critic for the L.A. Times, had about as much luck gleaning any comments or quotes from Jones last Friday night for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award at the Arlington Theatre. The real-life event mirrored the film event, yet it contained about half the drama and twice the artifice of the “Lonesome Dove” conclusion. The next time real life decides to imitate art, it should do so with a soundtrack.
Hammond was prepared to heap praise and love upon Jones. In his introduction, Hammond described his reaction to Jones’ performance in a sneak-preview screening of Paul Haggis’ recent film, “In the Valley of Elah,” “You never once catch [Jones] acting… It is so subtle. He mirrors the experiences of America during this last decade that we were in Iraq.”
Despite his enthusiasm and appreciation for Jones’ work, an awkward distance remained between interviewer and interviewee. Most of Hammond’s questions centered around personal aspects of Jones’ life that didn’t exactly relate back to his film career.
Many of Hammond’s questions lead to dead-end answers from the quiet Jones. After watching a few clips of Jones’ early movies, Hammond asked, “So, how did you get this opportunity? How were you approached for the part?”
Jones answered, “Well, I auditioned for it.”
Hammond pressed on and cited the fact that Jones starred in the pilot of the television show “Charlie’s Angels.”
“I am very proud of that,” Jones said, unsmiling. Hammond guffawed heartily at this comment and any other instance in which Jones seemed the least bit humorous. The more Hammond tried to laugh and connect with Jones, the further Jones retracted.
The closest Jones came to divulging any acting secrets came when Hammond asked him about his Golden Globe nominated part in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
“I felt like I had a great opportunity in this film to dispel the ‘hillbilly’ stereotype,” Jones said, referring to the poor, Appalachian roots of the character he played in the film. “The people in that town are such an important part of America, and I am one of them.”
Therein lied the problem of conversation: Hammond and Jones could not have had a greater disparity between their personalities. When the obsequious film critic questions the terse cowboy – who isn’t really a cowboy at all – stock answers will follow. Some vision.