Caleb Landry Jones, 'Three Billboards' Salesman, Sees His 'Fat Face' On Screen | WYPR

Caleb Landry Jones, 'Three Billboards' Salesman, Sees His 'Fat Face' On Screen

Nov 18, 2017
Originally published on November 18, 2017 8:36 am

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is open now, after winning praise and prizes at film festivals in Toronto and Venice.

Frances McDormand plays a bereft and angry mother who rents three billboards to shame local police into finding the man who raped and murdered her daughter. Martin McDonagh wrote and directed Three Billboards. Woody Harrelson stars, alongside Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell, and Caleb Landry Jones — who was in this year's Get Out and X-Men: First Class, and was first seen as Jimmy Adler in Friday Night Lights.

"Actually, first job was No Country For Old Men, Boy On Bike No. 2," Jones says. "Or [No.] 1. I think 2, though."

Jones plays the guy who rents the billboards to McDormand's character. And what did he learn from being around his more famous co-stars?

"That I am not a real actor," he says, laughing. "If anything, I'm just a charlatan of some kind or something."

I spoke with the modest young actor from Richardson, Texas.


Interview Highlights

On what made him want to be an actor

"The beginning," the beginning, you mean? I think it was a few things, but probably wanting to be loved; probably acceptance of some kind; wanting to be a part of something.

On if he is a better actor now than when he was 16 years old

I hope so. When I saw that film, I thought it was an incredible film — No Country For Old Men — and they got up to my part, and I thought, "Oh boy, they really screwed up." 'Cause I believed everything, for every second, until I saw my fat face, you know? And it really made me think, "Do they know what they're doing," you know? Because I — I was terrible! But I hope I've gotten better. I've really been working at it.

On if Hollywood is any less "culpable" – a term used by Frances McDormand's character – as the Catholic Church on issues of sexual abuse and pedophilia

I would think no, but, um — I would say no.

On what he hopes audiences take away from the film

Throughout the film, you're constantly forced to look at characters in more ways than one — pretty much all of them, you're forced to see in a different light. People are full of contradictions, you know? I'm a walking contradiction, and therefore, you find yourself in shock of the places you're going. And you think one thing, and it turns out to be another; you think, "This person has to be the bad guy," they become the good guy. I love not knowing, you know?

Ian Stewart and Ed McNulty produced and edited the audio of this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," is open now after winning praise and prizes at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. Frances McDormand plays a bereft and angry mother who rents three billboards to shame local police into finding the man who raped and murdered her daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI")

FRANCES MCDORMAND: (As Mildred) I hear there's three billboards out on Drinkwater Road. You're in charge of renting them out - that right?

CALEB LANDRY JONES: (As Red) I didn't know we had any billboards on Drinkwater - where's Drinkwater Road?

MCDORMAND: (As Mildred) It's a road out past Sizemore turn-off. Nobody uses it since the freeway got put in.

(SOUNDBITE OF CABINET OPENING)

JONES: (As Red) You're right. Got three billboards out there. Nobody's put nothing up there since 1986.

MCDORMAND: (As Mildred) How much to rent all three of them out for the year?

JONES: (As Red) A year? You want to pay for three billboards on a road that no one goes down unless they got lost for a year?

MCDORMAND: (As Mildred) Quick, ain't ya (ph), Welby?

SIMON: Martin McDonagh wrote and directed "Three Billboards." Woody Harrelson stars alongside Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell and Caleb Landry Jones, a young Texas actor who was first seen as Jimmy Adler in "Friday Night Lights" and was in this summer's "X-Men: First Class."

JONES: Actually, first job was "No Country For Old Men" - boy on bike number two...

SIMON: Oh.

JONES: ...Or one. I think two, though.

SIMON: Well, Caleb Landry Jones has already joined us. Thanks so much for being with us.

JONES: (Laughter) Hi.

SIMON: You - in this film, you play the guy who rents the billboards.

JONES: Yes.

SIMON: Well, what did you learn by watching the likes of Frances McDormand...

JONES: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...And Woody Harrelson?

JONES: That I am not a real actor (laughter). If anything, I'm just a charlatan of some kind or something.

SIMON: Every actor is a charlatan.

JONES: (Laughter) Well...

SIMON: That's the point, right?

JONES: Yeah. Maybe so.

SIMON: So how were you discovered as a young actor in Richardson, Texas?

JONES: I was at my high school - Richardson High School. And my teacher reached out to a local talent agency. And I was 16. And maybe, like, a month or so afterwards, I got an audition for "No Country For Old Men," and that was the beginning, I suppose.

SIMON: And what made you want to be an actor?

JONES: The beginning, the beginning, you mean. I think it was a few things but probably wanting to be loved - probably acceptance of some kind - wanting to be a part of something.

SIMON: That's one of the best answers I've ever heard.

JONES: (Laughter) You must've only heard a few answers, I can only think.

SIMON: No, I've heard hundreds at this point.

JONES: (Laughter) Oh, you've heard hundreds.

SIMON: But when you ask people why they want to be actors, that's - you really opened up. Thank you.

JONES: (Laughter) Well, I don't want to waste our time here. But yeah.

SIMON: Despite your modesty about your talent, you keep getting put into these high-profile films.

JONES: Last year was a wonderful year. And these last 8 years have been...

SIMON: Yeah.

JONES: ...A real blessing.

SIMON: Are you a better actor now than when you were 16?

JONES: (Laughter) I hope so. When I saw that film, I thought it was an incredible film - "No Country For Old Men." And they got up to my part and I thought, oh, boy, they really screwed up, you know, because I believed everything for every second until I saw my fat face. You know, and it really made me think, do they know what they're doing? (Laughter) You know, because I was terrible. But I hope I've gotten better. I've really been working at it (laughter).

SIMON: Do you like doing interviews like this - publicity for films?

JONES: I've got to say I was so excited to be a part of this. And now I'm being a part of it. I'm going, gee manee (ph), you've really probably screwed it up. But I find it kind of hard to talk about films because, sometimes, I feel like I, myself, still don't know what I think about even certain choices I made. I don't know if I'll ever figure some of those things out or if I should be trying to figure some of those things out. But I find the more I talk about it in this kind of way, I find myself feeling like I know nothing (laughter) about, you know, what it is I've done.

SIMON: Just because I have the honor to talk to you, there's a scene I really thought I had a problem with. Can I share it with you?

JONES: Yeah, please, please.

SIMON: Mildred assails a family priest, telling them, you see? He wears the same uniform...

JONES: Yes.

SIMON: ...As priests who are pedophiles.

JONES: Culpable.

SIMON: Culpable, right.

JONES: Culpable.

SIMON: He's culpable...

JONES: Probably my favorite word in the whole script, I think, was culpable.

SIMON: Well, I got to ask during the last few weeks, isn't any Hollywood film pretty culpable with...

JONES: Uh-huh.

SIMON: ...So much that has gone on, particularly where child actors are concerned. Is that really different than the Catholic Church?

JONES: I mean, I would think no. But I would say no.

SIMON: What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

JONES: Throughout the film, you're constantly forced to look at a character in more ways than one. Pretty much all of them you're forced to see in a different light. People are full of contradictions, you know? I'm a walking contradiction. And, therefore, you find yourself in shock of the places you're going. And you think one thing, and it turns out to be another. You think this person has to be the bad guy. They become the good guy. And I just - I love not knowing (laughter), you know?

SIMON: Caleb Landry Jones - he's one of the stars of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Or is that Missoura (ph)?

JONES: (Laughter) Missoura or Missouri.

SIMON: Nice to talk to you.

JONES: Thank you so much, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.