NEW YORK – Billy Bob Thornton (search) has effectively brought the drunk, foul-mouthed Kriss Kringle of his "Bad Santa" to the baseball diamond.
In the remake of the 1976 sandlot classic "Bad News Bears," (search) Thornton doubles the "anti" in Walter Matthau's anti-hero. Leading a team of young misfits, he imparts wisdom about the national pastime such as: "You can love it, but it don't always love you back — kinda like dating a German chick."
Again teaming up with the screenwriters of "Bad Santa" (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa), Thornton has discovered that people like to watch him drink beers and cuss — especially when kids are around.
Thornton now has five kids, the last coming last fall with girlfriend Connie Angland. Daughter Bella was their first child together, the others having been with three of his five ex-wives. (Angelina Jolie adopted son Maddox while they were married.)
Turning 50 Aug. 4, the actor finds himself looking back at a career he says is, in musical terms, about "albums, not singles." A rocker since high school, music — not movies — was Thornton's first love. Following his 2003 disc "The Edge of the World," he'll release a new one this September that he calls "the singer-songwriter version of Pink Floyd."
Still, perhaps no "single" has defined Thornton more than the one that made him famous: "Sling Blade."
The Arkansas native now contemplates if doing a remake makes him a "sellout" and whether — after two decades on the West Coast — he's, gasp, a Californian.
AP: You were a ball player yourself, weren't you?
Thornton: I was a junk pitcher. I had a lot of pitches. I had a good curve ball, a really good slider. That was my best pitch. I wasn't considered a fireballer. You know, I probably threw in the mid-80s. I never threw a 90-mile-an-hour fastball.
AP: But your baseball career ended before it started — at a tryout for the Kansas City Royals?
Thornton: I was talking, just like we're talking right now and they were taking infield practice and the third baseman threw it to first and I wasn't looking and it broke my collarbone. After that, I committed all my energy to music. Our band was touring kind of regionally and I worked as a roadie for a few bands. Then I eventually came to California. You know, I've lived in California for half of my life. It's weird, everyone thinks of me as this guy who's from the South ... I'm really a Californian.
AP: Is that how you think of yourself?
Thornton: I'll always consider myself a Southerner. A lot of people put California down, but my dreams were realized there.
AP: Was your baseball history what drew you to "Bad News Bears"?
Thornton: Well, I love the original. I think it was a great opportunity to remake a movie that a lot of teenagers might never see the original. Kids now won't watch older movies — they want to see what's hip right now. The movie's got a great message. Plus, I seemed kind of a natural to play a drunk ...
AP: Are you still much of a partier then?
Thornton: Not much. For several years, I've been pretty much a hermit. If you looked in magazines ... you never see me in those out-on-the-town pages. I'm either at home playing with the kids or I'm working. The only times you'll see me in terms of the movie business is when I have to go to the premieres of my own movies. I don't go to see ones that aren't mine because I don't even like going to mine.
AP: With this character (Buttermaker) and your role in "Bad Santa," you seem to be making the reluctant hero outright catatonic — literally passed out, even.
Thornton: I've played a lot of those guys. I play guys that on the surface are not as smart or not as compassionate, and by the end, in fact, it's the guy with the conscience. "A Simple Plan" is a good example of that. "Sling Blade" or even "Monster's Ball" and "The Man Who Wasn't There." ... I find them more interesting. To play that sort of straight across the board hero guy, the sort of top actor guy roles, they just don't interest me because they're kind of the same person at the end of the movie that they were at the beginning.
AP: What did you mean when you recently said sleeping with a model or "the sexiest person in the world" could be like having sex with a couch? (The comment, in Esquire magazine, was widely speculated to be about Jolie.)
Thornton: I don't know where that came from. What I said in the article was said in all earnestness. I was saying that you can be with a beautiful person or an average person and sex has nothing to do with what they look like. That's all I said. I didn't mention anybody's name in it and all of a sudden it's like I said that about Angelina. That's their own spin on that. I wasn't thinking about anybody in particular.
AP: Well, speculation appears to be a more frequent problem for Jolie.
Thornton: When I talk to her, we talk about, "How are you? How's Maddox? Where are you going to be next month?" ... We talk about that kind of stuff and so I don't have any idea what's going on with her. Honestly, I never hear this stuff until I'm doing an interview. And then somebody says, "Well, what do you think about, uh, the tractor incident or something?" I'm like, "What? I don't know what you're talking about."
AP: After the critical acclaim of "Sling Blade," you've directed only two movies ("All the Pretty Horses" and "Daddy and Them") and none for five years. Do you think about doing it again?
Thornton: When you're a director, for two years or at least a year and a half, that's what your life is. So if you're gonna do it, you gotta be ready to do it and it has to be something you care about. I've found something that I do care about. It's not something that I can say anything about now, but you'll be hearing about it and it wouldn't be until next year.
AP: Ray McKinnon (who directed Thornton in the 2004 indie "Chrystal") has said your legacy will be giving a voice to the South in movies. Do you agree?
Thornton: I think maybe I was instrumental in taking the stereotype out of the Southern actor is some ways. I would hope my legacy would be as a serious actor who told the truth and did parts based on the quality of part and not necessarily the money. ... I actually had somebody on the Internet ... say, "Doing `Bad News Bears,' how do you feel about maybe, possibly selling out?" I said, "Selling out, really? I made a $35 million movie. That's the doughnut budget for 'Mission Impossible.'" I don't make $25 million a movie. I still make kinda what I did in all the other movies I did. It's not like that. I base choosing these parts on the quality of the script and the project. ... I mean, I did "Armageddon," but that was earlier and everybody was telling me you gotta do one of these big movies where you're on a bus stop. But even that one, I'm not ashamed of the part I played.