Billy Bob Thornton: in conversation

*Official description: Oscar-winning actor/director, and country music musician Billy Bob Thornton has spent the last decade crafting one of the most unique and exciting careers in entertainment today. For SXSW attendees, he will sit and discuss the bridge between his worlds of film and music, as well as his eclectic career.*
Billy Bob ([IMDB]( is about 10 minutes late but we don’t mind. He makes his entrance with warm applause and the interview begins right away. Soon after that he gives a beautiful quote:
> “Art is someone’s vision. You can’t test it on an audience.”
He tells us how he got his first break as a waiter for a big shot (was it Billy Wilder?) who gave him a chance as an actor. He was advised that there were plenty of actors – what was needed was good writers. Since Billy Bob could do that too, he went back to his car and got his scripts out!
[Update: Q&A time – Billy Bob is asked what Billy Wilder advised him. He quotes, “Listen, you’re not Clark Gable… but you’re not ugly enough to be a character actor either. If you wanna be a character actor, you gotta ugly yourself up more.” (laughter) He was advised to go into writing not just acting. “Think of yourself as an artiste and not an actor or else you’ll be standing in the bread line.”]
He was asked about Armageddon and he joked that he had to do it to pay off his divorce. He also knew he couldn’t disappear off the scene for a long time – every now and then he had to do something noticeable.
Billy Bob describes criticism directed at him when he tried playing different roles:
> “You can’t be a security guard. (audience laughs) You’re a carpenter! (more laughter) Let me see you guard something!”
On playing bad guys:
> “I think I should have smiled a little more… bad guys who act like normal people are the scariest ones.”
In the midst of talking, someone in the audience sneezes and Billy Bob says “Bless you” and continues talking.
When he was pipped to win his first Academy Award for Sling Blade, he was warned that afterwards, he’d be told how to do everything. That turned out to be true.
Another funny post-success incident was when he was sitting around eating a doughnut, looked around and a girl thought that he was leering at her. He assured us that actors like him don’t always have THAT on their minds all the time 🙂
The next movie he was asked to direct, he also insisted on adopting the same approach as he did with Sling Blade. However he was told what to do, and even who to cast! He refused and was ‘dropped like a hot rock’. “These are the facts. If they wanna sue me, they can kiss my ass…” We applaud.
He told us of another mistake he made – he brought about 30 ‘studio cats’ to his home and showed them a rough cut, warning them it was uncut and over 3 hours long. “Never show them your assembly,” he advises us. No matter what they assure you, “they ain’t filmmakers.” The studio execs had mixed reactions – one thought it was great. Another said (puts on weaselly voice) “It’s really long!” Well, duh. In the end it was cut to under 2 hours. I could hear someone behind me go ‘Aww’ – filmmakers’ empathy.
He hasn’t directed in 9 years but has some plans in the works – some stories need to be told.
The problem in society, he says, is that the media is fuelled by what the masses want. We like seeing horiffic reality stories, so the media shows more of that. If we suddenly liked watching puppies, the media would show that instead. We need a “cultural revolution”, he says. We can’t totally blame the media for what they’re doing now.
When going to the movies, “Quit being jealous,” he says. Sure, everyone wants to be the one starring in the movie, but when you’re watching someone else, let him be the star! Go to the movies intending to enjoy it. Likewise if you’re a musician watching another band. He describes how he plays in his band and there’s always a guy with folded arms, looking critically. “I sing to him,” he says. (laughter)
“Kill him with kindness.”
He observes how people may be kinder to first-time filmmakers, just as people are kind to physically disabled-type musicians who sing off key.
For forthcoming projects, he mentions how he’s had to reign in his own friends who meet big actors and start getting them involved before he’s even planned his budget yet! He re-iterates how he still wants complete control, but that’s difficult with big-budget productions. Not sure if he’s joking but one big studio wants him to cast Tom Cruise! He jokingly quotes them, “We’ll pay Tom $30m to act and we’ll pay you $10m.” I think Billy Bob’s more talented than Tom! –> back to the point about giving the masses what they want?
He talks about people he likes working with, and people he doesn’t like working with. He describes how people interfere with a soundtrack, removing what he feels is the best track. Now his original cut is only on a few VHS tapes back home.
Billy Bob speaks to a few people on his way out the back door, with his entourage around him.