'Emperor's' Tommy Lee Jones on Understanding MacArthur, Directing 'The Homesman' (Video)

In Emperor, Tommy Lee Jones takes on the role of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, one of the most iconic military leaders in U.S. history.

The film sees MacArthur in Japan, tasked with rebuilding the nation after World War II. MacArthur was a highly respected general but also known for his eccentricities like his trademark corncob pipe.

“You read all the biographies that you can and try to get some idea of his place in history and what his family life was like and what his youth was like,” Jones tells The Hollywood Reporter about the research he did in preparing for the role.

VIDEO: 'Emperor' Star Matthew Fox: 'People Were on Eggshells' Around Tommy Lee Jones

In the film, it’s suggested that MacArthur not only was working to rebuild Japan for the nation’s sake but also for his own political ambitions.

“He's very bright, very ambitious,” says Jones. “He understood what the right thing to do was and proceeded to get it done against all opposition.”

The movie is set in 1945 Japan and explores the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, especially the differences between the cultures.

In Cannes, director Peter Webber revealed to THR that Jones has a strong interest in Japan and has been there several times.

FILM REVIEW: Emperor

“Japanese culture has had a terrific influence on American design, American art and a great deal of American culture,” Jones told THR. “I’m interested in culture and where it comes from, so I’m interested in that point where East meets West.”

Jones’ time currently is being consumed by his own film, The Homesman, which he is directing, producing and starring in. Jones tells THR that he’s “precisely” halfway through preproduction on the project, which also will star Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank. The film follows a claim jumper and a pioneer woman as they escort three women from Nebraska to Iowa.

How is it going? “I don’t know. We work at finding that out every day,” he says with a laugh.

Jones also had a smart answer for THR’s question about the toughest part of directing: “Woody Allen answered that question already. Punching all those little holes in the side of the film. That’s hard.”

Watch THR's interview with Jones above.

Emperor is in theaters Friday.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford

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