Billy Bob Thornton's in town for the Lone Star Film Festival, where Jayne Mansfield's Car, his first film behind the camera in more than 10 years, screened on Wednesday. It's a story about two families -- one southern and one British -- that are pressed together over a shared loss under the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Thornton also co-wrote and stars in the film, alongside Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon and Shawnee Smith.
We sat down to discuss the project, his music, butterfly gardens, and why Texas BBQ is his vegan Achilles heel. A guy who grew up smoking Viceroys and drinking Falstaff has Everyman South coursing through his blood -- Billy Bob Thornton is a Texan at heart, even if he was born in Arkansas.
Mixmaster: I read something last night that made me laugh, a comment you made that your rich family's in Richardson and your poor family's in Garland. Billy Bob Thornton: Right.
MM: Richardson's not that much better... BBT: I know, I was being ironic. Richardson's a suburban place and everything, and I don't have any rich family. But I spent a lot of time down there in Richardson and Garland, especially in the '70s and '80s, so I have roots there. My aunt lived in Greenville for a while. I was born and raised in Arkansas until I got out of high school and then a couple of years after high school I moved to Houston. And I used to lease a house in Austin, during the time when I was making The Alamo and Friday Night Lights. I consider Texas a second home; I come down here a lot. I just love Texas.
MM: Are there certain things you have to do when you come to town, things that you miss when you're away? BBT: I'm a vegan these days, so one thing I do differently when I'm in Texas is I'll usually eat some meat when I'm here.
MM: You need your BBQ? BBT: Yeah, every now and then I have to break down and have some when I'm down here.
MM: Speaking of the south, why, aside from your upbringing and your background, was Jayne Mansfield's Car a southern story? Would you have been able to do it in any other time or place? BBT: I think your strongest work is always going to be what you're the closest to. Some of this was based on real stuff - it's partially autobiographical, like Duvall's character is based a lot on my dad, and the brothers in the movie, certain traits are based on me and my family. And so, I just believe that your strongest work's going to be there. I grew up on southern literature -- Erskine Caldwell, Faulkner, and that's really what I tend to gravitate toward when I'm doing my own thing.
MM: This is your first stint back directing in over ten years - how long have you been planning this film? BBT: The seed of this story had been floating around my head for a while, but I didn't have it fully formed until about three years ago. For certain business reasons I didn't direct for the first few years after All the Pretty Horses, and then after that I just didn't have a story that I really wanted to put that much time into directing and writing and everything until about three years ago. MM: How much of a role did you have in picking this cast? BBT: Well, you just kind of naturally know who fits what. And about half the cast are old friends of mine, and so it's a lot easier with them. They're people I know, they're really great actors and they just fit the roles. I did have a casting process, particularly for the women in the movie. I didn't know any of them, Shawnee Smith or Katherine LaNasa or Frances O'Connor before this movie.
MM: When you were writing the screenplay, did you already have these people in mind at an early on point? BBT: Yes, some of them. I had some people in mind as Tom [Epperson] and I were writing, because you always kind of model them after someone, but you don't necessarily know that they're going to be in the movie. But when I meet all three of these women, the second they came in I knew they were The People.
MM: Where are you hoping this goes from here? BBT: Well, we already have our distributor, Anchor Bay. They're terrific people and they love the movie, so they plan to put it out in the early part of next year - late February, early march.
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MM: I saw that you're selling a house, and that you are slated to do the Parkland film? BBT: Yes, it's going to shoot here in Texas starting in mid-January. I've heard that it's gonna be in Austin, but I'm not sure. Obviously the stuff that they shoot on a stage can be anywhere, but I don't know how they're going to do it. But it's a terrific script. And Tom Hanks is such a quality guy, and his company is producing it and they're a wonderful company, so I'm looking very forward to it and really honored to be in the movie.
And in terms of selling the house, we're thinking about it because my little girl, she's an 8-year-old entomologist and she raises eggs to caterpillars to butterflies. She has a butterfly garden. But she wants to raise chickens and they won't let you do that in Beverly Hills, so we're thinking about getting a place that's a little more farm-like for my daughter.
MM: Did you have anything else that you're working on that you want to tease us about? BBT: There are a couple of other things that I'm toying with. And Tom and I have actually talked about a couple of things to do. He and I have actually talked about creating a TV series together for cable. I'm not sure how involved we would be in it other than creating it, but we've talked about that and have a couple of ideas about that too because it seems that, other than lower budget, independent film, the cable networks are about the only place that you can do adult dramas now. MM: Are you going to take some time off after a while? BBT: Well, I've actually had a lot of time with the kids these past 2 or 3 years. They went with me on the movie, when we were shooting Jayne Mansfield down in Georgia, so we rented a house down there. When you're in one place for a while, it's easier to bring the family. It's when you're playing music on the road, that's when it's hard. But yeah, I spend most of my time at home when I'm not working.
MM: Are you a good cook? What's your signature dish? BBT: I make a really good grilled pimento cheese sandwich. That and cream of tomato soup. Those two together, that's pretty comforting food. It's dandy.