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Bad Santa - Billy Bob Thornton Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q: What does Christmas mean to you and what will you be doing with your family this Christmas?
A:
Growing up we always had a very traditional Christmas ­ I always loved Christmas. If you could say there was anything that was the opposite of me about this character it¹s the fact that I love Christmas. You know I have children I have a ten and eleven year old boys and a one-month old girl so Christmas is really special time.
I'm actually quite sentimental about Christmas. The thing that might be more similar to me in the movie is the other stuff that he does. I don¹t mind a smoke every now and again. I¹ve been known to take a drink occasionally. I've been - uh...

Q: Been in any pools recently?
A:
Yeah, that kind of thing. I was trying to find a good way to put it.

Q: How do you feel about big women Billy?
A
: I'm all for 'em.

Q: Are your ten and eleven year olds allowed to see Bad Santa?
A
: Not yet.

Q: Do they want to see it?
A:
My ten-year-old desperately wants to, he's the wild one. They were on the set with me and saw me film some of it so they questioned me about it a little bit. They knew why they weren¹t going to be able to see it. But when they get to about 15 or 16 and are more adult then they'll be able to see it, but right now.

Q: I bet your son's friends have already had Badder Santa out on DVD?
A:
Yeah, Badder Santa. It's kind of funny that they came up with a Badder Santa because what are they going to put in there that¹s worse? It's essentially just a few scenes that weren't in the original movie and a few extra curse words and alternate takes and that kind of thing.

Q: Were there people who perhaps lacked a sense of humour because this was Santa, albeit a department store one, when it came out in the States.
A:
Well here's the thing about when it came out in the states. It was hugely successful. It was the most critically acclaimed comedy of the year; it was insane, we couldn¹t believe it. We thought the critics were going to like it. My guess was the journalists were gonna like it because they tend to like dark comedies.
Normally, if you see a bad review on a Christmas movie its on some real syrupy, schmaltzy one. So we weren't surprised about that.
What we were surprised about was that generally a movie is targeted towards a particular audience and this one was sort of all over the map.
There would be teenagers there and 80-year-old women and as a result it made a lot of money. So in other words there weren't any particular ages or groups of people offended by it.
It was just more individuals or people from the religious right. And we did get a few comments from some of them and my reply to them is: as far as I know, Santa Claus is not in the Bible.
I think you guys are talking about Jesus. It's not Santa Claus. Maybe we should make a Bad Jesus.

Q: In real life is Brett Kelly really as sweet as he seems and if so did you not wince at times when you had to be mean to him - or did he wince?
A:
You know he is a very sweet kid. He's not a different from how he is in the movie. He's a very sweet kid and also kind of innocent.
My kids would come to the set and play with him and his eyes would light up.
For instance, when I stole the family car and drove away he was like, 'Bye Santa'.
At lunch he would be like, 'Ice Cream!' Actually he's Scottish. They're from Vancouver, Canada and his parents are really great people and his grandparents visited from Scotland and they're those kind of Scottish folks you can't understand, at all. They could be speaking Fharsi or something.

Q: Bearing in mind there are four of us around the table you seem to be doing okay.
[ Laughs]

Q: Did you understand a word of that?
A:
Something about Jackie Stewart. That was our experience of Scotland growing up, I swear to God. All we knew about Scotland was that they supposedly had a lot of sheep and they had Jackie Stewart. Because we would see the races and he would call the races and we had no idea what he was talking about. And he had that really high pitched voice.

Q: Scotland ­ where men are men and sheep are nervous.
A:
Well I'm from Arkansaw: same deal. But anyway, Brett was a really good kid to work with and I never had a problem with that. Before we started the movie I was a little nervous about it.
But once we got there those kids were so nonplussed they couldn't care less about cursing.
Today, kids are more exposed to things. They watch South Park and stuff like that. If we'd made it 20 years ago it would probably have been a little bit different. They weren't worried about it.
But also, if you're playing a character, if you're playing a killer - I've traditionally played really extreme characters - and characters you really have to go into and even in a comedy, if you're gonna play a guy like this, you can't be sort of drunk, you know.
And I wasn't sort of drunk. You just have to go completely into it and you just have to forget that stuff. I love children, I'm crazy about them, but I had to ignore that fact and play the part. If you playing a killer and you got a knife in someone you gotta twist it from time to time.

Q: That being the case was it hard to keep a straight face around the kids?
A:
With Brett it was hard sometimes because that kid's face, he's like a Campbell¹s soup kid, someone said earlier he looked like a Cabbage Patch Kid.
Sometimes, when he was just sort of standing there looking at me, he looked a little funny. When I would work with my old buddy, John Ritter, God rest his soul, this is one of my best friends.
And so if you're standing in a scene with someone you know that you just toaled to yesterday in your house and your trying to be these characters it gets weird. And every now and then with Tony Cox it was kind of funny - [long pause] - I just about said something that was so politically incorrect you have no idea.

Q: Go ahead..
A:
Well what I was going to say, which is an inside joke about the character is that Midgets are just funny.
No, I would have trouble sometimes with Tony because he's such a nice guy he couldn't get mad. He just doesn't have a bad bone in his body.
But in the beginning of the movie, in the first few scenes he wasn't getting up to speed, so I came up with this plan where his wife would be on the set sometimes ­ and his wife is a regular sized gal ­ and I would hit on her.
And I would tell him I was gonna hit on her and sometimes I would tell him what I was gonna do to her and he would get mad and we would do the scene. He and I had a good laugh about it, you know.
He's one of the greatest people you could ever meet.
He came by my house recently and I didn¹t realise that ­ is Glenda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz? Evidently, to the little person community in Hollywood, I'm sort of like Glenda. Because I used to work in television and, in television, and on movies sometimes, they use little people for children's stand-ins because the little people have to go to school.
So they hire persons of small stature to be the stand-ins for the children.
So John Ritter and I were on this TV show back in the early nineties, called Hearts of Fire, for three seasons. John always had a funny thing - I don't know if you remember in Slingblade, Dwight Yokum had a line where he said: "Now, is this one of retards that drools and rubs shit in his hair because I don't like that kind of shit, just like I don't like Antique furniture and midgets."
And the Antique furniture came from me and the [mumbles] midgets came from John Ritter. So John was always a little bit weirded out.
So we had these stand ins on TV ­ I'm sorry, I'm digressing ­ so you would a 35-year-old dwarf playing a child in a scene.
And there's this one scene we're doing where this guy called Larry Green, and I got to be buddies with him, and Larry looked exactly like a leprechaun because he had one of these beards without a moustache. He's real stocky, probably weighed about 180lb, a real stocky guy. And he smoked Marlboro 100s and he talked like this - so he was John's son's stand-in on the show.
I remember we were doing a Christmas show where Larry comes running down the stairs and has to hop in John's lap. And here's this 180lb, 3ft tall guy, in his lap and John's got his arm around him and the guy's saying something like, 'Daddy are we going to get toys for Christmas?"
And Ritter's looking at me like, 'help me'.
But anyway, Tony comes by my house the other day, and there's this button on the phone and the gate rings and I'm thinking who the hell's at the gate, it's early in the morning.
And my assistant was already over at the house and she calls up, 'Tony Cox is at the gate'.
Tony has an envelope with him and this other tall black guy is with him who's about 6'5" and he says, "I want you to meet my brother."
This is Tony's brother, who's like a real estate agent. But what it was, was that he was just going to drop off this envelope and he said, 'all the little people wanted you to know this'.
Then he gave me this envelope and he said I hate to be the one to tell you this but Larrry Green had died. And I used to hang out with all these guys.
But I didn't realise this, but Tony told me that I'm like their big actor friend. But he came over as the representative for all the people in Hollywood to let me know Larry had died.
And Larry was actually a friend, but he had actually become destitute, but I didn't know anything about that, I hadn't seen him in like three years.
It's kind of interesting, like you do movies, and you work with certain people, and you end up being something to people and you didn't even realise it.
Like after I did Monster's Ball ­ every black guy in America, I'm their hero. Right Arnold? [his black PA sitting on the floor in the hotel room]. Seriously, I walk through an airport and the cats at the security, LAX or something, they're like, "Hey Billy Bob! Halle Berry!"

Q: Mike Newell said that when he worked with you and John Cusack, you would come on set and say that all the bosses had seen the rushes and were praising your performance but thought he was terrible. You were just upping the ante.
A:
Oh Cusack and I have always had a competition.

Q: Do you have a habit of doing that?
A:
Yeah, I'll always wind people up a little bit. You've got to mess with people a little bit, it's how you get the most out of them. You know, and every now and then you mess with a journalist or two.

Q: No.
A:
Yeah, it happens. Like I had a blood vial!

Q: What works for you. There¹s no such thing as Billy Bob Thornton on screen. What works for you in terms of creating characters.
A:
Well, I find that training has very little to do with acting. If you think about it logically, how could you teach someone to do something creative.
In school, I always wondered, how can you have a creative writing course. You can have a writing course, maybe, but a creative writing course?
It's like having a teacher who says, 'today, we're going to be creative'. I never did that stuff.
I went through the theatre. My early roles were in theatre in high school and when I went to LA I did nothing but plays for four or five years and I was in acting classes and stuff like that, but it's really just something I did as a kid.
When I was in school, I used to do impressions of my friends at school and stuff like that. I really work from the inside out.
There are some people who start with the look and that dictates who they will be. You can do it either way, but I choose to do it the other way.
When I read a script I know what a character looks like just from reading it. It's like reading a novel, you have this image in your head of what everyone looks like. That sort of the way I read a screenplay.
What does throw you sometimes is that I know what I look like, but when they cast other actors that wasn't at all who I thought they would be. So you sometimes have to adjust to that.
Terry Zwigoff said something like I started with the hair, I've no idea where that came from. I never said that, or if I did say it, I was drunk.

Q: Was there a political point to the way you developed the character you played in Love Actually?
A:
Richard Curtis and I talked about that and it was, you can skirt the issue, but it was playing a combination of Clinton and Bush. Clinton more with just the girl. Bush in terms of attitude.
I've got to say that was a lot of fun playing that part. You've got to be real careful playing cameos because if you do too many of them, if you're out there all the time and you have five movies, you guys get sick of us and everybody else does too.
These days I try to limit cameos. Friends ask me to do cameos all the time. But if I was going to play some crazy guy from Arkansaw, that's not going to do me any good at all.
But to play the president of the United States, that's not something I usually get asked to play.
So even though it's a small part in the movie, it's recognised as an actual part and it's doing something you've never seen me do before so it kind of makes sense.
But it was the first time also that I'd shot a movie outside of North America. I'm not much of a traveller. I travel with my band and we travel all over. But if they say, we're doing a movie in the jungle, I usually say, I'm tired.
I try to stick close to home because of the kids too. I've only shot in the States and Canada.

Q: Why do you think America didn't seem ready to embrace The Alamo again. Was that to do with the political climate?
A:
I thought it was a great movie and those guys worked really hard on that and they told a historically accurate version of it.
The tricky thing is it's an event in history that's not largely known about outside of the United States, maybe even outside Texas.
To them it's like a huge deal, so you want to satisfy those people. But you also want to tell a story that people can grasp, so you have to tell it in a historically accurate way and you gotta set it up.
Well, American audiences, for the most part, want the shooting to start right away. They don't want to wait around for 13 days while guys are talking about the history of the country. They want gunfire now.
Here's a movie where the gunfire comes half way through. Well most of it. And the big battle is three quarters of the way through.
And to top it off, after the climax, you've got a whole other little movie about what happened after it.
Well, after Davey Crockett dies, Americans don't care.
I got some of the best reviews of my life for Davey Crockett, but the movie didn't do so well so you can't really celebrate it, because the team didn't win.
There was some talk from Texas that Davey Crockett died, like a coward, but he died in the movie the way it was described in the journals that were found. Which was he was executed.
But he wasn't executed going down crying. He was executed telling them they could kiss his ass.
But I think [it's failure] had to do more with studio politics. The New York Times and LA Times were writing bad articles about Disney movies before they would even come out.
I think the failure of any Disney movie at that period in time was a result of the articles written about these things before they even knew what the movies were.

Q: In a way Bad Santa is a Disney movie because Dimension produced it. Didn't that cause problems when it came out last year?
A:
That's right, I've heard that too. And my answer to that is that generally studios aren't worried about what a movie is if it makes money.
But I can't imagine ­ you know, some people said that at Disney they were saying, 'we can't believe that this movie is so foul and all of that' ­ well I have never in my experience, out there for 23, 24 years, witnessed a studio saying, 'hey here's $18 million, go make a movie, we don't care what it is, we've never read it, but go ahead'.
So if Disney didn't know we were making this movie, then they didn't read the script. So, it's their fault.
So I would say that's negligence on the studio's part and they should have never said a word.
But I just don't think it's true.

Q: Was there ever a fear that you might have gone too far. I laughed like an imbecile when you were all punching each other in the nuts.
A:
Something interesting about that scene was that once we finished the movie, we found out it was only 76 minutes long.
We went back and shot an extra three or four scenes.
What happened was that when the test audiences saw the movie, they loved me and the kid together. So they wanted more of me and the kid, so some of those scenes in the movie were never in the original script.
One of the scenes was when we punch each other in the boxing ring and I believe ­ I'll be diplomatic and say it's my opinion - that this particular scene was created because it's more like a commercial comedy scene and it looks really good in the trailer, and it gets more asses in the seats.
In my opinion. Because it is a more standard scene. But I think having it with that little kid, and me and Tony, makes it a little different. Especially when Tony falls, it's just hilarious.

Q: How uncomfortable is it wearing a Santa suit?
A:
We shot it in the summer in LA and it's pretty hot in a Santa suit, so it got uncomfortable sometimes. But the worst thing was actually the beard. It was real scratchy and stuff.
Initially Terry wanted me to wear the beard every time I was on, but I was like, this guy doesn't care. Once the kid pulls it off, he'll leave it down there for the rest of the movie.

Q: Most store Santas say the worst thing is when kids pee themselves...
A:
Yeah, I got in a couple of lines about that. I may even have done it myself a time or two.

Q: There's a lot of great reaction shots ­ you must have traumatised a few kids?
A:
Oh yeah. Like I said, I never worried about the language too much. We were all pretty fine about it and so were the kids.
I think the thing that really got them was when I beat the donkey up. I'm not sure they thought that was going to happen.
So when they started beating the donkey up I think they thought the actor had gone insane. So what they did was take reaction shots from something like that and put 'em into other shots.
You couldn't get those kids to stand still for very long. I do remember specifically doing something for them off camera.
I think I might just have been beating the donkey up after I'd already beaten it up and I might have done something with it's head.

Q: Are you wiser being a dad to a new born in your 40s compared to your 30s?
A:
Yeah. It's been a while since I've had an infant. I wondered if I was going to remember how to be a dad.
Also, this is a girl, which is a different feel. My girfriend has never had a baby, this is her first and it was weird. A 49-year-old guy telling his girlfirend, 'honey, here's how you do this'.
So I felt proud of myself as a dad a little bit. But I think also, I felt different about the peace you can have. You don't get hysterical.
When my boys were born, I was always hysterical when they'd cry. I thought it was always something horrible.
With Bella, my daughter, I have a certain calm about me. When she cries, Connie freaks out and I'm like, 'don't worry, it's just gas, she'll be over it in a minute'.
It's amazing how kids can give you peace. It's like animal lovers. Some animal lovers can hold a dog and their blood pressure will go down.
For me, it's the same with kids. I get home at night, I'm stressed out ­ in my life there's always some nightmare to deal with ­ so I get home, sit in the rocking chair, start watching the baseball game and have the baby there, and it totally puts me in a different place. So it's pretty cool.

Q: How do you feel about approaching 50, is it just another birthday?
A:
Yeah, pretty much. When you've lived my life, I felt 50 twenty years ago. I'm not htat worried about it. I was the same when I approached 40.
And frankly, I think what's great is that most of my success has taken place in my late 30s and 40s. I have always looked at this time as the good days. I don't sit around and think I wish I was 27 because when I was 27 it was not good. So I look at it fondly.

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