Tommy Lee Jones, like the screen characters he usually plays, is a brusque man of few words with a Texan drawl and old-school politeness. Don't expect him to bare his soul for publicity's sake and you'll get along just fine.
The part-Cherokee Texan of predominantly Welsh-extraction has made a career out of depicting stoic men as weathered as the lines on his face. His two latest roles are a case in point - a grizzled sheriff pining for the old days in Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men and the anguished father of a casualty of the Iraq War in Paul Haggis's searing In The Valley Of Elah.
Both films slice into the dark underbelly of modern America. In No Country For Old Men, a psychopath (Javier Bardem) kills at random while drug gangs wage war as things get out of control in Texas. Meanwhile In The Valley of Elah deals with a grieving former military police investigator seeking the truth about his son's AWOL death.
Best known for the Men In Black special effects blockbusters, Tommy Lee maintains he isn't making any personal political statements about the state of American society with his two latest projects.
"I don't consider my private feelings to be relevant in any way," he says. "I don't have any political statements to make other than what you can see or discern from looking at my work." Nor should you read any underlying pessimism into the choice of films. "My world view is pretty bright. I enjoyed making those two films," he states.
No Country For Old Men is set in the unforgiving Texas borderlands during the Eighties, as drug money and armed gangs from Mexico began to tear hard-bitten communities apart at the seams. Tommy Lee's sheriff longs for a quieter time when the bad guys didn't have Uzis.
While he seems tailor-made for the role, the 61-year-old says he won the part through the normal casting process. "Joel and Ethan wrote the screenplay and sent it to the William Morris Agency. I was certainly impressed and flattered they offered me the job."
In The Valley of Elah is a jaundiced look at how President Bush's controversial invasion of Iraq has hurt many American families on a personal level. "You have to be pretty narrow-minded to call this un-American," he says of right-wing critics of the film. "I thought it was a chance to be original and touch on subjects that are common to every American."
The film is based on a real case in 2003 when Iraq War veteran Richard Davis was fatally stabbed. It highlights the violence that can follow servicemen home. At first Tommy Lee wasn't sure about the project, he says, in a rare candid moment. "I said no, but then I started thinking about it and decided if we did it well every American would be able to relate to it."
He stresses again that this is not a political statement about the war - although at the end his ex-military man does hang the US flag upside down as a signal of society's distress. "It's not about if the war was right or wrong," he says. "It's about what's left afterwards. It's about a war where you're not fighting people in uniforms, you're in a civilian population and have nowhere to be safe."
Both these films highlight men who believe in old-fashioned authority but who also have doubts. However, don't expect any further analysis from Tommy Lee. "In the political world, the only position I have is voter. I'm not a spokesman for anything," he says.
The nearest this tight-lipped star ever got to making a political stand was speaking up for his friend and former Harvard classmate Al Gore in 2000.
He studied English literature there before moving to New York in 1969 and falling into acting. Through stage, television and then films he has built up a reputation for playing strong characters with deep emotion.
"It's no mean calling to bring fun into the afternoons of large numbers of people," he says about acting. "That, too, is part of my job and I'm happy to serve."
Married three times, and a father of two with second wife Kimberlea, these days he spends much of his time with third wife Dawn on his 3,000 acre ranch near San Antonio, Texas.
He likes to live close to his roots but isn't one of those stars who denigrates Hollywood. "I actually like the movie business and work at it all year round, as well as ranching. One is not an antidote to the other, more a complement to the other."
While not averse to taking the big bucks for popcorn movies like Men In Black, he will also do smaller independent projects like these latest two, without revealing much about how he makes his choices.
Last year he directed and starred in the drama The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada and later this year he'll star in The Electric Mist. He also has plans to develop a film based on Ernest Hemingway's Islands In The Stream.
"You just look for good parts and good stories. Characters with no integrity are just as interesting as characters with lots of integrity," he says.