Tommy Lee Jones is not a bad guy -- The "Cobb" star reveals that he is more than just the psychos he plays onscreen

By Allen Barber and Marion Hart
Updated December 23, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Tommy Lee Jones is revealing a truly vile temper. An hour earlier he had stepped up to bat in Birmingham, Alabama’s Rickwood Field, wearing a baseball jersey with Ty Cobb’s number, to talk some trash with the pitcher, played by real-life Boston Red Sox hurler Roger Clemens. After exchanging insults, Jones hit a killer line drive, ran to first, stole second, flattened the third baseman with a kick to the chest, and slid safely home. And now he’s storming the stands with murder in his eye to assault a terrified, armless heckler.

But though all that fury looks as if it came from someplace real, Jones, on location for Cobb, Ron Shelton’s biopic about baseball’s greatest and nastiest player, is clearly having a lot of fun doing one of the things he does best: flexing his athletic muscle. ”Tommy did an unbelievable job,” says the flame-throwing Clemens. ”He looked really good, and it was real, because I let those balls go close to 90 miles per hour.”

An All-Star winging pitches at an actor faster than most people drive is all part of the sports verite that writer-director Shelton, himself a former minor-league player, wanted in Cobb, the latest in his line of jock-themed films, which include Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump. But Cobb is less about sports than those movies and more about how a brilliant athlete and, in Jones’ words, ”a wretched human being,” can also be a great man. Notorious for sharpening his spikes before each game, Cobb, according to sportswriter Al Stump, who wrote the film’s source, Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man Who Ever Played Baseball, was a racist, a wife beater, a psychotic, and possibly a killer. But obb set more than 90 records (including most runs: 2,245), held a .367 lifetime batting average (the highest ever), and was one of the first men elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The commercially iffy attempt to show greatness in someone so monstrous is a noble one for Hollywood — and it also promises a shot at a Best Actor Oscar for a performer who’s taken on evil from almost every angle. Jones, however, makes it sound like just an excuse for a bunch of guys to hang out and have fun. ”I loved everything about (it). I loved Ron’s company. I loved Robert Wuhl (who plays Stump). I loved the screenplay. Hell,” he says, his Texas singsong rising, ”I’m happy as a pig.”

He has reason to be. Cobb‘s distributor, Warner Bros., preceded an early-’95 wide release with a four-theater debut at the beginning of December to qualify it and Jones for Oscar consideration. And though Cobb has earned a modest $119,103 so far, Jones’ films of the past year make him impossible to ignore at awards time. He’s been a wound-too-tight Vietnam vet in Heaven and Earth, a mad bomber in Blown Away, a headline-hogging U.S. attorney in The Client, a cartoonish prison warden in Natural Born Killers, and a military scientist with marital problems in Blue Sky, more roles than most big-name actors play in three or four years.

(including most runs: 2,245), held a .367 lifetime batting average (the highest ever), and was one of the first men elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The commercially iffy attempt to show greatness in someone so monstrous is a noble one for Hollywood — and it also promises a shot at a Best Actor Oscar for a performer who’s taken on evil from almost every angle. Jones, however, makes it sound like just an excuse for a bunch of guys to hang out and have fun. ”I loved everything about (it). I loved Ron’s company. I loved Robert Wuhl (who plays Stump). I loved the screenplay. Hell,” he says, his Texas singsong rising, ”I’m happy as a pig.”

He has reason to be. Cobb’s distributor, Warner Bros., preceded an early-’95 wide release with a four-theater debut at the beginning of December to qualify it and Jones for Oscar consideration. And though Cobb has earned a modest $119,103 so far, Jones’ films of the past year make him impossible to ignore at awards time. He’s been a wound-too-tight Vietnam vet in Heaven and Earth, a mad bomber in Blown Away, a headline-hogging U.S. attorney in The Client, a cartoonish prison warden in Natural Born Killers, and a military scientist with marital problems in Blue Sky, more roles than most big-name actors play in three or four years.

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