‘TIS THE SEASON for movies celebrating the joys of Christmas. And then there are the movies Billy Bob Thornton stars in. He’s got a another one out, as Tracy Smith is about to show us:
In 2003, Billy Bob Thornton played a department store Santa who was definitely on the naughty list. He drank, he cursed, he stole ... and those were his nicer qualities. It was a gamble, and Thornton knew it.
Smith asked, “When you saw the script for that original ‘Bad Santa,’ what did you think?”
“Well, I knew it was either gonna be the most brilliant idea ever, or I might have to become a plumber!” he laughed.
Thankfully, he never had to pull out the plunger. “Bad Santa” made $60 million at the box office, plus enough of a fan following to warrant a sequel.
“Bad Santa 2” is in theaters now.
Thornton is known for creating memorable characters, like the death row prison guard with regrets in “Monster’s Ball,” or the killer with no soul in the TV series “Fargo.”
“Sometimes I’m playing somebody that I may have a problem with. Your job as an actor is not to go only play things that make you look good.”
Maybe because of where he came from, Billy Bob Thornton has always been willing to do things others might not. Growing up poor in rural Arkansas, he financed his dreams of playing in a band working hard jobs, hauling hay and shoveling tar. When he moved to L.A. to try acting, he struggled for years.
So, why didn’t he give up? “Well, you know, people ask that sometimes. It’s like, ‘Why didn’t you just give up and go home?’ I didn’t have anything back there, either. So it wasn’t like, ‘I’m gonna go back to the comfort of home!’”
But in 1996, at the age of 41, things got a lot more comfortable. Thornton made “Sling Bade,” transforming himself, and his life, winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
“Marlon Brando called me, Martin Scorsese,” he said.
“What does that do to you?”
“Well, first, you don’t believe it’s them! You think it’s some idiot friend of yours pulling your leg. But I became friends with those people. And yeah, I never dreamed that that would happen.”
Smith asked, “Did you feel like a fish out of water?”
“Oh, absolutely. I still feel like a fish out of water. You know, some people can’t get past their past, I guess. I certainly haven’t.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t try.
For about six years in the 1990s, he lived a very Hollywood existence, at the swanky Sunset Marquis Hotel. “I feel home here,” he said.
Why did he live there? “Well, I don’t like to be alone, you know? But I don’t like to be with people. So it’s perfect!”
And for a time, he had a very Hollywood marriage, to Angelina Jolie. When “Sunday Morning” first did a story on him, in 2001, she was right there. They were also very affectionate in public ... and the public ate it up.
When the press found out that they wore lockets with drops of each other’s blood in them, the story grew to monstrous proportions. “And then the next thing, ‘They got a quart of blood around their neck.’ And then, ‘They are vampires and they live in a dungeon, they bite each other in the neck,’” Thornton said. “So now you’ve gotta be a vampire. It goes from, ‘Oh, look how much in love these people are,’ to, ‘They’re vampires.’”
But of course, they were only human. They divorced in 2003.
“And the two of you are still friends?” Smith asked.
“Oh yeah. Absolutely. It’s not like we go out to Barney’s Beanery every night together, ‘cause she’s all over the world, you know?”
Thornton’s now married (for the sixth time) to Connie Angland. They’ve been together for more than a decade, and live in a secluded part of L.A. with their daughter, Bella.
And he’s also in a long-term relationship with J.D. Andrew and Teddy Andreadis, in a band they started in 2007 called The Boxmasters.
“You guys have been together nearly 10 years now -- it’s a long time for a band. It’s a long time for any relationship,” Smith said. “What do you think makes this relationship work?“
“We don’t have any other friends other than ourselves,” Thornton replied.
They just wrapped a nationwide tour, where they played to sold-out crowds in venues like Knuckleheads in Kansas City.
The band and crew travel, eat and sleep on a bus -- 12 people crammed into triple-decker bunks.
“Yeah, it’s not bad,” Thornton said. “I prefer the bottom bunk.”
“Does anybody snore?” Smith asked.
“Oh, everybody snores, except me,” he replied.
Not that he has much time to sleep. Along with movies and the band, he just starred in Amazon TV’s legal drama, “Goliath.” Thornton, now 61, is open to projects he might have once rejected.
“If somebody sent me a script saying, ‘Hey, you’re gonna play Jennifer Lawrence’s grandfather, ‘I might go, ‘No, I’m not!’” he laughed. “’You bet your ass I’m not doin’ that.’ And then you realize it’s, like, ‘Yeah, maybe I am!’”
“So now would you consider that if somebody sent you that script?”
“If the script was good enough, maybe. I don’t know!”
And Billy Bob Thornton knows the good thing about being old enough to play a grandpa, or a Santa, is what comes with age: wisdom (maybe), and gratitude.
“If I hadn’t gotten into the entertainment business, I would be probably making minimum wage still,” he said.
“So what does that do to you, to come from that and be where you are now?”
“I thank my lucky stars every day!”
To watch a trailer for “Bad Santa 2,” click on the video player below.
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