NEW YORK – Suddenly, I know what it's like to be a dentist. I am trying to extract a molar from Tommy Lee Jones.
It's been said that talking to the Men in Black II star is like pulling teeth. It's a 'yes' or 'no' whenever that will suffice. Jones has perfected something beyond the deadpan stare that's closer to comatose. Still, he speaks his mind when he thinks you've asked a good enough question. And he weighs in on the inevitable MIB3. First though, he wants to give me his thoughts on talk TV.
Tommy Lee Jones: I notice there are a lot of — on those political shows in Washington — there are a lot of barking jackasses. And I tend to not keep my television tuned on to them.
Bill McCuddy: (Laughs) Don't be offended, but you strike me as a guy who could bark back. You start watching something that annoys you on television you can start yelling at it?
Jones: Uh no, I don't bark a lot. I use the (makes a remote control gesture).
McCuddy: Well, please click over to Fox News sometime.
Jones: Oh, of course I will.
McCuddy: We'd love to have you.
Jones: You bet.
McCuddy: Were you guys here in New York (making Men In Black) after Sept. 11?
McCuddy: No post-production work at all?
McCuddy: Would you have had any misgivings about that?
McCuddy: How does it feel to be back in the city?
Jones: Wonderful. We arrived yesterday afternoon and came across the bridge.
McCuddy: Your first visit since Sept. 11?
Jones: Yes, and I have to tell you it's moving, very moving. I lived here for seven years. I started my working life here. There was a time — a period of almost three years — [when] I never left the island. It's been very important to me, all of my working life, certainly. I'm very (pause) I take the place very much to heart. So it was emotional, for me, to uh, (halting) be on the streets of the island.
McCuddy: How does the city feel to you? The same as when you lived here?
McCuddy: Basically? The people coming and going? Activity? There's a normality to it?
Jones: Well, when I lived here it was during the Lindsay administration (the 1960s). And um...
McCuddy: Less trash on the streets these days? (a reference to the garbage strikes that plagued Lindsay's mayoral term)
Jones: Yeah. I was about to say that.
McCuddy: (Laughing) Sorry.
Jones: (Beginning to crack something in the vicinity of a smile) But that's a very polite way to put it. People would walk their dogs on the streets of New York in the early '70s, and each dog would of course make his contribution to the general commonwealth of society and you had to kind of hop around like this. (Gestures a haphazard path with his hands).
McCuddy: There was a lot of 'marked' territory.
Jones: A lot of marked territory. Yeah. (Laughs!) So that's the main difference.
McCuddy: Would you move back to New York?
Jones: Oh, of course.
McCuddy: What about the stage? We haven't seen you on stage recently in New York.
Jones: That would be a reason to move back and live for a time. I'd be very happy here.
McCuddy: The stage version of Men In Black perhaps?
Jones: (Playing along, sort of) Well, of course. Sure.
McCuddy: What is it about a sequel like this that appeals to you?
Jones: I don't think, uh, there is a sequel like this and I find that appealing.
McCuddy: Did you have some misgivings at first when they said, 'Well you know we're going to make another one of these'?
Jones: No, I said I was glad, very happy. I said, 'I can't wait to see the script. Let's go.' I was just delighted for a chance to reunite with Barry (Sonnenfeld) and Will (Smith). It's like a family reunion, actually.
McCuddy: Were you surprised at the success of the first one?
Jones: No. No.
McCuddy: Because there had been some reports that you weren't that pleased with it. Not true? Let's bury that right now.
Jones: (Flatly, even for him) Okay, bury it.
McCuddy: At first, before it came out, you were a little uncertain about being in a big comedy?
Jones: (Flatter still) Bury it.
McCuddy: Not true?
Jones: (Scowling now)
McCuddy: I just want to make myself clear.
Jones: I know. I know. You do make yourself clear.
McCuddy: So you had fun then.
Jones: Yeah, I guess that's the fourth time you've asked the question.
McCuddy: (Laughing) Thank you.
Jones: So, but the answer will be the same if you ask it five or six or seven or eight times.
McCuddy: Did Barry ever say 'Blanker?'
McCuddy: I was trying to think of the way he would direct you.
Jones: (Laughs) Oh yeah. His directions are really interesting. He says things like, 'Do it again.' 'Do it faster.' 'Do it like you did, like the time before.' 'Do it more like Jack Webb.' 'Do it the same, but better.' But 'blanker?' Yeah, that sounds like a 'Sonnenfeld-ism.'
McCuddy: And how do you react to that as a classically trained actor?
Jones: I uh
McCuddy: Do it faster? Do it blanker?
Jones: Yeah, you do it faster, blanker, you know, you look at the guy, see what's he's saying and you think for a while. And you can figure out what he wants, which is often independent of what he says, often independent of what he asks for. So what you do is, uh, provide what a director wants, not necessarily what he asks for.
McCuddy: If there's a Men In Black 3 are you on board?
Jones: Oh yeah, you bet.