A CONVERSATION WITH BILLY BOB THORNTON - Cinequest Film Festival 2001
"I used to start out a show I did in a theater by saying, 'OK, y'all know my name's Billy Bob, so you probably think I married my cousin and screw goats.'" - Billy Bob Thornton displaying his sly wit in a Mr. Showbiz interview. Most actors portray a few truly unforgettable characters; some actors are truly unforgettable characters; and the occasional, truly unique actor qualifies for both categories. Academy Award-winning actor, director and writer Billy Bob Thornton is on a level all his own with over 60 film and television credits in a very brief fifteen years, where he has surprised, astounded and entertained audiences, while always maintaining an extremely personal and authentic approach to his craft. Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Thornton grew up with very little money, eating whatever his grandfather "shot in the woods." His mother, a psychic, predicted that her son would one day grace the screen with her favorite actor, Burt Reynolds (later to come true when Thornton logged appearances on Reynolds' sitcom Evening Shade). His post-high school years found Thornton taking theater classes, but for the most part, making ends meet by working at a factory and jamming in local bands. After a short bout with college, he headed to Los Angeles in 1981, with only a few hundred dollars to his name. There, Thornton struggled as a rock performer, sometimes surviving on nothing but potatoes-which soon landed him in the emergency room for malnutrition. Two years after his arrival in L.A., Thornton turned a serious eye to acting for the first time in years and was soon cast in HBO's The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains, a role with a handful of lines, but one that would have a profound effect on the future of his career. It was "a fit of self-loathing" in his trailer on the set of the film that found Thornton making faces and ranting at himself in the mirror. By the end of the day, Karl Childers, Thornton's character in Sling Blade, was born. Before Sling Blade could come to fruition, however, Thornton spent years honing the Childers persona relentlessly-all the while continuing to take roles in films such as Hunter's Blood, Tombstone, Floundering, Dead Man and Troma's now legendary cult hit Chopper Chicks in Zombietown. A major landmark in Thornton's career-and one that gained him solid notoriety-was his work as co-writer of the dark, film noirish One False Move (in which Thornton also co-starred). Karl Childers was the key, however, and in 1996, all aspirations came true. Sling Blade-which Thornton wrote, directed and starred in-was a runaway hit, and this once struggling actor now had an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Thornton quickly snapped up plum roles in Oliver Stone's U-Turn, Mike Nichols' Primary Colors, Mike Newell's Pushing Tin and the blockbuster Armageddon. His role as the deceptively simple-witted Jacob, in Sam Raimi's stylish A Simple Plan, garnered Thornton his second acting Oscar nomination and more accolades and recognition as a distinctive, powerful voice. Thornton follows up this year with his sophomore effort as a director with his translation of the best-selling novel All the Pretty Horses. Dubbed "The Hillbilly Orson Welles" by good friend Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton lives up brilliantly to the comparison as an incomparable creator with an uncountable array of personas and surprises. His films resonate with passionate energy, exuberance and fortitude. He is an artist of pure lyricism and elegance, with an acute understanding of the mechanics, brilliance and foibles of being human-definitely not as simple as he may seem. -- Mike Rabehl
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