Why lee jones loves black comedy

WHEN his steely gaze fixes on you, there are few actors who can scare and mesmerise audiences as well as Tommy Lee Jones.

But in his recent roles, the Oscar-winning star discovered he loves films where he can make people laugh - especially when the script demands Lara Flynn Boyle has to stick her tongue in his ear.

The craggy character actor is reprising his role of Agent Kay in Men In Black II, and despite his deadpan image - the straight guy to Will Smith’s wisecracking Agent Jay - he says that he loved every minute of the movie.

"I’m always happy to have a job. Especially happy to have this one because I really did like the first movie, and working for director Barry Sonnenfeld with Will Smith have been some of the happiest days of my young working life," laughs the 55-year-old Texan.

"I haven’t had a lot of comedy come my way as a performer. Comedy’s difficult and I’ve had a chance to work with the best and learn a lot about it, and reap the benefits.

"As an actor to watch an audience of people howl together in a single mind as a result of work you’ve done together with friends is a privilege.

"The thing that surprises me is things that I thought would be of no significance, things I thought were off-handed, things that were just a passing whim in my head as we were performing this movie, turned out to be huge laughs.

"And the other thing that’s surprising is the momentum, people start laughing early and it builds like an avalanche."

Born in San Saba, Texas, Jones now lives only three miles away from his childhood home, on a 3000-acre cattle ranch where he breeds polo ponies.

After a career which has spanned more than 30 years since graduating from Harvard, he has become known for his portrayal of unsympathetic-but -fascinating characters - from misogynist, racist, violent baseball legend, Ty Cobb, through the psychotic detective who falls in love with Faye Dunaway in The Eyes Of Laura Mars, to the lawman determined to catch Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.

It was his scene-stealing performance in that film, for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994, which finally brought him to the attention of the public.

In comparison his secret agent, protecting Earth from the scum of the universe, is more fun both to watch and for him to film. "I’d start working on Men In Black III tomorrow if they wanted one. I enjoy the company," he says. And after fighting a giant cockroach in the original, Jones gets to tackle the altogether sexier alien, Serleena, played by Lara Flynn Boyle.

The actor was prepared to put in as much work as was necessary to get the perfect shots - including having to repeat the scene where the actress puts her tongue in his ear.

"We did the scene seven times," he says, "and we got it finally to everyone’s satisfaction. It was a lot of fun."

And there was never a question of him turning down a chance to make the sequel.

"Everyone was eager to get back together. The studio just had to deliver a good script and work around a lot of people’s busy schedules. I think a sequel was always on people’s minds. I haven’t a clue if there is life on other planets but I’d be charmed if we found a unicellular organism on Mars. It would change our whole concept of life on Earth."

Twice divorced, the actor’s own childhood was a rocky one. His parents, an oil field worker and a beautician turned policewoman, divorced, remarried, divorced again, and often left their son alone in the family car outside bars while they drank.

His second wife, Kimberlea, to whom he was married for 14 years, once described his upbringing as "psychically horrifying".

Now married for the third time, with two children from his second marriage, Austin, 19, and Victoria, ten, Jones proves there is a softer side to him. After "insisting" his daughter had a cameo role in the movie, he reveals he is "very proud" of her.

Full of paternal pride, there’s no doubt this is one role he definitely enjoys.