No Money for Old Men: Tommy Lee Jones sues studio for $10m

Amol Rajan
Monday 08 September 2008 00:00

As sheriff Ed Tom Bell, he risked death in the fight for justice, pursuing Javier Bardem's psychotic murderer across the desolate and lawless landscape of west Texas. Now Tommy Lee Jones is taking his love for the letter of the law a step further – albeit for more self-serving reasons.

The veteran actor is suing the makers of No Country For Old Men for $10m (£5.7m), which he claims he is owed for his role in last year's award-winning crime thriller.

The film, about a botched drug deal and its brutal repercussions, was adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. Directed and co-produced by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, it was a critical and box-office hit, earning more than $160m and going on to win three Baftas, two Golden Globes and four Oscars, including best picture, best director and best supporting actor for Bardem.

Jones has filed his lawsuit in Bexar County, San Antonio. NM Classics Inc, a Dutch subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, is also named in the action, according to The San Antonio Express-News. Jones, who won his only Oscar for his role alongside Harrison Ford in 1993's The Fugitive, claims that he has not been paid the bonuses he was promised and his initial fee for appearing in the movie was unjustly reduced. He also claims that a contract was given to him despite the fact it contained several inaccuracies.

The 61-year-old says he signed a contract with NM Classics on 3 April 2006, agreeing to act in the film and to provide "additional related services" for promoting the movie. In return, the legal papers allege, the company agreed that it would pay Jones a fixed "upfront" fee and, depending on its success, "significant box-office bonuses and 'back-end' compensation". The vagueness of those promises has returned to haunt the actor. His lawyers claim he was promised "significant" bonuses to compensate him for his reduced fee.

No Country For Old Men was a co-production between Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films, with Paramount largely controlling the film's release and distribution outside the US. Jones demanded that he, the Coens and the film's producer, Scott Rudin, should be entitled to the same treatment and equal shares of the box-office spoils.

But the lawsuit claims that in December 2007, barely a month after the film was released in America, Paramount executives told Jones his contract contained a "mistake" related to "a major issue involving the deduction for home video expenses". It also alleges that on 10 January this year, Paramount officials approached Jones again, this time with information about a second major "mistake" in his contract.

The veteran A-lister, whose career has been reinvigorated after a few years in the wilderness, says his "deception" at the hands of Paramount amounts to fraud.

A central plank of his legal action is a claim that Paramount invited him to sign his contract while fully aware of the flaws it contained.

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Jones, born in San Saba, Texas, has lived in the Lone Star State for most of his adult life and is today based in the San Antonio suburb of Terrell Hills. He made his first screen appearance in 1968, when he was 22, in the long-running television soap opera One Life To Live. Revered throughout his long Hollywood career, Jones earned a cult following for his performances alongside Val Kilmer in Batman Forever (1995) and Will Smith in Men In Black (1997).

His memorable introduction of Al Gore, a former college roommate, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, when Mr Gore was running against Jones's fellow Texan George Bush, endeared him to many of Hollywood's liberal elite.

Jones has not yet commented publicly about the case. He has asked that an auditor be named to review the film's financial records and determine exactly how much compensation he should be paid. His publicist, Jennifer Allen, said: "The paperwork stands for itself."

Stars and their lawsuits

Lawyers and accountants have increasingly been employed by Hollywood's box-office talents in disputes over profit-sharing contracts with studios. Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, sued a subsidiary of Time Warner, saying he had been underpaid by up to $100m (£57m). The case threatened his involvement in the film of The Hobbit, but it was eventually settled. David Duchovny, co-star on The X-Files, sued 20th Century Fox for $25m after it sold re-runs to a sister company and some of its TV stations allegedly at below market value, cutting the share he should have received. Alan Alda also sued Fox, over profit participation in M*A*S*H. The cases were settled out of court. All three were represented by the lawyer Stanton Stein.

Ian Johnston

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