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Billy Bob Thornton Talks Directing 'Jayne Mansfield's Car' & Looks Back On 'Sling Blade,' 'Armageddon,' 'Bad Santa' & More

Interviews
by Drew Taylor
September 13, 2013 2:06 PM
3 Comments
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Jayne Mansfield’s Car, Duvall, Thornton

Talk about your relationship with your co-writer Tom Epperson, and what that's like..
We always had a pretty good working relationship. We’ve had our Lennon/McCartney times where we’re at each other’s throats, but we’ve known each other since I was 8 and he was 12; that’s just gonna happen. It’s not hard for us to know who should write what. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we don’t even usually have to discuss it. We don’t have to say, “Hey, who should write this scene?” “Well I want to write it.” “No, I was thinking I would write it.” We kind of fall into things easily because it’s obvious to us who should write what. In that sense, we work really well together because ego doesn’t come into it about that kind of thing. And that’s not to say that I might write a scene that Tom may add a little to, or take away from, and vice versa; we do that too. Tom might hand me a scene and I go “Hey, I got this idea” and he’ll say, “Cool, go ahead, put that in there.”  We do pretty well.

"The public demands it and I’m not big on sequels -- I’ve never really done one -- but I think 'Bad Santa 2' makes sense to do."

Do you ever see yourself directing one of your more thriller-y screenplays? Is that something that interests you at all?
Maybe. It depends on what type of movie it is. I kind of like to direct actors and compose shots. I’m not big on sitting around with a storyboard artist and planning out how the wolf attacks the dude; that doesn’t interest me a lot. “Oh, we have vampires. Okay, we gotta do that digitally” and then I have to meet a guy with a machine that makes the teeth grow out. I’m not real big on that. You know, what I would like to direct is a ghost story. So maybe if Tom or I ever write a good ghost story because I’m not big on modern horror movies—I like the old horror movies—but I really have always liked ghost stories, so maybe one of these days.

“The Gift” was pretty phenomenal; that was a pretty scary movie.
Well, Sam Raimi is terrific at that stuff. He really knows his stuff when it comes to that. I did “A Simple Plan” with him as an actor, and I gotta tell you it was so amazing going to set knowing the director was gonna set this world up and all I had to do was play the character.  

You brought up actors; how did you assemble this amazing cast? 
I tend to like to cast the main characters with people that I know so I don’t have to get in arguments with agencies, or even talk to them. Usually I have some people in mind already, so a lot of these people are friends who are right for the parts. We started out writing this movie for me and Duvall, so those characters we knew who they were gonna be. The other ones who were cast were people I just called myself; said, “Hey, man, we’re making a movie do you want to do it?” Those would include Kevin Bacon, Robert Patrick, Ron White, John Hurt. The ones I didn’t know before; I didn’t know Ray Stevenson and I didn’t know Katherine LaNasa or Frances O’Connor; those were people that during the process were suggested to me.

On the commentary for “Armageddon,” Michael Bay says that you love playing characters with physical imperfections and that you added your limp to the character in “Armageddon.” Obviously your character here is very badly wounded. Why is that?
Life wasn’t real easy for me growing up and I had physical injuries but nothing that really shows. I think they’re more representative of a wounded soul more than anything else. I’ve also known some people who have physical afflictions or terrible scars, and I’ve always been interested in their psyche because it really affects your insights. In this character, Skip, he’s in sort of a state of arrested development. He hasn’t grown much more than his years since he went in the war because once he saw what it was really about, he sort of stopped right there; there’s a real childlike quality to him. I think he’s trying to recapture childhood and remain a child because the adult world is too much for him. That’s similar to a few of my characters; the one in “A Simple Plan” and “Sling Blade” for example.

Bad Santa

As an actor you’ve been interested in transforming into these characters physically. As you grow older you can’t transform physically, but with makeup and prosthetics you can change more easily. Is that a fair assessment?
I’ve never used prosthetics, but obviously in this I did [for my character's scars]. It’s surprising how whatever character you’re playing can show through on your face. If you’re really into that character, you can transform; if you put the clothes on and you feel like that character. Sometimes it can make you look older, younger, dumber, smarter. I just played a prosecuting attorney in Boston in a movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and Duvall, and I was just a slick-ass prosecutor and now I’m over here in London playing a dying novelist. People have told me before, “Wow, you look so young for your age” and then it’s like wait until next month. It depends on what’s behind the curtain to really come across looking different. I’ll color my hair these days, when I go on the road with my band, or I’m about to color it for another project after this movie and I’ll look younger for awhile then. I got a cameo in “Parkland” that’s coming out and I was playing a guy in his mid-60s and I didn’t do anything. I just put on the clothes and some old man glasses from the early ‘60s and I looked like an old man. They didn’t doctor my face up or anything. I did get the flu when I was done there, that probably helped. It’s an interesting thing how you can transform sometimes by the way you feel. I’m sure you’ve looked at yourself in the mirror during a stressful time and said “Jesus Christ.”

There’s been talk of a “Bad Santa 2;” is that still something you’re interested in doing?
Oh, yeah. I would love to do it. The public demands it and I’m not big on sequels—I’ve never really done one—but I think this one makes sense to do. It’s made for a sequel and I love playing the character, so they’re working on it right now. We’re not sure it’s going to be made but that’s the talk and I suppose if they find a script that they like we’ll try to do it next year. I would enjoy revisiting that one. 

People say "Why don’t you do a sequel to 'Sling Blade'?" but what’s that gonna be about? I don’t think I could do that. By the way, it’s okay to talk about “Armageddon;” it’s not really a soft spot. I don’t really do blockbusters, but I thought on the level that it was supposed to work, I always thought it did, and I enjoyed my time on that movie. There were some critics who I knew over the years and they would say, “Well, we love your movies but maybe not 'Armageddon.' ” Every time, when Bruce Willis is buying the farm on the rock and Dan hands me the patch, I tear up.  

Would you do another blockbuster?  
Usually they asked me to be the bad guy on one of those big ones, years ago. They told me how long I was gonna be in makeup and I said, “Nah, that’s okay.” Maybe I’ll do one one day. I’m past the age where I could play the superheroes so I’d have to play the deputy assistant mayor; Commissioner Gordon’s assistant.  

Do you have plans for what will be your next script or directorial project?  
I have a couple ideas; they’re in the really, really early stages.  I haven’t written anything. There are a couple stories I’d like to do and they’re not too much off the beaten path. If anything, they’re probably less accessible than what I’ve done so far.

Did you ever watch the "Friday Night Lights" TV show?
I saw the pilot. I thought the pilot was pretty good. Pete [Berg] did a terrific job on the movie, and it was kind of nice to have a spin-off to a movie that you’d done and give it more life. I thought that was a good thing.

“Jayne Mansfield’s Car” is in select cinemas and on demand today and well worth a watch.

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3 Comments

  • Bob Malooga | October 6, 2013 9:34 PMReply

    "Sling Blade" is coming to Broadway: http://popnewsfeed.webs.com/apps/blog/show/33504723-billy-bob-thornton-announces-open-casting-call-for-new-musical

  • PcChongor | September 16, 2013 2:51 AMReply

    Jesus, I usually never do this, but...

    IT'S ERSKINE CALDWELL!

  • Stephen B | September 13, 2013 5:21 PMReply

    Great interview. I feel like he rarely gets the chance to talk about his filmmaking career (beyond Sling Blade), so it's great to see him talk about some of his screenwriting jobs and such.

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