Billy Bob Thornton Bio: In His Own Words
Billy Bob Thornton (August 4, 1955) is an American actor, director, writer, producer and singer-songwriter. He has worked on a wide variety of films throughout his career, including One False Move, Sling Blade, Monster’s Ball, Friday Night Lights, and The Judge. He has also played a number of television characters, including ones in The Outsiders, Hearts Afire and the television adaptation of Fargo. Thornton has won the Academy Award, Critic’s Choice Award in both movies and television, the Golden Globe Award, National Board of Review Award, and nominations for an Emmy Award and multiple Screen Actors Guild Awards throughout his career.
Thornton is known for approaching roles like a character actor and as a result has appeared in a diverse group of films, spanning through dramas, romances, comedies, sports films and crime dramas. He’s also one of Hollywood’s busiest actors, often taking at least one film role every year. Thornton also tends to live his life out of the public eye as best as he can, although media attention can sometimes catch up with him.
Billy Bob Thornton Early Life
Billy Bob Thornton was born on August 4, 1955 in Hot Springs, Ark., to Raymond “Billy Ray” and Virginia Roberta Thornton. Billy Bob is the eldest of four brothers – Jimmy Don (who died in 1988), Jim Bean and John David. Early on in his life, the Thorntons lived with their extended family in a humble log cabin. His family later move to Malvern, Ark., where Billy Bob spend his later childhood and high school years.
Although Thornton wasn’t the best student, he excelled in music and sports. After taking in a love of rock music as a kid, he spent his weekends in high school playing gigs at local bars. The son of a basketball coach, Thornton was also a good high school baseball player. After graduating from high school, he even tried out for the Kansas City Royals before being released after an injury. Sadly, his father Billy Ray Thornton died when Thornton was 18.
Thornton grew up to become a well known actor and screenwriter, but his career after high school started with a variety of occupations. He worked for the Arkansas State Transportation Department and at a nursing home to become a maintenance man and eventually the home’s entertainment organizer. He also formed a band called the Tres Hombres and found moderate success. To help make ends meet, Thornton also did work as a roadie for bands touring through the south.
In the mid-1980s, Thornton headed west with friend Tom Epperson to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Thornton traded his rock star dreams for acting, as he grew an interest in the medium after moving out to the West Coast. He would attend acting schools and writers’ workshops to help develop his craft in drama. However, Thornton had to wait a while to get his big break. In his time between any acting gigs, Thornton made ends meet in a variety of jobs. He worked in telemarketing, offshore wind farming, fast food management, and as a waiter in the time he looked to get in the acting industry. After many years of hard work, Thornton was finally able to land some acting roles, finally putting his acting career in motion.
Billy Bob Thornton Career
In 1987, Thornton got his break by playing a conductor in the television movie The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains. He also landed a role in an episode of Matlock that year. In 1989, Thornton played a small role in Going Overboard, which is also notable for being Adam Sandler‘s film debut. In 1990, Thornton joined the cast of The Outsiders, a television series based on the 1967 S.E. Hinton novel and the 1983 film. Thornton played Buck Merrill in 10 episodes of the drama’s season long run on Fox.
After some more minor roles in films and television episodes, Thornton’s role in One False Move, a film he also co-wrote with Epperson, in 1992 garnered the attention of some of Hollywood’s most esteemed critics. The film, which has Thornton playing the villain role of Ray, a criminal on the run, was originally released straight to video. It quickly became a cult classic, however, and won the approval of many critics. It was eventually given a theatrical release and gave Thornton a huge boost in Hollywood as both an actor and a screenwriter. One False Move was even said to be Gene Siskel’s favorite film for 1992.
Thornton was able to land steady television work in 1992 in the CBS sitcom about a romance between a journalist and a senator’s aide called Hearts Afire. Thornton played the supporting role of Billy Bob Davis alongside stars John Ritter and Markie Post. The show lasted for three seasons on CBS and ran from 1992 to 1995.
Thornton took on roles in Tombstone, Indecent Proposal, Ghost Birgade, and On Deadly Ground in the mid-1990s before writing, directing, and starring in the 1996 independent film Sling Blade. The film was an expansion of Thornton’s 1994 short Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade. Thornton plays the starring role of Karl Childers, a man with a developmental disability who is released from a psychiatric hospital years after killing his mother and her lover at the age of 12. Childers develops a friendship with a young boy in rural Arkansas upon his release, but is confronted with conflict from the boy’s mother’s abusive boyfriend. The film was an outright success for Thornton. Filmed on a $1 million budget, Sling Blade made over $24 million at the box office. Thornton won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and netted a nomination for Best Actor. Sling Blade was also nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards and won a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. After years of trying to break through, Thornton had reached stardom as not only an actor, but a director and screenwriter as well.
After roles in independent films in 1997, Thornton took on his first role in a blockbuster in 1998 in Armageddon. Thornton plays Dan Truman, the NASA administrator in charge of overseeing the astronauts’ mission of destroying an asteroid from hitting Earth and preventing a mass extinction event. Playing alongside Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, Thornton was introduced to more casual moviegoers and would make him well known outside critics and indie flick fans. Later in the year, Thornton played alongside John Travolta and Emma Thompson with the role of Richard Jemmons, based on political strategist James Carville, in the film Primary Colors. The drama was based off a book that went behind the scenes of President Bill Clinton’s run through the 1992 Democratic primaries. Although Primary Colors had a disappointing run at the box office, it was still well received by critics.
In 2000, Thornton directed All the Pretty Horses. The film, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, is a romance based in the post-World War II era West. But after going through a negative experience revolving around the film, most notably having to cut an hour’s worth of footage, Thornton gave up directing for 13 years. His last directing work, Daddy and Them, had been completed before All the Pretty Horses but was released a year later in 2001.
If All the Pretty Horses was a setback for Thornton, then Monster’s Ball would be considered nothing short of a great turnaround. The 2001 drama saw Thornton as Hank Grotowski, a widowed prison guard who falls in love with a poor Southern woman, played by Halle Berry, whose husband was executed in Hank’s prison. The Lee Daniels film had a star studded cast, with Heath Ledger, Peter Boyle, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all playing major roles. The story, which deals with racism, death row, poverty, and suicide, received wide acclaimed. Thornton won the National Board of Review award for Best Actor while Berry went on to become the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film was rated by legendary critic Roger Ebert as the best film of 2001.
After taking on more film roles including The Man Who Wasn’t There, Waking Up in Reno, and The Badge, Thornton showed how dynamic an actor he could be by taking on three comedy roles in 2003 – Bad Santa, Love Actually and Intolerable Cruelty. Of the three, Thornton’s largest role was Bad Santa, where he plays Willie T. Stokes. Stokes is a professional thief who robs shopping malls during Christmas time by disguising himself as Santa Claus. The film, which features Thornton in quite a vulgar role, shined new light on his versatility as an actor and opened up new roles in comedies for the future. His performance was also critically acclaimed, as he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. In Love Actually, Thornton joined a large ensemble of actors by playing the role of the President of the United States. He plays an oil millionaire named Howard D. Doyle in the Coen Brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty, which starred George Clooney. Thornton also had a starring role in the 2003 drama Levity.
Thornton took his talents to the world of sports– at least in the movies – in the 2004 drama Friday Night Lights. Based off of H.G. Bissinger’s book, Thornton plays Odessa High School football head coach Gary Gaines as he tries to balance out a multitude of issues both on and off the field and lead his team through the Texas state playoffs. The film was a huge hit with sports fans and moviegoers alike. Friday Night Lights won ESPN’s ESPY Award for Best Sports Movie, put itself among many “best sports films” lists, and led to the 2006-2011 NBC television series based on the story. Thornton took on the role of coach twice more in the next few years, playing down and out baseball coach Morris Buttermaker in the 2005 remake of Bad News Bears and overly protective father and gym teacher Jasper Woodcock in Mr. Woodcock in 2007.
Thornton also played Davy Crockett in the 2004 remake of The Alamo alongside Dennis Quaid. Two years later he would have a starring role in a part created just for him as Dr. P, a self-help doctor, in School for Scoundrels. Thornton ended the 2000s playing in a wide variety of movies, including The Astronaut Farmer, Eagle Eye, The Informers, and The Smell of Success.
In 2011, Thornton lent his voice for an animated film for the first time in the Shrek-spinoff Puss in Boots. Thornton voices Jack of the traditional Jack and Jill fame, but the movie throws a twist in their roles as they are murderous outlaws. The film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2012 Academy Awards. Thornton has also voiced characters in television episodes of King of the Hill, CatDog and Robot Chicken.
Thornton made his return to directing in 2013 in Jayne Mansfield’s Car. uInterview was able to talk with Thornton about the film upon its release in an exclusive interview. “Directing a film’s very hard,” he told uInterview. “It takes a long time, and, you know, you have to live with it for quite some time I think I’m only the best guy to direct the things that I’m very close to. And I just didn’t have a story that I wanted to tell for a few years, and then this one had been rolling around in my head so I just thought it was time.”
Jayne Mansfield’s Car, which takes place in Alabama in the late 1960s, follows three World War II vet brothers and their father as they deal with the passing of their estranged mother. In addition to taking a role in the movie himself, Thornton was able to assemble Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, and Robert Patrick for the film. Thornton says that working with them was a breeze. “You just call ‘Action’ and ‘Cut,'” he said. “There’s nothing to it.”
Although Thornton had his fair share of movie roles in 2014, including playing alongside Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall in The Judge, his biggest role for the year came on the television screens in the first season of FX’s anthology adaptation of Fargo. Thornton played the role of Lorne Malvo, a drifter who passes by the quiet community of Bemidji, Minn., and influences its residents to change completely through use of malice, violence, and deception, sending the town into chaos. The show was a hit among fans and critics, as Fargo won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries. Thornton won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Movie or Miniseries and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television film. Fargo co-star Martin Freeman was also nominated for both awards. Thornton was also nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of Malvo.
In the upcoming years, Thornton will have roles in Grizzly, London Fields, and Entourage. He is also in two films that are currently filming – Our Brand Is Crisis and The Taliban Shuffle.
Billy Bob Thornton Music Career
In addition to his acting, Billy Bob Thornton is also a musician. As a solo artist he has released four albums from 2001-2007: Private Radio, The Edge of the World, Hobo and Beautiful Door. He also provided covers of Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash for various cover compilations.
Thornton is also the lead vocalist and drummer for his band The Boxmasters. Alongside J.D Andrew, Unknown Hinson and former member Micheal Wayne Butler, the band formed in 2007. Since then, the band has released three albums – a self-titled debut and a Christmas album in 2008 and Modbilly in 2009 – and is working on a new one titled Somewhere Down the Road for release sometime in 2015. The band mixes covers and original works, both of which done in the style of their unique southern “hillbilly” rock.
Thornton landed him and his band in some hot water in 2009 during an interview with CBC Radio One. During his interview with Jian Ghomeshi, Thornton gave erratic answers to the questions he was asked. Thornton also “instructed” the show’s producers to not ask any questions of his acting and film writing career. As the interview proceeded, Thornton called Canadian fans as being too tame and boring, calling them “mashed potatoes with no gravy.” The next day Thornton and the Boxmasters performed in Toronto, apologizing for his remarks as being directed towards the host rather than Canadians, but was still met to boos by the audience. A few days later The Boxmasters cut off their Canadian tour, citing an illness among the band, and cancelled their performances in London, Ont., and Montreal.
Billy Bob Thornton Personal Life, Marriage To Angelina Jolie
Outside of his work in films, Billy Bob Thornton is most known for his marriage to actress Angelina Jolie. Thornton has been married six times, engaged for a seventh, and has four children with three women. His first marriage came in 1978 with Melissa Lee Gatlin when he was still living in Arkansas. They have one daughter, Amanda. The marriage came to an end with a divorce in 1980. Thornton married actress Toni Lawrence from 1986 to 1988 and actress and One False Move co-star Cynda Williams from 1990 to 1992. In 1993, Thornton married Playboy model Pietra Dawn Cherniak. The two had two sons, Harry James and William. Like his prior three marriages, this ended in divorce too, with the marriage ending in 1997. After dating actress Laura Dern from 1997-1999, the two became engaged. However, the wedding was called off.
In 2000, Thornton married Jolie, who he worked with in the 1999 film Pushing Tin. Thornton and Jolie, who’s 20 years younger than him, had a relationship that was constant fodder for the paparazzi and tabloids with their eccentric displays of affection. The two also announced the adoption of a child from Cambodia in March of 2002. However, the high-profile marriage would too come to an abrupt end, with the two divorcing in 2003.
Thornton was able to find a steady relationship with makeup effects crew member Connie Angland. The two have dated since 2003 and have a daughter, Bella, together. Early in 2015, Thornton’s agents confirmed that the two married in October of 2014.
Thornton is a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. A fan of the Cardinals his whole life, Thornton narrated the team’s 2006 World Series film. He is also the cousin of wrestling’s Terry Funk and Dory Funk, Jr.
Thornton suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which he revealed to Ann Curry in an interview on NBC’s Dateline. He’s also vegan.
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