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INT: Billy Bob Thornton


Billy Bob Thornton has had his fair share of publicity, from Angelina Jolie, his bad boy image and his all around man’s man type of persona. But one thing is for certain, he is arguably one of the best actors working today. His brilliant work in such films as SLING BLADE (which he also wrote and directed), A SIMPLE PLAN, MONSTER'S BALL and lest we forget, CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMBIETOWN. The dude has done it all and has done it all well. He returns to comedy this week with SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS, as a ruthless teacher attempting to make a man out of Jon Heder and a group of misfits who let society take advantage of them.

I had a chance to meet up with Mr. Thornton at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills . And I’m thrilled that I did. He is one of the most laid back, unpretentious actors this side of Hollywood . There is an honesty he has which is refreshing to see. He looks like the guy that you meet up with in a bar who just talks and tells it like it is. He walked in wearing sun glasses, but he made it clear that it had nothing to do with trying to be “cool”.

Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton: [wearing sun glasses] Just so you know, the glasses are not to be cool, it’s because my allergies are really bad today and my eyes are really sensitive to light.

So how is your tennis these days?

I’ve never been any good at tennis. I never have been. I didn’t really grow up with much tennis or golf; I was raised sort of on the other side of the tracks, in a kind of poorer suburb. We weren’t allowed in the country club, you know what I’m saying?

Did you base this character one someone in particular?

No, not really, it was just – everything was in the script. I just basically did what was in the script and what Todd (Phillips) told me to do. I don’t do a lot of commercial comedies you know, so I trust them, that’s their world, I just kind of go and do it, and when I do my type of movie that’s when I boss people around. I’ve known some people similar, I guess, like a couple of teachers maybe, and a coach or two along the lines, I used to play ball, and I’ve run into a couple of coaches who were pretty – they liked to do things their way.

Jacinda [Barret] said that you and Jon did a Napoleon/Carl meeting.

Oh yeah, that’s right, that was pretty funny.

Do you bring Carl back a lot, because I saw The Ice Harvest DVD with you and (John) Cusack?

Right. I have a little tradition, on every movie before it winds up I always do a little bit for the crew, so it’s become kind of a tradition and it’s up on some of the DVDs. It might be on a couple of other DVDs too, maybe like Armageddon or something. It’s on some other stuff. I always do it for the crew, and since Jon’s character in Napoleon Dynamite, that character and Carl’s are similarly iconic, we thought we got to do that.

Nobody taped it?

I know, we should have; (what) we wanted to do was shoot a little short film to kind of use the – like one day when we broke for lunch or something to have the crew stay a couple of extra minutes and film something, but sometimes on a film set everybody’s on such a rush, they’re trying to get everything done, sometimes you miss some great things because of it.

What is the meaning of the P?

Dr. P? That’s just what he decided to call himself because he didn’t want his real name associated with the school. So it’s just Dr. P, his real name’s Dennis.

Did you have a back story for him and Michael Clarke Duncan? Did you talk about any kind of relationship that you had?

No, in a movie like this you don’t really need one. [Laughing]

Michael said a sequel with the two of you would be good.

Yeah, I’d like to see a movie about that for sure.

He told us to ask you about the $1500 you owe him?

It gets bigger (in) every room. These guys next door said it was a thousand. Here’s the fact about it, I know exactly how much it is. It was $900 but then he was late twice and I deducted $200 bucks off of it, so it was $700 as it stands. I’m going to buy him some real cheap jewelry and tell him it’s real, say it’s like a $750 (worth).

He’ll find out


I know; you guys are going to write about it. Michael and I go back; we did Armageddon together, so we’ve been messing with each other a long time.

How do you pull off all those fake arguments you have on the set –

Well, he’s pretty good at them. I would usually crack up before he did. He was really good at them. No matter what I do in movies or in scenes, what I try to just be like anybody acting out some incredible people to fool somebody, I’m not very good at it. I’ve always been the first one to crack or say, ‘Oh no, I was just joking.’ But sometimes when we’re in the middle of it, it looked pretty real and we would freak people out. And people are convinced that he’s terrified of me. Huh? [speaking of himself] This guy’s like a toothpick, look at him. And he’s like being real nervous around me and stuff. It was pretty funny. But we’ve been doing that ever since Armageddon.

Have you ever read a self-help book or what could be classified as a self-help book?


Do you think they’re baloney?

Yeah, I always thought it was pretty stupid. I never got into that stuff, especially sort of like the New Age ones of the ‘80s, remember when they first started wanting us to be sensitive? I never got into that stuff.

There’s was some talk too about how you and Jon Heder were polar opposites as far as a personal life, did you guys ever get a chance to hang out?

Yeah, Jon’s a lot looser than people might think. He’s a really good kid, I like him. Everybody talks about how he’s a Mormon and stuff like that, but it’s not like you had to just sit there and keep your collar up like this [puts up his collar], and don’t curse and stuff, he wasn’t like that. But yeah, my life experience has been very different than his, there’s no doubt about that part.

Is it a break for you to do a film like this – is it kind of like a vacation to do a movie where it’s improv almost?

Well it wasn’t improv, I pretty much said everything in the script, but it’s different than when I’m doing like a really heavy movie or something, which I’m known more for, yeah, it’s different. Monster’s Ball or Man Who Wasn’t There or Sling Blade, those are heavier kinds of movies and you’re in some sort of zone with your character and everything. In a movie like this you have to show and have fun, and then they say ‘Action,’ and I look like an asshole. So in that case it’s different. And plus you’re doing a movie that you’re not worried about its fate as much, because it’s a commercial comedy and those usually make enough money to get by on, and that kind of thing, so you don’t sweat it as much.

Did you shoot the tennis scene at a middle school and kids were coming up to you because they recognized you from Bad Santa?

At a middle school?

Yeah, that’s what they said in the press kit; maybe they’re totally full of it. Where did you shoot the tennis scene, do you know?

Maybe it was at a middle school, there were some tennis courts that existed, I think it was out in Pasadena.

So you didn’t have any kids coming up to you?

No, they had built this sort of… you know these tents that they build for events, like they’re going to have an award show, is it the Independent Spirit Awards that has the tent on the beach? So the tennis court was actually an open air tennis court, it had like four or five courts, it was a big deal where people go, I guess they join, it’s a big thing, and for the movie they constructed one of those tents over so it made it look like an indoor place, because it really wasn’t an indoor place. So I didn’t see anybody except the crew. Here’s the fact of the matter, when you do a movie and they put these things together, people say, ‘You got any anecdotes or any funny things you got on the set?’ It’s like, no, not really.

I got up in the morning, I felt like hell, I’d been up ‘til three in the morning, I got up at six and went to work, and here was this scene and we went out and did it; and then somebody will say, ‘Oh I’ll never forget that day he made that peanut butter and jelly sandwich and smeared it on the guy’s face,’ or something. And then I come in here and you guys have to think about it, because your writers, and then you say, ‘What about the peanut butter sandwich?’ And I’m like, ‘Huh?’ It’s like, yeah, I made a peanut butter sandwich, but it wasn’t that eventful, I put some jam on it.

I’ve done movies that have really crazy stuff happen on them, and some interesting stuff and some funny stuff, but I’ve done movies where every day was amazing, and there’s a lot of funny stuff, but I can’t name one thing, it was just that way. I did this movie Bandits in 2000 and Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis, and we had the best time on that movie, but if I had to say what was fun about it… I don’t know, it was fun every minute, I don’t know what was fun. And I know you guys have a job to do, you’ve got to write about something. I mean I can cover all the things that those guys, like your bosses and stuff, want – I’ve seen you guys before, we’ve known each other for years, in five minutes I could just sit down here and say the whole thing, the stuff that you’re suppose to get.

But, the only reason I bring it up is because it’s funny, when you said all the kids – you know what’s odd, the movie I did before this we shot at a middle school and kids did come up to me all over the place. So when I see you guys in March I’ll tell you all about it. There were kids like every day; they were like all over me.

Is it mostly Bad Santa they’d talk about?

Well, Bad News Bears, Bad Santa, you’d be surprised how many kids that age, how many of them love Sling Blade, and disturbingly enough Monster’s Ball. Well, the Bad Santa thing’s kind of disturbing too.

You’re so mean in this movie, did you ever crack yourself up? You had a great, straight face while you’re telling these guys off, do you ever just crack up in the middle of it or can you hold it?

No, you kind of get in that mood, and then you don’t. Maybe in between takes sometimes you joke about it a little bit. Actually with Todd Phillips, I think Todd’s a funny guy, until you get to really know Todd you think he’s just real quiet and sort of dark or whatever, but when you get to know him he’s actually a really wry, funny guy. He and I laughed between takes quite a bit. Nah, but during scenes I usually – except for with Michael, sometimes I couldn’t get through something with him.

The blonde wig?

That was tough.

Is the Bad Santa persona something you look forward to coming back to?

Oh absolutely.

Do you think those guys will write something else for you?

Probably at some point, right now… I mean, I never did comedies, and suddenly I’m the guy they call when they need an asshole, so I’ve got this one and Mr. Woodcock coming out next spring, and between I have a drama. After this I’m going to do two or three dramas in a row and kind of get back to what I really love as an actor, more than as an entertainer I guess. Eventually, if and when I do another comedy, it will probably be something along the lines of that character. I like that myself, and I may even write one myself someday, kind of a dark comedy, you know. I like comedies that are somewhere in between the Coen Brothers and those guys that wrote Bad News Bears. I might do something like that at some point. I got offered one that was pretty funny the other day, but I just can’t do it again right now.

What about your music, are you still playing for fun?


Recording in the basement, because you have your own studio?

Oh absolutely. We’re working on a new record right now. I stay down there quite a bit. I have a two year old daughter, so that keeps me busy and then when she goes to bed then I go into the studio.

Do you relate to the losers (in School for Scoundrels) or feel sympathy for them?

Oh absolutely, I’ve been a loser many times. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for losers. Yeah, I think the point of this movie is you should be more confident, you should have confidence in yourself, and it will get you further in your life, but don’t be an asshole about it, and you can’t let it go over into arrogance and power madness and stuff like that. And then for Jon’s character, it’s like yeah you should be nice and honest and everything, but don’t let it become weakness. So I think both guys have their point, and neither one of them knows how to do it properly. And in the end it actually works for him, but not because necessarily I wanted it to work, but it was for my own selfish purpose. So that’s pretty much what the movie is.

Would you want to do a sequel to something like this, or been there done this character?

I’ll put it this way. They paid me $2500 to do this movie, if they’ll give me $5000 I’ll do it.

Are you directing anything next?

I have something I want to direct, I’m having trouble getting financing for it because these days it’s really hard to get a movie made if it’s not all about explosions or a teen comedy. Certain things are easier to get money, the studios have really cracked down on budgets slightly, and they want you to make movies for $12 to $15 million or a big movie for $150 million, and the movies in the middle, which are usually the good ones, it’s really hard to get them financed. I’m doing one that would require about a $25 to $30 million budget. And it’s really hard to talk anybody into it, especially since it’s a real serious subject and it’s a period piece and all that kind of thing.

Did you write it also?

Actually it’s based on a real story, on a non-fiction book, and there has been a script written by my old writer partner Tom Epperson. And I would probably do a pass at it myself before I would direct it, but first we’ve got to think about somebody financing it.

Can you say what it’s about?

Yeah, it’s the story of Floyd Collins in the 1920’s. He was the biggest media event of 1925, about a guy who was trapped in a cave and it became a huge media event, and the reason that I want to make the movie is because it’s very relevant right now. It’s about how the media wouldn’t become the big machine that it is if people didn’t want it, so it’s not a movie that’s blaming the media for everything, it’s a movie that actually says if human nature weren’t so that they want to see other people suffering for their own entertainment, the stories would mean nothing anyway. It’s people who like to watch people’s tragedy and then it becomes huge, and that’s why I really want to make the movie, because these days it’s worse than ever.

Let me know what you think. Send questions or comments to [email protected].




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