Billy Bob Thornton ('The Astronaut Farmer')
'Bad Santa ... Good Astronaut!'
William Robert (Billy Bob) Thornton was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas on August 4, 1955 to William Raymond (Billy Ray) Thornton (educator, high school history teacher, basketball coach; deceased) and Virginia R. Faulkner (psychic). He has three younger brothers, James Donald (Jimmy Don), born in 1958 and now deceased, James (Jim) Bean and John David, born in 1969. He has been married 5 times and has 5 children: daughter Amanda (with Gatlin); sons William and Harry (both with Cherniak); son Maddox, adopted with Angelina Jolie; and daughter Bella with Connie Angland.
Billy Bob began his artistic career as a musician, playing drums and singing in a band called Tres Hombres, which once opened for 'Hank Williams Jr' . In 1981, he moved to Los Angeles with childhood friend Tom Epperson to pursue an acting and writing career. On the side, Billy Bob also sought work as a singer and drummer. He and Epperson tried for years to sell their scripts but no one was buying.
During those rough times, Billy Bob neglected his health and subsequently landed in the hospital with heart problems due to malnutrition. In 1992, Billy Bob starred in 'One False Move' (1992), a movie he co-wrote with Epperson. The team finally received attention because of this work, which was very well received in Hollywood. His popularity increased steadily, especially after 'Sling Blade' (1996) which he wrote, directed and in which he starred.
Billy received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on October 7, 2004.
With movies such as 'Mr. Woodcock,' 'Fade Out,' 'Peace Like A River,' and the just-released 'The Astronaut Farmer,' Billy a NASA Astronaut who is forced to retire so he could save his family farm. But he can't give up his dream of space travel and looks to build his own rocket, despite the government's threats to stop him.
Has space travel always been a personal fascination of yours? "Oh yeah, absolutely. As a kid I always wanted to fly to the moon. And when I found out there’s nothing up there but dirt that kinda ruined it for me,” he laughs. ”I think it’s what all boys think about growing up.”
Was the premise of 'Astronaut Farmer' always a solid enough one for you or (in order for you to take the role) could it simply have been about a guy trying to launch a tractor into space?! ”Well, it helps to move the story, but I wouldn’t have taken the role if it wasn’t taking itself seriously. I can see being in a film about taking that tractor to the moon, but onlu if it was a fantasy, maybe. But, yes it could have been this amazing script about this guy who wants to go up in a tractor, sure. Taking rolls always depends on a lot of things. These movies are never about the hype they’re all about the execution.”
How was wearing that replica of the 1960’s-era space suit? Was it heavy, was it like get me out of here, was it like how do I pee?! ”Yes, all of them. But I cured the peeing thing,” he laughs.”I made my own hole. It wasn’t bad all the time though. Except in the daytime we had some really hot days but at night it dips and becomes very cold. So during the day the crew is all walking around in shorts making fun of me. And at night – when it was freezing – I got my own back,” he laughs again.
The film also shows us that as much as there are always dreams we can still attain throughout life, that there is also sacrifice involved. Did you yourself (as an actor) sacrifice anything for this movie and if not this movie any other movie, perhaps? ”Well, sometimes you do sacrifice … but it seems that the word sacrifice should only be used around the word heroism or something. Like when someone is a hostage – like those hostages in Iran, God bless ‘em they went through a lot and I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes – but they were called heroes. But they only got put in a room, locked up and then they get let go. That’s something that’s not their choice. But to sacrifice and show courage is more like when you see a woman being accosted in the park and you go over and you get stabbed in your actions in trying to save her.”
So are you saying that there are no real sacrifices in movie making? ”Well, kinda … although you do sacrifice family stuff. Time with you kids, but that’s on every movie. Even if they’re there! Like on ‘Astronaut Farmer,’ our kids were there. Your playing and laughing with them, but then they call rolling and they can’t understand that and that makes you feel like hell. I can remember Bella crying when I had to leave the trailer and go back out onto the set. She didn’t understand me leaving and just wanted her daddy back, you know. So that’s a sacrifice we deal with all the time.”
Please explain why, with so many great film roles to your name, ‘Bad Santa’ was undertaken?! ”It’s funny how people latch on to whatever the theme of it is. Nobody ever says, ‘Hey, wow, that’s a really nice movie you did, because in the end he realizes the kid is like he was back when he was a loser. Before he realized what Christmas was all about. You know, becomes a good guy in the end and takes care of the kid."
OK, but is there a film you’ve done that in reflection you would rather not exist on your resume?! ”Well, yeah, … but that’s mostly back in the day when I wasn’t making my own decisions. It wasn’t playing a character that’s despicable, as that’s your job. It was just a role that I took before people got to know me. I did a movie years, and years, and years ago where …. you know, it’s the only movie I can look back at and hate the fact that I did that role. I just hate that guy.”
Sooooooo, what was the role/movie? ”Oh no, I can’t say. There’s no way.”
Come on now, just give us a clue … please! ”It was somewhere around the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” he laughs. ”Now, it’s not a horrible movie, but I just know now what would have made it better.”
Rumor has it you would love to fly to the moon, but won’t ride in a helicopter! True? ”Oh yeah,” he laughs. ”Helicopters are so unsafe, man. If you talk to a NASA guy about his rocket he’ll tell you that it’s pretty amazing, very safe. But you talk to a helicopter pilot he’s gonna say, ‘You know, I fly these things for a living and they’re so unstable’!”
Please tell us more about your forthcoming films: ‘Mr. Woodcock,’ ‘Fade Out’ and ‘Peace Like A River’ ”Well, ‘Mr. Woodcock’ is already done and comes out in May, but it was done before this one,” he shrugs his shoulders. ”I mean, let’s say that you have two or three really amazing movies in a row and then along comes your part in a sh*t movie. The public's like, ‘Well, they should be able to pick anything they want now!’ What they don’t realize is that this one was made well before any of the others. But yeah ‘Woodcock’s very funny, very dark and has Susan Sarandon and Seann William Scott.”
And the other two movies? ”Yeah ‘Fade Out’ and ‘Peace Like A River’ are two movies that I’m doing later this year, but haven’t started filming yet.”
How’s the work coming together for your film about cave explorer Floyd Collins? ”Yeah, we’re trying to get it made. It’s hard. It’s becoming a real struggle to get it made.”
Finally, being that I’m an Arsenal FC supporter is it true you support Liverpool FC as your British soccer team of choice? ”Well, I have friends over there, but I don’t know anything about what we call soccer. They just gave me a Liverpool jersey when I was over there, So no, I know nothing of all that stuff, sorry.”
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