Talking History with Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur in ‘Emperor’
Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur in Lionsgate's 'Emperor'
I may be the first reporter to ever say this, but I thought Tommy Lee Jones was a great interview.
Part thriller, part love story, and part historical drama, the film begins at the conclusion of World War II in the ruins of Japan, where MacArthur is serving as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. Sporting a personality big enough to match that title, MacArthur is tasked with the enormous undertaking of steering Japan back from devastation and guiding the country towards becoming a thriving democracy.
MacArthur faces the difficult decision of whether or not to try Japan's revered Emperor Hirohito with war crimes -- an offense punishable by hanging. Such an act could easily unhinge not only the recovery efforts, but also the fragile peace. To investigate the best course of action, MacArthur turns to his attaché, Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, played by Matthew Fox.
Sitting across from Jones, his penetrating glare seemingly dissecting my existential worth, it's easy to see how a man of such obvious gravitas landed the role. As Jones sank his chopsticks into his Japanese breakfast, he spoke to me about the complexities of MacArthur's world-altering decision, how much fiction is allowed in fact-based films, and his definition of fun.
"Emperor" opens today in limited release.
[Related: Local Tickets and Showtimes for 'Emperor']
Adam Pockross: Actually my first research paper ever was written about Douglas MacArthur.
Tommy Lee Jones: What did you learn?
AP: I remember that he had a formidable mother…
TLJ: Yes, she went to West Point with him.
AP: Right! Pinky. I remember that because it was the first time I ever learned the word formidable. So what did you learn about Douglas MacArthur doing your research that surprised you?
TLJ: I was surprised to learn the significant role that he played in the character of life in the 21st Century. He labored very hard to keep the Emperor alive because he didn’t want to break the back of Japanese society. He knew what would happen if the politicians who were in the United States had their way, the politicians who were elected by people, they were clamoring for the Emperor's blood but he had no -- they didn’t have anybody to kill or punish, no leader of state. They couldn’t kill Mussolini. They couldn’t kill Hitler. They wanted to kill somebody.
And those politicians had to respond to those people, and if MacArthur had allowed them to have their way, the Japanese society would’ve collapsed. The war would have gone on and on and on. There would’ve been an utter chaos, uncontrollable, certainly more easily controllable by Joseph Stalin than Harry Truman. Because Stalin was right there. And what would the world be like if we left a vacuum in Japan and the Russian communists had filled it? What would the world be like today? It would be far worse place than it is.
So I was a little surprised and fascinated to come to an understanding of just how important that man was to history and to what our world looks like even today, all these years later.