Actually, the new version does not stray far from the old.
"The tone of the movie is pretty much like the original," Thornton tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.
Comparing his interpretation with Matthau's version of the character (Coach Morris Buttermaker), Thornton notes, "He drinks and smokes cigars and womanizes, so that's going to be there. He was a pool cleaner. I'm an exterminator. We really stayed pretty true to the original."
There was a time when Thornton dreamed of playing for the Cardinals. He even had a tryout for the Kansas City Royals, but it was not to be. "I got my collarbone broken," he says, "I was talking to a guy as they were taking infield practice. No big romantic story."
But, while making the movie, he got to play and have fun with the young cast.
"The kids were fantastic," he says. "They say, 'Don't work with animals or kids.' But I have to say, I've had really good experiences with kids. They were terrific, and their excitement sort of excites us. You can get a little complacent sometimes on the set, if you've been doing it a long time."
As for turning 50, he says, "I don't worry about it that much. When I turned 40, it wasn't that big a deal either. I think it's, kind of, on your head. I don't think about it too much, although 50 is a little bigger deal than the rest of them. It's a half a century. You start realizing you've lived in parts of six decades and you've gone through a few presidents, that kind of thing."
Jokingly, he adds, "I understand if you are crossing an international border, your birthday doesn't count. I might go to Canada just for a day."
Fast Facts about Billy Bob Thornton:
- Born in Alpine, Ark., Aug. 4, 1955
- He was married to actress Angelina Jolie in 2000 , the same year she won a best-supporting actress Oscar for her role as an unhinged teenager in "Girl, Interrupted." Thornton was dating actress Laura Dern when he became involved with Jolie. It was Thornton's fifth marriage and her second.
Jolie and Thornton met on the set of the 1999 air traffic control comedy "Pushing Tin." They divorced in 2004.
- Thornton began acting while in high school, eventually deciding to pursue a full-time performing career. He briefly landed in NYC before heading west to Hollywood. Settling in L.A. in the late 1970s, Thornton worked variously as a rock singer, drummer and actor.
- After almost ten years in California, Thornton made his feature-film debut in the forgettable direct-to-video release "Hunter's Blood." It was filmed in 1986 and released in 1988.
- After a brief turn as a soldier in the Bette Midler film "For the Boys" (1991), Thornton won acclaim for his featured role in Carl Franklin's "One False Move" in 1992.
- Subsequent feature appearances included supporting roles in Taylor Hackford's "Bound By Honor" (1993); Steven Seagal's directorial debut, "On Deadly Ground" (1994), and Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" (1995).
- Thornton's career exploded with the success of "Sling Blade" in 1996. He signed a three-picture deal with Miramax and was suddenly one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood.
- He was nearly unrecognizable as a psychotic mechanic in Oliver Stone's "U-Turn" before playing a reluctant religious convert in Duvall's "The Apostle," among his 1997 roles.
- Thornton's most critically acclaimed role since "Sling Blade" in 1996 came when he starred opposite Halle Barry in "Monster's Ball" in 2001. He also did a comedic turn in Barry Levinson's "Bandits" and sharp, haunting role as the barber drawn into a dark melodrama in the Coen Brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There."
- On screen in 2002, the actor appeared a pair of low-profile duds, as a philanderer in the offbeat comedy "Waking Up in Reno," which also starred Charlize Theron, Patrick Swayze and Natasha Richardson; and as a parolee who becomes involved with the unknowing wife of the man he killed in "Levity."
- In 2003 Thornton reunited with the Coen Brothers' for "Intolerable Cruelty." Also that year, he had a low-key cameo as a libidinous U.S. president in the British romantic comedy "Love, Actually." Finally, late in the year Thornton returned to center stage in director Terry Zwigoff's cynical holiday comedy "Bad Santa"