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Bad News Bears - Billy Bob Thornton interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. So how did this movie come about for you?
A.
It was very straightforward. My manager called me up and said, "We had this idea. What do you think about doing a remake of Bad News Bears? And I’d get the guys from Bad Santa to write it." And it just seemed like a natural, you know, my kind of part.

Q. Did you know the original movie?
A.
I loved the original movie, and I loved Walter Matthau in it. Big shoes to fill, and I’m not big on remakes, but I figured we could update it in a way that would keep the integrity of the first one.

Q. Do you see yourself as anything like Walter Matthau?
A.
Matthau was just a great lovable curmudgeon and it was a perfect part for him. I like to think of myself as a semi-lovable curmudgeon.

Q. Can you describe your character?
A.
Well, Morris Buttermaker is a guy who has his own extermination business, a one-man kind of business. He’s a guy who’s still trying to be somebody, but just doesn’t quite make it.
He was a pitcher in the minor leagues, went up to the majors for two-thirds of an inning and has kind of lived off that all these years. It’s like a good pickup line at bars, “Yeah, I pitched in the major leagues.”
But he wasn’t exactly, burning the league up. And now he just has his business, and he likes women and likes beer. And he’s asked to coach this Little League team -- actually kind of bribed to coach it – and in the beginning, he’s just doing it for the money, but as time goes on, you know, the old spirit of baseball comes back into him.

Q. And Marcia Gay Harden plays the person who bribes you?
A.
Yes, she’s a lawyer and her son is friends with a bunch of these kids who are kind of losers and not sporting at all, and she feels it’s wrong to shut any kids out of the Little League. She sort of files an injunction against the Little League, and she talks me into coaching the team by paying me, which is pretty unorthodox for kids’ baseball.
She’s very uptight and she sees Buttermaker as a sort of dark, wrong-side-of-the-tracks kind of guy that she’s never seen before, and actually develops a little crush on the guy.

Q. It seems an unlikely role for Marcia Gay Harden?
A.
Well, Marcia Gay’s such a great actress, but here she has to play a kind of shallow woman, which she’s not at all. So to watch her play it is really amusing to me. Uh, I get kind of cracked up at her when I watch her do it.

Q. And Greg Kinnear plays a rival coach?
A.
Yeah, he plays the opposing coach and Greg just does a wonderful job at it. And what’s great about the way we’re playing the characters and sticking with them is that Greg can really piss me off the way he does his thing.
So I don’t have to act much when I have to get in an argument with him. On the flip side of it, I can really piss Greg off when I need to. Fortunately, as you know, pissing people off has never been a problem for me [laughs].

Q. So why is your team called Bad News Bears?
A.
Well on the one hand, I turn it into a sort of fight song. You know, we’re Bad News Bears because we’re going to bring bad news to these teams we play. So whoever we play, it’s like next week we’re playing the Athletics. What does that mean for the Athletics? Bad news for the Athletics! Also we’re not that good [laughs], so the word 'bad' in the title could have more to do with our own abilities.

Q. How has it been working with so many kids?
A.
I’ve loved working with these kids. They’re wonderful. I’ll tell you, one of the things that sets this movie apart from the first one, is that in the first movie there are a few kids who kind of all look the same. You know, you had a little trouble telling them apart sometimes. But these kids are very distinct.
As matter of fact, I have one line in the movie when I’m calling the roster for the first time and I’m naming off all these unusual names and I’m, like, “What is this? The League of Nations?”
So it’s pretty great to see this diverse bunch of kids out here, and working with them has seemed very natural. My own boys are going to be 11 and 12 in June. So they’re the same age as these kids and they’re all terrific little actors and [laughs] let’s just say they’re all very powerful personalities as well.

Q. Hasn’t one of the kids been teasing you about preferring Robert De Niro over you?
A.
You figure you gotta mess with the kids a little bit to keep them on their toes, but they’re doing it to me. And, yeah, Troy, who plays Hooper, he’s always tellin’ me Robert De Niro is his favorite actor. So I give him quite a bit of guff about that, you know.
In fact, I think I’ve got him convinced now that I should be his number one actor above De Niro. He told me all along I’m only second to De Niro, but, you know, I think as time has gone on, I’ve got him turned around a little bit on that one.

Q. And how real is the baseball in the movie?
A.
Well, having real baseball in the movie was really important to me. I mean, having been a baseball player myself growing up and an athlete in general, you get snobby about it a little bit.
So we wanted the baseball to look real. Obviously, it’s a little bit tricky, because our team’s not supposed to be that good. So you have to show that they’re not very good, but that they improve. And these kids did a beautiful job of looking bad in the beginning and improving as we went along.
And because we wanted to make sure that the baseball plays were realistic, we’ve got some baseball experts on the set, plus the lead actor and Rick, the director, we’re baseball players.

Q. In some ways your character sounds a little like the character you played in Bad Santa. Is that a fair comparison?
A.
Well, we have a PG-13 rating on this, but at the same time I take the kids to Hooters to have a post-game celebration, stuff like that. But you know, today kids watch South Park and all these shows, and this sort of humor is not strange to them.
So the fact that they’re actually letting us be a little risqué with some of the stuff is good, because it’s happening every day, you know. I mean, I look at it this way. There’s really no harm in taking kids to Hooters for some chicken wings, if they’re able to watch movies where the hero blows up 55 people with a machine gun.
Personally, I think violence is way worse than Hooters [laughs]. I’m just trying to think of a better word, but I guess that’ll have to do.

Q. So what do you hope people will take away from the movie?
A.
Well, first and foremost, I hope people are entertained by the movie, because that’s really what this movie is for, entertainment. And I hope the baby boomers who loved this movie originally will come see it, because they remember the original movie and they’d like to see a remake of it.
And I hope they bring their kids, because the kids haven’t seen the original, you know, and this is a little bit modernized, a little hipper, which is what kids want from movies now. But I also hope that they come away from the movie feeling that it’s like that classic underdog story.

Q. So the movie has a message?
A.
It’s like no matter who you are, if you put everything you have into something, maybe you can change your life. I mean, it’s a classic thing in movies. The kids who are no-hopers taking on the world. And the guy who’s tired and worn out, and doesn’t really see a whole lot of future, suddenly getting reinvigorated and rejuvenated. And that’s definitely what happens to Buttermaker in this movie.

Related stories: Read the Bad News Bears review

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Read the Bad Santa review

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