Born in San Antonio in 1946, actor Richard Jones knew exactly what he wanted to do as soon as he graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1965.
“I wanted to be an actor,” Jones, 68, told the me during a phone interview this week. “So, I jumped the city walls like most adventurous men do and went out to do it.”
Starting off at Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas, Jones ended up graduating from the University of Texas at Austin and began working alongside his wife Karen in different theater circuits around the U.S. A few years after their daughter was born, the couple decided they needed to settle down somewhere so she could attend school.
“We had finished doing a Shakespeare festival in Vermont and were driving through Texas on our way to California,” Jones said. “We were coming into San Antonio in a Volkswagon bus and the engine gave out and we broke down right there on I-35. So, we just ended up staying here.”
Making San Antonio home once again, Jones took a job teaching theater at his alma mater Lee High School in 1975 for 18 months before him and Karen became resident actors at Incarnate Word College (now the University of the Incarnate Word) where they stayed for 18 years. During that time, they also performed around the city in different theaters downtown and continued to travel around the country for shows.
After a long career in the theater, Jones remembers getting a phone call in 1993 from Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones (no relation), who he had become friends with when they worked together on a stage production a few years prior.
“[Tommy] gave me a call and said, ‘Do you think you might like to be in movies or is that too commercial for you?’ Jones recollects. “I asked if it was something he thought we would enjoy doing together. Next thing you know, I was in [the 1994 drama] “Blue Sky” with him and Jessica Lange.”
Since then, Jones has starred in a handful of feature films, including “Lone Star,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” and “Infamous.” Most recently, he can be seen in a supporting role in Richard Linklater’s critically-acclaimed 2014 drama “Boyhood,” which was just nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In the film, Jones plays Grandpa Cliff, the step-grandfather of the film’s main character Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who gives his grandson a rifle on his 15th birthday and teaches him how to shoot it.
As most people already know, “Boyhood” was shot over 12 consecutive summers. What year did you come in to play your role as Grandpa Cliff?
I believe it was year eight. It wasn’t called “Boyhood” at the time. It was just called “The 12 Year Project.” I thought, “Well, I hope I live long enough to see this.” My wife Karen is also in the movie. She plays my wife—the woman who gives [Mason Jr.] a Bible for his birthday.
She gives him a Bible and you give him a rifle. I don’t think any other scene in the film said Texas more than that one.
Very much so! It’s autobiographical, too. [Director] Rick [Linklater] told me either his father or grandfather gave him a gun as a gift when he was younger. It was a moment in his boyhood. In that scene, it’s like [Mason Jr.] is being passed this baton of manhood. That’s very Texas.
It must feel great to watch as this independent film receives all this recognition.
It’s doing so well. Rick has already made his movie, so whatever is supposed to happen now will happen. It is being recognized in circles where recognition is important. It’s wonderful to see that happen to Rick. It actually reminds me of the Spurs. Rick and the Spurs have a shared relationship. At first, Rick was under the radar just like the Spurs—this little team down in Texas who no one noticed. But then the Spurs stayed together like a family and were confident and unafraid. All of a sudden, the Spurs are at the top and they’re not doing it from L.A. or New York. Rick and the Spurs share a quiet Texas confidence.
Now, the first time you actually worked with Richard was back in 1998 for his film “The Newton Boys.” Then he cast you in “Bernie” and “Boyhood” 2011. What do you think it is about Richard that makes him such a respected director.
He’s gentle, intelligent and confident. He’s versatile. He has a rapport with everyone that works with him. The Rick Linklater I worked with in 1998 is the same Rick Linklater I worked with in 2011. If he calls you to come play with him, that’s what it’s going to be. He has great confidence in his actors. He has an improvisational spirit. It’s really like what theater brings you when you step out on stage. He takes the technical restrictions off filming for the actor. You feel alive like if you were on stage. He gives you the freedom to explore. He lets the human experience reclaim its rightful place in the world.
When you think back to your own boyhood in San Antonio, what do you remember the most?
In one word: freedom—freedom to roam the neighborhoods; freedom to take my bike out and ride around anywhere; freedom to be out in the pre-dawn hours in the morning. This was in the 1950s, so things were a lot different. We got whippings, but we also got to go out in the country and chase rabbits without a thought in the world. San Antonio was a wonderful place to grow up in. During my boyhood, I always had a job and always had the freedom to be who I wanted to be.
Your friend Tommy Lee Jones has a reputation around town for being a bit gruff. I assume he’s not so grumpy when ya’ll get together, right?
(Laughs) Well, he wants to be comfortable here. San Antonio is his home. He doesn’t want to be a famous movie star. There’s going to be some defensive mechanism when people come up to him when he’s eating dinner or something like that. He can come off as being gruff, but so can I and so can you under the right circumstances. He’s pure Texas. Texans can be very generous and courteous and show off their southern manners. They can also tell you to get off their property.