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 mans 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.
had a chance to meet up with Mr. Thornton at The Four Seasons in
Billy Bob Thornton: [wearing sun glasses] Just so you know, the glasses are not to be cool, its because my allergies are really bad today and my eyes are really sensitive to light.
So how is your tennis these days?
Ive never been any good at tennis. I never have been. I didnt 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 werent allowed in the country club, you know what Im 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 dont do a lot of commercial comedies you know, so I trust them, thats their world, I just kind of go and do it, and when I do my type of movie thats when I boss people around. Ive 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 Ive 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, thats 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 its become kind of a tradition and its up on some of the DVDs. It might be on a couple of other DVDs too, maybe like Armageddon or something. Its on some other stuff. I always do it for the crew, and since Jons character in Napoleon Dynamite, that character and Carls 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 everybodys on such a rush, theyre trying to get everything done, sometimes you miss some great things because of it.
What is the meaning of the P?
Dr. P? Thats just what he decided to call himself because he didnt want his real name associated with the school. So its just Dr. P, his real names 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 dont really need one. [Laughing]
Michael said a sequel with the two of you would be good.
Yeah, Id 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. Heres 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. Im going to buy him some real cheap jewelry and tell him its real, say its like a $750 (worth).
Hell find out .
I know; you guys are going to write about it. Michael and I go back; we did Armageddon together, so weve been messing with each other a long time.
How do you pull off all those fake arguments you have on the set
Well, hes 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, Im not very good at it. Ive always been the first one to crack or say, Oh no, I was just joking. But sometimes when were in the middle of it, it looked pretty real and we would freak people out. And people are convinced that hes terrified of me. Huh? [speaking of himself] This guys like a toothpick, look at him. And hes like being real nervous around me and stuff. It was pretty funny. But weve 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 theyre 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.
Theres 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, Jons a lot looser than people might think. Hes a really good kid, I like him. Everybody talks about how hes a Mormon and stuff like that, but its not like you had to just sit there and keep your collar up like this [puts up his collar], and dont curse and stuff, he wasnt like that. But yeah, my life experience has been very different than his, theres 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 its improv almost?
Well it wasnt improv, I pretty much said everything in the script, but its different than when Im doing like a really heavy movie or something, which Im known more for, yeah, its different. Monsters Ball or Man Who Wasnt There or Sling Blade, those are heavier kinds of movies and youre 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 its different. And plus youre doing a movie that youre not worried about its fate as much, because its a commercial comedy and those usually make enough money to get by on, and that kind of thing, so you dont 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, thats what they said in the press kit; maybe theyre 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 didnt have any kids coming up to you?
No, they had built this sort of you know these tents that they build for events, like theyre 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, its 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 wasnt an indoor place. So I didnt see anybody except the crew. Heres 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? Its like, no, not really.
I got up in the morning, I felt like hell, Id 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 Ill never forget that day he made that peanut butter and jelly sandwich and smeared it on the guys 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 Im like, Huh? Its like, yeah, I made a peanut butter sandwich, but it wasnt that eventful, I put some jam on it.
Ive done movies that have really crazy stuff happen on them, and some interesting stuff and some funny stuff, but Ive done movies where every day was amazing, and theres a lot of funny stuff, but I cant 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 dont know, it was fun every minute, I dont know what was fun. And I know you guys have a job to do, youve got to write about something. I mean I can cover all the things that those guys, like your bosses and stuff, want Ive seen you guys before, weve known each other for years, in five minutes I could just sit down here and say the whole thing, the stuff that youre suppose to get.
But, the only reason I bring it up is because its funny, when you said all the kids you know whats 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 Ill tell you all about it. There were kids like every day; they were like all over me.
Is it mostly Bad Santa theyd talk about?
Well, Bad News Bears, Bad Santa, youd be surprised how many kids that age, how many of them love Sling Blade, and disturbingly enough Monsters Ball. Well, the Bad Santa things kind of disturbing too.
Youre so mean in this movie, did you ever crack yourself up? You had a great, straight face while youre 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 dont. Maybe in between takes sometimes you joke about it a little bit. Actually with Todd Phillips, I think Todds a funny guy, until you get to really know Todd you think hes just real quiet and sort of dark or whatever, but when you get to know him hes 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 couldnt get through something with him.
The blonde wig?
That was tough.
Is the Bad Santa persona something you look forward to coming back to?
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 Im the guy they call when they need an asshole, so Ive got this one and Mr. Woodcock coming out next spring, and between I have a drama. After this Im 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 cant 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. Were 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, Ive been a loser many times. Ive 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 dont be an asshole about it, and you cant let it go over into arrogance and power madness and stuff like that. And then for Jons character, its like yeah you should be nice and honest and everything, but dont 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 thats pretty much what the movie is.
Would you want to do a sequel to something like this, or been there done this character?
Ill put it this way. They paid me $2500 to do this movie, if theyll give me $5000 Ill do it.
Are you directing anything next?
I have something I want to direct, Im having trouble getting financing for it because these days its really hard to get a movie made if its 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, its really hard to get them financed. Im doing one that would require about a $25 to $30 million budget. And its really hard to talk anybody into it, especially since its a real serious subject and its a period piece and all that kind of thing.
Did you write it also?
Actually its 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 weve got to think about somebody financing it.
Can you say what its about?
Yeah, its the story of Floyd Collins in the 1920s. 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 its very relevant right now. Its about how the media wouldnt become the big machine that it is if people didnt want it, so its not a movie thats blaming the media for everything, its a movie that actually says if human nature werent so that they want to see other people suffering for their own entertainment, the stories would mean nothing anyway. Its people who like to watch peoples tragedy and then it becomes huge, and thats why I really want to make the movie, because these days its worse than ever.
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