Emperor: Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur is perhaps the most iconic American military figure of all time – renowned equally for his brilliant victories and for his complicated and controversial personality. Flamboyant and egotistical he also displayed unmovable courage and intelligence, and in 1945 it seemed a foregone conclusion he might one day run for President of the United States.

To play a figure most Americans already know from history books, the filmmakers knew they needed someone with a larger-than-life personality. This is what led them straight to Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones, known for creating indelible characters from the relentless deputy chasing a wanted man in THE FUGITVE to the laconic sheriff investigating a crime spree in rural Texas in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to the alien Agent K in the action-comedy MEN IN BLACK series.

“I laid siege to Tommy,” jokes Peter Webber. “He was intrigued and interested in the script but it took a while to hook him and then reel him in – but we finally got him. And it’s been amazing how he’s been able to channel the spirit of MacArthur. He’s immensely charming, immensely charismatic and a bit intimidating – but this is MacArthur so he is meant to be scary. I had a great time working with him.”

Jones admits that it was an irresistible undertaking. “MacArthur has intrigued people for half a century and he’s played an important role in the development of world history,” he says. But he also knew he would have to come at the man from the inside out. “I bear no real resemblance to MacArthur but when you put on the military uniform with lots of fruit salad on the front and smoke a corncob pipe – that’s the image that he cultivated and it became iconic.”

As Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, MacArthur has been credited with running the most peaceful occupation in the history of war – a tone that was set at the end of summer in 1945, when the General made his momentous decision about the Emperor.

After reading a variety of biographical writings, Jones came to believe that MacArthur had many different motivations for taking the risky course he did, from his need to keep the peace to his own political prospects. “I don’t think personal feelings were as important to him as strategic thinking,” he observes. “To have deposed the Emperor and put him on trial would have created a lot more problems for MacArthur than it would have solved. Yet, it was also the morally right thing to do. It was an intelligent and far-reaching stride towards peace.”

The stunning reversal of Japan’s fate that made its rapid rise into a peaceful world power possible is the part of the story that most moved Jones. “I think people will be fascinated to see the beginnings of the deep Japanese and American friendship,” he concludes. “It’s an important part of the last century – and as we go forward.”

For Gary Foster, Jones brings the kind of gravitas, as well as humor, to the role that brings all of that out vividly and allows MacArthur a complex humanity. “I was riveted watching him work,” says the producer. “He’s just one of those actors who shows great strength in very compelling ways. MacArthur is a role that demands that kind of strength and Tommy really got it. He understood the period, he did his research, he knows a bit about Japan and he was a great collaborator. His MacArthur is a fantastic character to watch because, there are a lot of different games he is playing.”