PARK CITY, Utah — Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper round out “The Company Men’s” all-star cast as two men trying to survive inside the corporate world. Blast got a chance to sit down with the pair of Oscar winning actors as part of a roundtable interview with other journalists. We talked with them about where they got the inspiration for their characters, working with John Wells and how they define themselves as people.
Chris, your character goes through so much despair in the film. How did you find your character?
Chris Cooper: As an actor I will do my homework, and I like to have a script as early as I can. I make no bones about it because I am so insecure as an actor anyway, I spend every night studying, working on it, thinking about it. And I try to be prepared for what I think John might want and to have a couple of options and if I am completely off the track then be open to the director’s suggestions. There is enough life experience that I can bring to a character like this, whether it is something like that has happened to me or in my family. I can’t see how it can’t all relate to it.
Tommy, it has been suggested there is some dichotomy with your character. Because he is seen as a noble figure at work but he has an affair, which would suggest a flaw. To what extent is that a key to the film and to human nature?
Tommy Lee Jones: I am sure it is relevant to the central theme. Where does the flaw lie? Is it with the girlfriend of the wife? I think it depends on how you tend to moralize. There are two parts to Gene McClary’s emotional life. One of them is very materialistic and one is essentially emotional. He leads those two lives. I think it is supportive of the overall theme of materialism and how we look upon it. I think in the life of Ben Affleck’s character, we see a guy lose a $160,000 job and wind up with a real job in construction, and I think his family and the audience learn together that losing a bunch of things is not necessarily a great tragedy. So I think McClary’s dual life is part of John’s attempt to address the subject of materialism. Look at it twice. Where is the flaw in this guy’s life? Is it his wife or his girlfriend?
The movie suggests that a lot of people find identity through their jobs and possessions. Do you ever find yourselves doing that?
TLJ: No. I don’t identify myself through the things I own. Do you (looking at Chris)?
CC: No. I still live in the same split-level ranch that I bought in 1994 and had no business buying. It was a cheap house, and I had no business buying it at that time. But I still live there and I’m still trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. You know, renovating the place and adding to it, but Marianne and I make a point to really live below the radar of this whole Hollywood nonsense.
Has this movie provided any perspective on how you take parts? What are you doing next? Are you thinking about taking a different kind of role next?
TLJ: I don’t drag movies around with me in my life.
You just finish one and go onto the next?
TLJ: I think there are some important themes for us all to consider. And the consideration of those themes, the performance of them, the enjoyment of them as a dramatic event whether you’re in the audience or a performer is the whole point.
Could you talk about John Wells and some of his characteristics as director?
TLJ: He is entirely guileless as a person, and that is a quality he brings to his movie set. People are drawn to that and behave in a similar way. In other words, there’s not a lot of jealousy and paranoia or resentment or stupid competition going on.
What is next for you guys?
TLJ: Boy, I wish I knew the answer to that. He knows what’s next for him because he is leaving the country tomorrow.
CC: I’m going to work with John Sayles for the fifth time in the Philippines on a turn of the 19th century piece about the American occupation of the country. John always likes to get his bits of history in and have people mingle with each other — or don’t. He always likes his history and politics, and so we’re going to go do it again.
Brooklynne Peters contributed to this video.