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Billy Bob: The outsider

He’s known for the quirky, complex characters he plays on screen — and lately for the turbulence in his personal life. Billy Bob Thornton talks about it all with Ann Curry.
/ Source: NBC News

He’s known for the quirky, complex characters he plays on screen — and lately for the turbulence in his personal life, including his very public break-up with actress Angelina Jolie, and the tragic death of his close friend, John Ritter. Billy Bob Thornton talks about it all with Ann Curry.

THERE’S SOMETHING about Billy Bob Thornton, women, and bowling alleys. Put all three together, and sparks can fly.

Billy Bob Thornton: “The first time I got married, I went to Hot Springs Bowling with this girl, and we got married. [Laughter] That was the first time.”

Ann Curry: “This is a trouble place! You’ve got to watch out then!”

Thornton: “Oh, I know.”

Of course, that first union ended in a split. His average hasn’t been terrific since: his divorce from Angelina Jolie, his fifth wife, became final this spring.

Thornton: “I think everything happened the way it was going to happen. I have no regrets and she has no regrets, and we’ll always be very friendly toward each other.”

He and Jolie had been Hollywood’s hottest — and strangest — couple, flamboyantly wearing each other’s blood and swearing their love to the end of time. Today, Jolie is famously single, showing off her adopted baby son, Maddox and talking non-stop about how much better off she is without Billy Bob Thornton.

Until now, 48-year-old Thornton has kept his feelings mostly to himself, preferring to express himself with the music he writes and sings. In his new album, “The Edge of the World,” some of the lyrics are angry, raging really, and lonely.

Curry: “You were writing about life after Angelina.”

Thornton: “Some of it. People are going to assume that all these songs are about her, or our relationship. The fact of the matter is, these songs are an accumulation of things over the years that finally came out.”

Curry: Okay, so you tell me, then, what this is about. ‘And now with just one slip on my part, you’ve used that to damn me. If you felt the desperation of my heart, then maybe you wouldn’t slam me.’ So what is a slip on your part?”

Thornton: “Well, that’s really a symbolic line. There wasn’t one slip on my part. There’ve been many in relationships I’ve had.”

After their marriage fell apart, Jolie told reporters the two of them had “changed,” that she just didn’t know him anymore. She suggested Thornton was alienated when she decided to adopt Maddox, a baby from Cambodia, in 2001.

Curry: “To what degree is it because of Maddox that you and Angelina are no longer together?”

Thornton: “I never drank quarts of blood in my dungeon. Ever.”

Curry: “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

Thornton: “I mean, people say I have a dungeon. They say I drink quarts of blood.”

Curry: “Do you not want to answer the question? I’ll just move on.”

Thornton: “No.” [Smiles]

Curry: “I’m just giving you the chance. You don’t want to answer the question, okay. She’s gotten rid of her Billy Bob tattoos. Why haven’t you gotten rid of yours?”

Thornton: “I did get rid of it.”

Curry: “You did?”

Thornton: “I didn’t get rid of it, I covered it. This is now an angel, and it says ‘peace’ right there. In other words, this is a tattoo cover that means, ‘no hard feelings.’”

Curry: “You once said, ‘She and I both know that was it. I probably won’t have another relationship that means anything.’”

Thornton: “That’s probably me being over-dramatic. Maybe I shouldn’t keep getting married, though.”

As bad as he is at managing relationships, Thornton is exceptionally savvy about managing his career. His roles always seem to get talked about, and he’s one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. In fact, he shot another six films this year, including the upcoming dark comedy “Bad Santa,” about a broken-down, alcoholic thief who masquerades as a department-store Kris Kringle. By the way, when I say dark comedy, I mean dark.

Thornton: “The other day, I went to do the looping for ‘Bad Santa.’ And what they do is, they have you replace any lines where you curse. Usually, you go in and you replace a few lines, and you have to come up with lines like, you know, ‘freakin’, and stuff like that.”

Curry: “Dagnabit!”

Thornton: “That kind of thing. And I go in to do the ones for ‘Bad Santa,’ and it looked like a Sears catalog. Because I curse like literally every line of the movie... it’s the alternative Christmas movie.”

“Bad Santa” also happens to be actor John Ritter’s last movie. Thornton took Ritter’s recent death very hard; the two had been friends for years.

Curry: “So when you watch John on the screen, do you laugh?”

Thornton: “Oh yeah.”

Curry: “Or do you cry?”

Thornton: “I laugh. I probably laugh and cry at the same time. But it’s not okay. No matter what your beliefs are about life, you know, the fact of the matter is, is that you miss people when they go.”

Curry: “So you know what? I just never figured you to be a guy to live in Beverly Hills.”

Thornton: “I know, it’s kind of ridiculous.”

Thornton is an interesting paradox. He’s a talented and successful actor who makes movies he loves, has three children and a mansion in Beverly Hills, every reason to be carefree, yet he doesn’t seem to know how to stop worrying. Would you believe Billy Bob Thornton, three-time Oscar nominee, is still afraid his phone won’t ring for his next job?

Thornton: “As many movies as I’ve done, I’m still not a real — I’m confident, I’m very confident as an actor when I’m doing it, but not real confident that I’ll work again.”

Curry: “The idea that you’re worrying about not getting another job seems ludicrous. It does.”

Thornton: “Yeah, I know. I probably get offered less than you think I do. If I get offered the starring role in a big splashy movie, I usually get offered it after another five people have turned it down. The movie business for me is high school.”

Curry: “You’re the guy on the outside.”

Thornton: “I’m still the guy smoking out by the incinerator.”

Curry: “You want to be the popular guy in Hollywood?”

Thornton: “I want to be liked, yeah. I want to be liked without playing the game.”

Curry: “Do you think that’s possible?”

Thornton: “I don’t know. I’m going to keep trying.”

Billy Bob Thornton’s next big project is a bit of a departure for him. He plays the hero Davy Crockett in “The Alamo,” a big-budget adventure epic that’s due out next spring.