Billy Bob Thornton grins and ‘Bears’ it

Allan Lamb

After his remake of Bad News Bears is released on July 22; Billy Bob Thornton has one more sports film, Mr. Woodcock, due out by the end of the year.

Credit: Beth Rankin

The nervousness built last Thursday as myself and nine other college writers listened to silence on the other end of the phone, anticipating my first conference call with a big celebrity.

Finally, Billy Bob Thornton came on the other end of the line. I didn’t get the mildly retarded Karl from Sling Blade or a raunchy, drunken Santa Claus. Despite often playing characters who are sub-par by society’s standards, Thornton turned out to be an intelligent, humorous and well-mannered guy.

Thornton is starring in the upcoming remake of The Bad News Bears, taking over the role of Coach Buttermaker, played by Walter Matthau in the original. This new adaptation of the beloved story of an underdog little league baseball team is directed by masterful director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock). The film is due to be released on July 22.

The conference topics consisted mostly of Mr. Thornton’s new movie, his personal life and his plans for the future. Pretty much like any celebrity interview. Unfortunately, I was only able to get in a couple questions.


Allan Lamb: Mr. Thornton, I was just wondering if you were sick of doing sports films, after doing Friday Night Lights and The Bad News Bears back to back. How do you feel about that?

Billy Bob Thornton: Well, they are very, very different. Friday Night Lights is a very earnest, dramatic movie and The Bad News Bears is a family comedy so they are very different. If there weren’t sports involved, they are entirely different kinds of movies. Plus, Friday Night Lights was like a serious sports movie and this is more about kids growing up and everything. So they are different enough where I don’t think there will be any real comparisons drawn.

AL: Do you plan on playing a coach in any other future movies?

BBT: I don’t mind playing a coach. I always wanted to be a teacher so this gives me an opportunity to do that. I am actually playing a crazy P.E. teacher right now in a movie, so I figure I finished my box set. It is going to be Friday Night Lights, The Bad News Bears and this new movie called Mr. Woodcock, which is hilarious. So I think now I have done the three sports movies, and we will put that in the boxed set, and I will probably move on to something else.


AL: That’s good. That’s cool. Thanks a lot.

BBT: You got it.


I certainly did.

Some good questions were also asked by a few of the other participants in the conference.


Student Journalist: Walter Matthau has pretty big shoes to fill. I was just wondering if you had any trepidation initially.

BBT: Well, I wear a size 11. I think he wore about 11 1/2. So I have a half inch to gain on him. But he was one of my favorites. I always loved Walter Matthau and I actually knew him. I just wish he had been around to see what we did here because I think we tried to update it and modernize it a little bit but we tried to keep the integrity of the original movie. So I think he would have been pretty proud. But it always does make you a little nervous when you are reprising someone’s role. I hope I did OK.


Student Journalist: Mr. Thornton, I was wondering if you see yourself as sort of part of the Hollywood community or more of an outsider?

BBT: Definitely more of an outsider. I don’t go anywhere. I stay home and play with the kids and go to work. I try to separate myself from the Hollywood community as much as possible. Most of my friends are in the music business. I like to keep my life what it is. I live in California, but I might as well live in Topeka, Kan. If you saw the way I live, it is not anything like that. I couldn’t tell you what nightclubs people go to now. I don’t even know where they go.

I tried twice to get in another one of my own questions, but the conference call’s tight schedule wouldn’t allow it. If I had time, I would’ve asked Thornton how he feels about the Academy always nominating actors for portraying mentally challenged characters, having played one and earning a nomination for it in Sling Blade. Perhaps I’ll save that one for Tom Hanks or Sean Penn.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Allan Lamb at [email protected].