Thornton became an overnight star eight years ago when he wrote, directed and starred in the Oscar-winning "Slingblade."
He has built a career playing uniquely American characters, figures that are at the same time hilarious and tragic. Thornton has portrayed lonely misfits, unlikely heroes and heartbreaking fools - the kinds of people he knew as a child in the South.
In his latest role, he plays Coach Gary Gaines, who leads a high school team in an economically depressed Texas town.
Thornton was raised around sports. His father was a high school basketball coach. So when it came time to play Coach Gaines in "Friday Night Lights," he drew on these childhood experiences.
"Being raised as a coach's son is a different kind of life - just being raised around it. There wasn't a whole lot of research I had to do, really," he tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.
Thornton says he backed away from playing the coach as an intense, driven man with a glint in his eyes.
"I didn't want to play the stereotype of a coach in a movie. And the fact of the matter is the real life guy was - is - a very nice guy and pretty laid back, until he has to be rough, you know?" says Thornton. "And I just wanted there to be some dynamics in the character."