Tommy Lee Jones, right, as Sheriff Bell and Barry Corbin as Ellis in a scene… (Richard Foreman / Miramax…)
Actor Tommy Lee Jones is appealing a ruling by California's labor commissioner in a dispute that accuses his former agency of failing to adequately represent him in negotiations for his role in the Oscar-winning film "No Country for Old Men."
Jones accused William Morris Endeavor and his former agent, Jim Wiatt, of failing to communicate that the studio, Paramount Pictures Corp., was willing to pay $1 million in upfront fees for the actor to appear in the film directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, according to court filings. Instead, Wiatt agreed to a lesser amount of front-end payment of $750,000.
Months after Jones terminated his relationship with the agency in June 2009, the actor alleges that a William Morris Endeavor representative disparaged him in an email to Scott Rudin, producer of the Coen brothers' next film project, a remake of the John Wayne classic "True Grit."
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At the time, Jones was being considered for the lead role of Rooster Cogburn, eventually portrayed by Jeff Bridges. Agent Michael Cooper wrote, "screw Tommy Lee for T. Grit," and instead promoted another client, Kurt Russell, for the part, according to court filings.
Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su, who has jurisdiction over controversies between an artist and a talent agency in contract disputes, found that William Morris Endeavor fulfilled its responsibility under its contract to Jones, even if the agency "did not perform in the manner expected by Jones."
"Let us not forget the primary job of a talent agency is to obtain work -- and this is what WME Did," wrote Su in her Oct. 1 decision. "In fact, obtaining the role as the Sheriff in ["No Country for Old Men"] is considered one of Jones's most highly acclaimed roles."
Su determined that Paramount was willing to offer Jones a $1-million front-end payment -- but that the sum was part of an ongoing discussion of the actor's total compensation. The labor commissioner said she could not "conclusively state" that Wiatt was unable to obtain an extra $250,000 for Jones.
The labor commissioner found Cooper's email "troubling" and "appeared to be written in a manner that not only disparaged his former client as a candidate for 'True Grit,' but was written with malice toward Jones." However, Rudin indicated that the email played no role in the selection of Bridges for the part, she wrote.
Jones was ordered to pay William Morris Endeavor the 10% commission for earnings connected with the film, plus interest. In a separate dispute involving "No Country for Old Men," Paramount Pictures was ordered to pay Jones $15 million in bonuses calculated on the film's worldwide box-office performance.
The actor filed a notice in state Superior Court on Wednesday, seeking to appeal the labor commissioner's determination and to air the dispute at trial. It asked the court to order William Morris Endeavor to repay Jones any commissions it received from the actor's work on the film, and pay damages of $250,000 for its alleged breach of its fiduciary duties.
Neither of the two agents who figure prominently in the dispute are with the agency. Wiatt left in May 2009, three weeks after helping to orchestrate the merger of the William Morris Agency with Endeavor Entertainment. Cooper is now with Jones' current agency, Creative Artists Agency.
A William Morris Endeavor spokesman declined to comment on the litigation.
Martin Singer, the attorney representing Jones, could not be reached for comment.
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