By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com March 17, 2011 at 1:39AM
The 1990s saw Tommy Lee Jones suddenly become one of the more unlikely A-listers out there. His Oscar-winning antagonist in "The Fugitive" placed the actor firmly in demand in big budget projects such as "Men in Black," "Volcano" and "Batman Forever," as well as a series of not-particularly good procedural programmers like "Double Jeopardy," "Rules of Engagement" and "The Hunted." But the humiliation of 2005's cheerleader comedy "Man of the House," which would be a nadir of anyone's career, let alone someone with fine work stretching back 40-odd years, seemed to change things.
But 2005 also saw the actor's storming directorial debut with the criminally underrated semi-western "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," and the few screen appearances he has taken on since have been working with top-notch helmers like The Coen Brothers, Bertrand Tavernier and Robert Altman. Even working with Paul Haggis for "In The Valley of Elah" saw the actor give perhaps the best performance of his career, for which he rightfully picked up another Oscar nomination. He's starting to make a return to the big-budget world now, for better or for worse -- he's got "Captain America" on the way this summer, with "Men in Black III" following next, assuming it ever starts filming again -- and now, it looks like Jones is set to team up with two A-listers for a film that promises to stretch his acting muscles a little more than those pictures.
Deadline reports that the actor is leading the pack to play Meryl Streep's husband in the comedy-drama "Great Hope Springs," which also has Steve Carell on board. The project, a one-time Black List favorite, is set to be helmed by "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Marley & Me" director David Frankel, and would see Streep and Jones as a couple who head for counseling (led by Carell's character), in a last-ditch bid to save their 30-year-marriage.
Streep's been attached to the film for some time, but the talent around her has gone through various shifts in the last year: Jeff Bridges was initially linked to the husband role, with "I Am Sam" helmer Jesse Nelson in the director's chair, then Mike Nichols took over briefly last September, with James Gandolfini mentioned for the husband role, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the counselor. That incarnation never happened either, but the project seems to have finally solidified, with Frankel signing on last month, swiftly followed by Carell, who'll make the film his first project after leaving "The Office."
Assuming Jones signs on, and it looks likely, he's the last major piece of the puzzle in what's essentially a three-hander. He's not an immediately obvious choice for the part, but despite the presence of Frankel and Carell, the script leans much closer to drama than to comedy, and should serve as a real actor's showcase; we'd expect this to be a major awards player a couple of years from now. Shooting begins in August, for a release date some time in 2012.