Michael Cleverly: Cleverly or not | AspenTimes.com

Michael Cleverly: Cleverly or not

My Hollywood connections have just provided me with some inside news that they want me to be the first to break.

MGM/UA will announce shortly that a new biopic, “The Tommy Lee Jones Story,” will go into production next month. It will star Paris Hilton in the title role. The fetching blond is also listed as a producer. Ron Howard (“Splash,” “Apollo 13,” “The Gary Busey Story”) will direct the epic that will cover the entire expanse of Jones’ storied life and career, from his childhood in Croatia to his wacky days at Yale with Al Gore and on to the Academy Award nominations.

“It’ll be one of those makeup and prosthetic deals like the black actors are doing nowadays, playing fat chicks and such,” my source confided. “They do this for reasons that escape me and pretty much everybody else on the planet, but the concept is hot at the moment and Paris wants in.” Robert Downey Jr. is slated to play Jones’ longtime friend and college roomy, Al Gore. Ms. Hilton will pull double-duty and play Tipper as well as Mr. Jones.

When I met with Downey at The Chateau Marmot and questioned him about his decision to accept the role, Downey confided that he probably shouldn’t talk about his misgivings, but that he originally had two issues with the project. He said at first he was concerned about a biopic being made about an actor who was still at the peak of his powers with many roles ahead of him. “But then,” Downey went on, “I realized that Jones is a card-carrying baby boomer and those coots are dropping like flies. I figured he could go any day now and then we’d be in on the ground floor of the tribute department.”

His second concern, Downey admitted, was “whether Paris had the acting chops for the gig. My fears have been completely laid to rest since we began rehearsals.”

Downey went on, “Paris’ street cred is going to be multiplied a thousand-fold when people see the character she’s created for this role. Even without the makeup and CGI effects she’s really gotten under Tommy’s skin. It’s like some kind of weird Vulcan mind-meld,” he gushed. “She really understands his soul.”

Part of the preparation for the role included a trip to Marfa, Texas, where segments of “No Country For Old Men” were filmed. “Ron felt that it would be a real trial by fire to go to that part of the country. Tommy’s from another area of west Texas and the locals in Marfa had related to him and gotten to know him well [during the filming of the Oscar winner]. To put Paris and myself in full makeup and see if we could pull it off was something of a gamble, to say the least.”

Reached by phone at his lavish estate on Haiti, director Howard was effusive. “A serious concern for me was that it wouldn’t work and the locals would be offended. You know, city slickers putting one over on the hicks. Lynching is still pretty common around there and law enforcement is fairly subjective ” it could have gotten ugly.

“The visuals weren’t the problem,” Howard continued. “Paris’ wrinkle makeup and Robert’s “Gore fat suit” were perfect; they looked more like Tommy and Al than the real Tommy and Al. It was breathtaking for me to be a part of. It was like watching two great artists act their hearts out while wearing futons.

“Paris’ voice, however, had us a bit uneasy,” Howard added. “The Marfa trip occurred early on in the rehearsal process and Paris hadn’t had an awful lot of time to work with her dialect coach. We concocted a cover story about Tommy having a ‘cantering mishap’ while aboard his favorite steed, and that the voice thing was a temporary result of the painful incident. It worked like a charm. Tommy’s favorite horse, ‘Oscar Wilde,’ was infamous around there. Everyone had an Oscar Wilde story. The sullen beast was known for everything from stampeding and biting to random indiscretions of a sexual nature.”

According to Downey, once Paris’ voice was explained away the final hurdle was the shared experiences that Tommy had with many of the locals.

“They’d bring up the good times they had with Tommy during the shooting of “No Country” and, of course, Paris hadn’t been there so she’d have to wing it,” Downey recalled. “We inadvertently learned a lot that we hadn’t known about the private Tommy, his esoteric tastes in certain areas.

“For myself,” Downey elaborated, “the long debates about global warming at the local strip joint were a little nerve-wracking. It was incumbent upon me to stay in character and defend Gore’s views without getting beat up, while in my heart I agreed with the locals, that the whole thing had been fabricated by America-hating, left-wing drug addicts.

“Those nights at the peel bar are among Paris and my favorite memories of Marfa. Having a few pops, talking politics and the environment, getting tight with the townspeople and the employees. Paris was particularly happy that her makeup was anatomically correct during some of those evenings.

“I understand the real Tommy and Al are still getting calls and letters from those folks,” Downey concluded.

As of this writing, the producers haven’t heard from Mr. Jones regarding their offer for him to star in “The Paris Hilton Story.”

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