"I don't have any reprieve from worry," says Tommy Lee Jones. "There's no security in this job." It's a surprisingly vulnerable confession from the 66-year-old actor, currently being feted for his role in Steven Spielberg's anti-slavery epic Lincoln. When I ask whether it was a long-held ambition to work with Spielberg, he simply replies: "Well, I'm always happy to have a job, I'm always looking for work."
At least the offers should flood in after Lincoln. Jones's role as the "radical abolitionist" Republican Thaddeus Stevens has seen him nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes, Baftas and Oscars. Should he win the latter, it'll be the second Academy Award of his career, following his triumph for 1993's The Fugitive. Would it be an honour? "Of course it's an honour," he grunts, "but I don't think about it or speak of it."
This is typical of the taciturn Texan, but contrary to his grumpy public persona, Jones can be quite revealing when he wants. Like his prep for Lincoln. "I read the screenplay thoroughly, several times a day for many months," he notes, proof of the phenomenal hard work behind an effortless performance. Noting that Stevens "provides a contrast to Lincoln's political methods", Jones adds that the politician "emotionalises" the issues of slavery - not least because of his suspected relationship with his black housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton.
While Spielberg told the Los Angeles Times that Jones was perfect to play the "flamboyant, volatile" Stevens, the actor immediately pays tribute to those around him, particularly those behind the camera. "It was like visiting history," he says. "The sets, the clothes, the hair and the language were all tickets to ride into mid-19th century America. For actors, that's a lot of fun."
Jones having fun? He really is full of surprises.