Interview: Tommy Lee Jones on his directorial debut

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THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA is a very long and complicated title for a movie, but that’s what it’s called – actor Tommy Lee Jones’s directorial debut that’s competing at Cannes (2005). Melquiades Estrada is a man who’s shot and killed by mistake by a pathetic Texan border cop in a story taking place close to the Mexican border. Tommy Lee Jones plays Estrada’s old friend who forces the cop to remove the corpse from its grave and ride down to Estrada’s little Mexican village for a decent burial.

“It’s hard to get directing gigs,” says a relaxed Tommy Lee Jones, sporting a moustache and a goatee. “That’s why it’s taken so long for me before I debuted as a director. Well, before this I’ve directed a TV movie for Turner and a couple of stage plays. You have to work really hard to finally get a job as a director. And the process itself takes a very long time.”

It took THE THREE BURIALS three years to finally reach the silver screen.

“This is a movie I really wanted to make,” says Tommy Lee Jones. “Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and I are hunting buddies and we’ve talked for a long time about doing something together. We wanted to make something about Texas and Mexico, and something totally independent from powerful major studios. And now, three years later, we’re here.”

Many compare Tommy Lee Jones’s movie to a Western, but the director doesn’t agree.

“I guess it’s because we’re wearing big hats and ride horses through Texas, but our movie explores completely different things than a Western. It’s not about getting things done yourself, being a vigilante; a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do – it’s about a journey leading to knowledge and friendship. One important theme of the story is faith, to believe in something, and that’s something that’s important to me as well as a human being.”

The movie’s main character isn’t played by a human actor, but by the landscape.

“The landscape is a character,” Jones says. “It can be both tough and emotional.”

Tommy Lee Jones concludes talking about the relationship between USA and Mexico.

“We have the same misunderstandings and prejudices on both sides of the border. And after all, it’s just a river that separates the two countries. It’s really the one and same country and we have the same culture.”

The cast of THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA also includes Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam and January Jones.


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