Actor lands plum role in Spielberg's 'Terminal'

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Imagine receiving Christmas gifts from Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Steven Spielberg - Oscar winners all.

A travel pack containing a pillow and blanket. CDs of Zeta-Jones singing. And, from Hanks, a soundtrack of music from the film.

That is big loot that went to Eddie Jones as a reward for spending a mere three days acting in "The Terminal," a Spielberg-directed film that stars Hanks and Zeta-Jones. Friday, the result of the actor's work can be seen when the comedy opens across the country.

Jones chatted about the film over a latte during a recent visit with his actress-director wife, Syracuse native Anita Khanzadian, who returned to perform at the reunion of her Class of 1954 at Syracuse University.

His role is Salchak, the man who runs the major terminal in which Hanks is stranded without a passport when a coup fells his country's government. Zeta-Jones portrays a klutzy flight attendant with whom the "man without a country" falls in love.

Salchak, says the actor, is a comedy role - an executive whose retirement is imminent. As the days wind down, he becomes less and less interested in the operation than he is in looking forward to spending time on his new boat. His attitude frustrates his successor, played by Stanley Tucci and with whom Jones has all of his scenes. Tucci earns Jones' praise for being "a great guy and an excellent actor." ACTOR, PAGE 12

It is not the first time the Pennsylvania native has appeared in a film with Hanks. When they spoke on the set of the new film, they recalled making "A League of Their Own" more than a decade ago.

Spielberg, Jones says, "treats his actors very well. He's a pleasure to work with." At the same time, the actor says the filmmaker is a very prepared director. "He knows what he wants. He gives little direction, but once or twice told me just to tone it down."

He also reflects the director's family status as it pertains to the set: "He quits at 6 o'clock to go home. The first thing he said to me was, 'I have three movies to do this year. But I have to be home at 7.' "

What truly amazed the veteran actor was the set.

"They went to Kennedy, LaGuardia and Los Angeles International airports. Then they built it in a hangar in Palmdale (near L.A.). Everything worked." That meant you could buy food, souvenirs, books . . . even have a beer if you were lucky enough to be cast in the movie.

Jones didn't have to endure a rigorous set of auditions for Salchak. Spielberg remembered him from his role of Sam Riddle, the egotistical owner of War Admiral, the horse out-run by the title character in "Seabiscuit." The casting director was the same one who had chosen him for that surprise hit of last summer.

When the actor's name was broached with Spielberg, the filmmaker recalled Jones and with little ado gave the OK.

"Seabiscuit" had pleasant and not-so-pleasant memories. Jones says he liked the style of director Gary Ross. In addition, he was happy to receive a photographic essay of the production, all snapped by star Jeff Bridges, who was the owner of Seabiscuit. It was inscribed to "Eddie Jones - a classy guy."

The down side came when he tried to purchase his wardrobe. "The materials all came from London's Saville Row. The suits were all tailored to me so they wouldn't fit anyone else. But they wouldn't let me buy them. I learned later that often now things from a film are sold (for big bucks) on eBay."

"Terminal" is a megamillion production. "Fighting Tommy Riley" was made on a budget of $250,000, yet it gives Jones a leading role as the manager-trainer of a boxer. Writer J.P. Davis plays the fighter in the two-character motion picture.

Jones and his wife flew back Wednesday to the West Coast so they could attend the premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. A question-and-answer session was scheduled to follow.

Motion-picture credits continue to grow on the actor's resume. Although it didn't receive a wide release, Jones appeared in a tiny role in the film version of Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective," which attracted widespread press coverage as the first role for Robert Downey Jr. since his rehab stint.

"I did it for Keith Gordon, a director I like a lot," he says.

This past season, he managed to also return to the small screen as a judge in three episodes of the hit CBS series, "Judging Amy." Although the show has been renewed, the actor doesn't believe he'll be back for more episodes. The title character is going back to juvenile court after a season of sentencing adults.

No matter, Jones is set for a new film titled "Disconnect."

Then, he would like to get back in touch with live audiences, as would his wife. They are looking at John Patrick Shanley's "Beggars in the House of Plenty," which was first seen at New York City's prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club in 1991. He would act; she would direct.

© 2004 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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