Family & Companions
Thornton was the fourth recipient of the Beatrice Wood Film Award.
He admitted to becoming anorexic when he lost 60 pounds for his role in "Pushing Tin".
Though he spent almost a decade struggling to make a name for himself, actor Billy Bob Thornton took matters into his own hands when he wrote, directed and starred in the career-making independent drama, "Sling Blade" (1996), which earned the then-unknown performer an Oscar for Best Screenplay and another nomination for Best Actor. Ever since his sudden rise to stardom, Thornton became a prominent leading man and supporting player whose short-lived but high-profile marriage to offbeat starlet Angelina Jolie overshadowed his exemplary work in films like "Monster's Ball" and "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001). After their divorce, Thornton receded a bit from the public eye, though he continued his streak of fine performances in "Bad Santa" (2003) and "Friday Night Lights" (2004), two wildly different films that displayed his prowess for disappearing into what ever character he played. Occasionally, Thornton incorporated his own personal issues - namely his battles with eating and obsessive-compulsive disorders, like a fear of Louis XIV furniture - into his characters, as he did in "Bandits" (2001). Despite his seemingly bizarre personal life, Thornton nonetheless maintained a steady stream of quality work that always kept him near the top of the game.
Born on Aug. 4, 1955 in Alpine, AK, Thornton was raised in a poor family by his father, Billy Ray, a basketball coach, and Virginia, a psychic. Until he was eight or nine years old, Thornton lived with his grandparents in a small house in a small town that had no electricity nor running water. In fact, the only illumination came from the sun or coal oil lamps. He then moved to a larger town called Malvern - about 20 miles from Hot Springs - where life revolved around the local high school football team. It was around this time that he met future writing partner, Tom Epperson. While in high school, Thornton began acting and eventually decided to pursue a performing career. After graduation, he attended Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, AK, where he majored in psychology until dropping out after two semesters. In 1977, he and Epperson briefly moved to New York before heading westward to Hollywood. Once they settled in Los Angeles, Thornton worked variously as a rock singer, drummer and actor. He and Epperson wrote scripts which they attempted to sell, although they met with little initial enthusiasm.
On the small screen, Thornton played the conveniently named Billy Bob in the busted pilot "Circus" (ABC, 1987) before making his series debut as an ex-greaser who was a surrogate brother to a gang in "The Outsiders" (Fox, 1989). After making his feature debut in the forgettable direct-to-video release "Hunter's Blood" (1988), he carved a niche portraying good ole' boys in sitcoms like "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-93) and "Hearts Afire" (CBS, 1992-95). He earned acclaim for his featured role in Carl Franklin's "One False Move" (1992), which he co-wrote with Epperson. His portrayal of a sociopathic ex-con involved with a black woman (Cynda Williams, who was briefly Thornton's third wife) earned him critical praise and, more importantly, industry recognition, which led to supporting roles in "Bound by Honor" (1993), "On Deadly Ground" (1994) and "Dead Man" (1995). With his career on a roll, Thornton collaborated with Epperson again on, "A Family Thing" (1996), an earnest drama about a white man (Robert Duvall) who discovers he has a black half-brother (James Earl Jones). Duvall brought the germ of the idea to the writing duo, who fashioned a vehicle for the Oscar-winning actor. With Epperson, Thornton co-wrote "Don't Look Back" (HBO, 1996), directed by Geoff Murphy and starring Eric Stoltz as a musician-addict who stumbles onto drug money with near fatal results.
Thornton finally became a Hollywood player with "Sling Blade" (1996), a film in which he did triple duty as star, screenwriter and director. The project had its genesis in a monologue he created to channel his frustrations on the set of his first television movie, "The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains" (HBO, 1987). Thornton created Karl Childers, a mentally-challenged murderer, and nurtured the character for close to a decade; first performing the soliloquies on stage then in the short film "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade" (1994). By the time he expanded the story to feature length, Thornton had made a deal to direct as well as write and star in "Sling Blade," a film that propelled Thornton into stardom. With close-cropped hair, a clean-shaven face and using slow, raspy vocals punctuated with growls, Thornton was barely recognizable as Karl, whose close bond with a young boy (Lucas Black) leads him to confront and eventually repeat his dark past. And though the film alternated between static set pieces - betraying its stage origins - and leisurely-paced exterior scenes, "Sling Blade" featured a strong cast that included Natalie Canerday as the boy's mother, John Ritter as a gay man for whom the boy's mother works and Dwight Yoakam as the mother's bigoted, abusive boyfriend. In an Oscar year dominated by independent films, "Sling Blade" was a critical darling that earned Thornton an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and another nomination as Best Actor.
Thornton's career - which had gradually been building steam - exploded with the success of "Sling Blade." He signed a three-picture deal with Miramax Films and was suddenly one of the most sought-after actors working in Hollywood. He was nearly unrecognizable as a psychotic mechanic in Oliver Stone's "U-Turn" (1997) before playing a reluctant religious convert in Duvall's "The Apostle" (1997). The following year found him as a would-be marijuana kingpin in "Homegrown" (1998), a wily southern political advisor patterned after real-life spin doctor James Carville in "Primary Colors" (1998) and the Mission Control leader in the summer blockbuster "Armageddon" (1998). Thornton earned more critical kudos for playing Bill Paxton's half-wit brother in "A Simple Plan" (1998), a tense character study about three friends whose lives fall apart after finding and trying to keep $4 million. Once again, Thornton significantly altered his appearance on his way to earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Meanwhile, Thornton returned to the director's chair to helm "All the Pretty Horses" (2000), which he adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel.
Thorton's most critically acclaimed role since "Sling Blade" came when he starred opposite Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball" (2001). Thornton played a hardened jail warden whose life is emerged in his own bitter history and ingrained racism. His character transforms and ends up falling in love with a black woman whose husband he executed. Thornton's exquisite portrait of an agonized man trying to embrace love for the first time in years earned him an impressive array of critical plaudits and award nominations, though in the end he was overshadowed by Berry's Oscar-winning performance. Thornton may have been his own worst enemy when it came to competing for Oscar gold, as he also turned in particularly fine performances in two other films that same year with a comedic turn in Barry Levinson's "Bandits" (2001) and a sharp, haunting role as the barber drawn into a dark melodrama in the Coen Brothers' loopy noir "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001). Oscar-watchers suggested that Thornton split his own vote among the three roles, resulting in zero nominations for the actor.
Thornton's always-reliable acting was also often overshadowed by his bizarre tabloid-made relationship with the much-younger actress Angelina Jolie, who became his fifth wife in 2000 after the two met on the film "Pushing Tin" (1999) and he broke off his engagement with Laura Dern. Their surprise union was characterized by dramatic, obsessive affectations which included acquiring tattoos of each other's names and wearing vials that contained a drop of the other's blood when separated. But the marriage lasted only two years: Jolie filed for divorce in 2002, shortly after adopting a Cambodian orphan who took Thornton's name. On screen in 2002, the actor appeared in a pair of low-profile duds, playing a philanderer in the offbeat comedy "Waking Up in Reno" which also starred Charlize Theron, Patrick Swayze and Natasha Richardson, then a parolee who becomes involved with the unknowing wife of the man he killed in "Levity." But Thornton was in fine, appropriately over-the-top form when he reunited with the Coen Brothers' screwball effort "Intolerable Cruelty" (2003), playing a Texas billionaire who's about to become the latest victim of a gold-digging serial divorcee (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The actor followed with a pleasing low-key cameo as a libidinous U.S. president in the witty British romantic comedy "Love, Actually" (2003).
Thornton returned to center stage in peak form in director Terry Zwigoff's deliriously cynical holiday comedy, "Bad Santa" (2003) - based on a one-line concept by the Coen Brothers - playing the whiskey-slugging, womanizing safecracker Willie T. Stokes who annually arises from a hazy hibernation to team up with three-foot-tall, foul-mouthed mastermind Marcus (Tony Cox) and - under the benevolent cover of Santa and Elf - clean out the department store where they are employed. Thornton's performance was a comedic masterstroke, especially when he let loose with his stinging, profane and sarcastic invective. He followed with a measured, intelligent portrayal of high school football coach in the gridiron-obsessed small town of Odessa, TX, in the hit film "Friday Night Lights" (2004). He took on a less serious sports-minded project when he accepted the role of Little League baseball coach Morris Buttermaker (originally played by Walter Matthau) in the remake of the classic "The Bad News Bears" (2005). As a high school baseball sensation who once earned a Major League tryout in his youth, Thornton was well-suited to the role of the inebriated, washed-up Buttermaker riding herd over a profane team of young misfits. But the film suffered in its adherence to the original and a refusal to sharpen the story's edges for a more contemporary audience.
Thornton took on his second anti-Christmas-themed film with "The Ice Harvest" (2005), director Harold Ramis' film noir with pitch black comic undercurrents, playing the potentially untrustworthy partner in crime of a mob accountant (John Cusack) who steals a bundle from his boss and endures a perilous Christmas Eve as they prepare to flee. For his next feature, Thornton wasted his talents as a lifestyle coach for losers in "School for Scoundrels" (2006), a lame and rather predictable comedy from Todd Phillips about a top secret confidence-building class run by a deviant huckster (Thornton) whose tough love tactics and compulsion for prying into his students' lives leads them to overcome their deep-rooted anxieties to exact revenge. Thornton remained productive in the following year, starring in "The Astronaut Farmer" (2007), a satirical look at an astronaut forced to leave NASA to save his family's farm, and "Mr. Woodcock" (2007), which featured Thornton as a sadistic gym teacher who terrorizes a best-selling self-help author (Seann William Scott) in his youth and is now ready to marry the writer's widowed mother (Susan Sarandon). He next played a government agent hunting down two fugitives (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) in the paranoid thriller "Eagle Eye" (2008). After several years spent working in low-budget films like Mark Polish's comedy-drama "The Smell of Success" (2009) and his own late '60s period piece "Jayne Mansfield's Car" (2013), Thornton returned to television as the villain in "Fargo" (FX 2014- ), a comedy-drama based on Joel and Ethan Coen's film of the same name. Like his co-star Martin Freeman, he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie.
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Made film debut in "Hunter's Blood"
Appeared onstage in various productions as Karl Childers, refining the monologues and story
First created character of Karl Childers (the protagonist of "Sling Blade") for "The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains" (HBO)
Made TV series debut as an actor on Fox's "The Outsiders"
Had his first produced screenplay (co-written with Tom Epperson), "One False Move"; also co-starred
Landed a recurring role on the CBS sitcom "Hearts Afire" (CBS) as Billy Bob Davis; first collaboration with John Ritter
Wrote and starred in the short film "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade"
First asociation with Robert Duvall, "The Stars Fell on Henrietta"
Co-wrote "A Family Thing" with Epperson, which starred James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall
Made his feature directorial debut, "Sling Blade"; also wrote and starred; earned Best Actor Oscar and SAG nominations
Made TV debut as screenwriter for the HBO film "Don't Look Back"; also acted
Played a reluctant religious convert in the Duvall-directed "The Apostle"
Voiced the unscrupulous merchant Jigo in the English-language version of Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke"
Re-teamed with Bill Paxton to play brothers in "A Simple Plan"; earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination
Portrayed the James Carville-like political advisor in Mike Nichols' "Primary Colors"
Joined a star-studded ensemble cast in the disaster flick "Armageddon"
Cast in Mike Newell's "Pushing Tin" alongside John Cusack, Cate Blanchett, and then-wife Angelina Jolie
Co-wrote (with Epperson) the gothic thriller "The Gift" starring Cate Blanchett
Directed the film adaptation of "All the Pretty Horses" with Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz
Directed the film "Daddy and Them"; also wrote and starred
Played a racist prison guard who falls for the black widow of an executed prisoner (Halle Berry) in Marc Forster's "Monster's Ball"
Played the lead role in the Coen brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There"
Released his first solo album, <i>Private Radio</i>
Co-starred with Natasha Richardson in the comedy "Waking Up in Reno"
Starred as a parolee who returns back to the town for which he committed his crime in "Levity"
Played a chain smoking, criminal minded mall-Santa in "Bad Santa"; earned a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination
Played a high school football coach in "Friday Night Lights," based on the book by Pulitzer Prize winning H.G. Buzz Bissinger
Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Cast in the Walter Matthau role for Richard Linklater's remake of "The Bad News Bears"
Co-starred with John Cusack in Harold Ramis' dark comedy "Ice Harvest"
Played a teacher of a confidence-building class in Todd Phillips' "School For Scoundrels"
Played the title character in "Mr. Woodcock," the titular evil high school gym teacher who is dating the mother of one of his former students
Played a NASA astronaut who gives up his dream job to try and save his family farm in "The Astronaut Farmer"
Joined an ensemble cast for the film adaptation of "The Informers"; based on a collection of short stories by Bret Easton Ellis
Co-starred with Dwayne Johnson in the action drama "Faster"
Voiced the animated character Jack (opposite Amy Sedaris' Jill) in the "Shrek" spin-off "Puss in Boots"
Published the memoir <i>The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts</i>
Played Forrest Sorrels in JFK drama "Parkland"
Co-starred with Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall and Vera Farmiga in drama "The Judge"
Gave a memorable turn as the hitman Lorne Malvo on the first season of "Fargo"; returned for a voice-over in season three
Appeared in feature-film followup to "Entourage"
Co-starred with Sandra Bullock and Anthony Mackie in political dramedy "Our Brand Is Crisis"
Reprised Willie Soke role in "Bad Santa 2"
Starred as Billy McBride on Amazon drama "Goliath"
Thornton was the fourth recipient of the Beatrice Wood Film Award.
He admitted to becoming anorexic when he lost 60 pounds for his role in "Pushing Tin".
"When a studio treats me badly, I remember it. I have no patience for studio executives who treat me like an idiot or tell me how my characters should talk." --Thornton quoted in Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1996.
"I'm one of those people who just attract weirdos. I always seem to end up, like, in the middle of the desert with some biker, you know, and he's threatening to tie me up or something. I've known a lot of strange people." --Billy Bob Thornton in Time Out New York, November 21-28, 1996.
"Now there's a call I never used to get. That was my manager asking me what hotel I want to stay in when we're on location. They used to say, 'You're staying at the Holiday Inn, and that's it.' Now they give me a list of the four or five best hotels in the area, and let me pick." --Thornton to Detour Magazine, March 1998.
"I can name three happy times in my life. One was when my kids were born. One is right now, because of the relationship I'm in [with Laura Dern] and the relationship with my family. And the other one was at a time when I didn't have much at all but I felt free somehow. I was working a physical-labor job back in Arkansas ... I had exactly enough money to just live barely, but I didn't want anything else, other than stuff I knew was way in the future. You know what it was? My dreams were the most alive they ever were right then. It was like I knew I was going somewhere. And for right then, that was good enough. I know I'm going in a roundabout way explaining about being haunted, but I guess I'm haunted by the happiness and the sadness of the past, and I'm looking for it all to come back, to bottle it up and keep it. Until I do, I think I'll feel like a little bit of a ghost. A little bit hollow-eyed. I feel like I'm a bird, kind of flying around." --Thornton to Us, August 1998.
"There's a real common misconception that I'm like a big deal. I'm really not. I'm a big deal only because of people like Roger Ebert, Jeffrey Lyons, Joel Siegel, critics like that. That's the only reason anybody ever hears about me." --Billy Bob Thornton quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, February 7, 2002.
"I like outcasts of society. I've felt like one myself. Still do. I'm a fairly normal person, really, contrary to what they write in the papers. Fairly normal. But I kind of don't fit in." --Thornton to the Sydney Morning Herald, February 7, 2002.
"I'm looking forward to having a little one around. We're planning to give Maddox a life there [Cambodia] too. He'll know both places as home." --Thorton People July 2002
Thorton has a country band called Private Radio.
Thornton never mentions fourth wife Jolie by name, he does provide some seemingly expert advice on marriage, suggesting that first-timers, "go into it with the idea that you want it to last, but don't put pressure on yourself to try to achieve perfection every day, because I think that's when you get into trouble." In summation, says Thornton, "those about to march down the aisle should be thinking, Like, yeah, I'm doing this forever, but don't let it freak you out." People September 4, 2003
"One of my favorite things I ever did," he says of 'The Man Who Wasn't There.' "And I gotta tell you something: If I had to say exactly who I am based on the movies I've done, that's him, that son of a bitch right there. But the character I identify with on a soul level more than anything I've ever done was the character in 'A Simple Plan.' It's that fucking scene where I talk to [Hank, played by Bill Paxton] before he kills me. I can watch that and not even recognize it's a movie or an actor. And I can break it down to one line: when I look at him and say, 'Hank, I'm tired.' That's the most honest line I've done in my lifetime. 'I'm tired.' And I am. I mean, I've gone so far beyond where I should have played out. I'm so fucking tired. So fucking tired, --but I'm gonna get a second wind."---Thornton GQ April 2004