Thornton brings a darker side to a cuddly kids' movie

The remake is much more vulgar than the original


July 21, 2005|By John Anderson | John Anderson,NEWSDAY

One tends to forget, but before he was a movie star - and he is - Billy Bob Thornton was a writer. He put himself on the map with the original script for George Hickenlooper's short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, and won an Oscar for adapting his script into the feature version (Sling Blade, which he directed and in which he starred). Before that, he co-wrote the Carl Franklin film One False Move, and later The Gift, which starred Cate Blanchett.

Lately, though, he has been the moviegoer's favorite reprobate - namely as Bad Santa and now the coach of Bad News Bears in Richard Linklater's remake. Thornton, 49, talked about going down the dark road to movie degeneracy.

You were a drunk in Bad Santa, a coach in Friday Night Lights and now you're a drunk coach in Bad News Bears.

That's the trilogy, right there: the coach, the drunk and the drunk coach. But it's been great lately doing those movies. I had a great time on all of them. But I think my next movie's going to be a real heavy psychological drama, kind of back to my roots. The next one I'm supposed to do is an independent film called Fade Out with Milla Jovovich. Then I got two or three more I'm considering, and all but one are dramas.

Bad News Bears is pretty vulgar. Was it strange doing that with a bunch of kids?

The kids watch all that stuff. They watch South Park. And we didn't get near what they do on South Park. And kids watch that all the time. My boys are 11 and 12, and they've seen South Park. ...

How did you and director Rick Linklater approach this movie?

We tried to just kinda stick to the tone of the original movie and not go goofy, like a lot of the big-studio comedies. Big, slick, goofy stuff. And Rick directed a kind of realistic, low-key kind of comedy. With a lot of off-color humor ...

You're from the South, Arkansas, to be specific. Was your upbringing very religious?

Yeah, it was, but when I was growing up, it wasn't as fanatical as it is now. I think religion was more a part of things when I was a kid - everybody went to church and all that, but it was more laid back.

Do you get a lot of negative feedback back home for the films you do?

Not really. I mean, Bad Santa was a wildly successful movie, and the critics loved it across the board. So the only bad things you hear are from the Jerry Falwell types - not him exactly, but that type. Or sometimes, I'll have a friend who'll say they were sitting behind a family with little kids at Bad Santa, and they all walked out. But if you're going to take your kids to an R-rated movie, that's your fault.

Maybe they thought the "R" meant "religious"?

Maybe so.

Of all the things you've done, what's been your favorite?

One of the things I was really fulfilled by doing was The Man Who Wasn't There by the Coen brothers. I loved doing that movie. I always tell those guys, "Anytime you got something you want me to do, call." They were executive producers on Bad Santa. And then there's the The Man Who Wasn't There and Intolerable Cruelty. So that's three I've done with them. But anything they've got, I'll go do it.


They actually talked about doing Tarzan with me. I thought it was hilarious. I think it's a great idea, too: to make Tarzan just a guy, instead of like Johnny Weissmuller or whatever, or the guy from Greystoke. Tarzan's just this guy who was raised by monkeys. So imagine Tarzan, only it's me. Maybe one of these days we'll get around to it.

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