In fact, the stern 59-year-old actor can be so intimidating reporters rarely venture a repeat visit with the Oscar winner ("The Fugitive").
Jones was in town recently — he lives on cattle ranch in west Texas — to talk about the acclaimed new film, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," which also marks his feature directorial debut.
In the western drama penned by Guillermo Arriaga ("21 Grams"), Jones plays Pete Perkins, an earnest ranch hand who goes to great lengths to bury his murdered friend in his hometown in Mexico.
Jones won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival this year for his poignant performance as Perkins." Estrada" is also nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards including best film.
Q: I love westerns like "Estrada."
A: Do you think "Estrada" is a western?
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Q: Yes, because Perkins lives by the cowboy code of honor.
A: Really? It has horses. It has big hats and it takes place in the West .
Q: You don't think it is a western?
A: I would hope that this movie would defy categorization and albeit the need for it.
Q: What was your experience at Cannes?
A: It was an amazing experience, an almost overwhelming honor — it's one of the two most prestigious film awards in the world. That is a very discerning and demanding and intelligent audience and there is damned near 3,000 of them and to hear them laugh and applaud as a single mind, you feel privileged to find yourself in such a situation, certainly honored and humbled.
Q: Was Cannes the first place you screened the film publicly?
A: Oh, yes. We weren't able to show a very good print because we hadn't completed our color timing.
Q: Why do you like to direct?
A: When I have the job of producer and director and actor and effectively, writer, I am much closer to satisfying my lust for total creative control.
Q: A decade ago you made your directorial debut with a well-received TV western, "The Good Old Boys." Why did it take you so long to find another project?
A: I have been offered a few things. I don't have to direct movies for a living and my only motivation is again a lust for creative control. I don't have to do this. It takes a while to find some material that is worthwhile.
Q: Is it true that this movie came to fruition while you were hunting on your ranch with Guillermo?
A: We met here in California. I admired his writing and we had a few things in common. He likes to hunt and we need hunters on the ranch to control the population of the deer. So we have a hunt every year. It was there we began talking about making a movie .
Q: How long after that initial conversation were you in front of the camera making the movie?
A: About two years. He said he would like to write a screenplay and my company hired him and he went to work. He's very fast. It didn't take him long to write a first draft. I think he hired a nephew to translate it. He sent it to me in San Antonio and I didn't like [the script]. I began to cut things out and change things. I hired three other translators who didn't know each other to get different points of view on the translation. I sent the first draft back to him with all of my notes and then he used those four translations to make a fifth [translation] while I began work on polishing the American vernacular. And he brought the second draft to San Antonio and I attacked that one. We had a lot of very happy hours spent in San Antonio in my office. Somewhere around the seventh draft, I got tired and decided that I would kill anything I didn't like. It was a very healthy thing for the screenplay, but it was a very thin healthy screenplay. It was from that we began to build again. It was precisely the 11th draft we thought was close enough to be shootable and let somebody else read it.
Q: Do you think the awards buzz surrounding "Estrada" boosts its box office chances?
A: I didn't know if there is buzz. It is not the current thinking I do or the language I use. Word of mouth is any movie's best friend.