Billy Bob Thornton’s down-home Southern accent and stereotypically redneck name don’t belie the sharp-witted, elusive actor he truly is. He is not the typical movie star in any sense of the word. There is no role that anyone could categorize as a “Billy Bob Thornton role.” It’s almost impossible to pin him down to one type of character or film. A quick glance at his resume reveals his range, with everything from vulgar comedies like “Bad Santa” to dramas like “Sling Blade” and big-budget action films like “Armageddon.” His elusiveness lends itself handily to the films he appears in, as he can easily slip into the skin and mindset of each character he plays.
Thornton accepts his role as Hollywood’s chameleon, flaunting the fact that he has played just about every kind of role out there. Plus, he has a great time doing it, too.
“I like to play different things all the time and I’ve liked pretty much everything,” Thornton said in an interview last week. “I’ve mostly done a lot of dramatic roles in my past, and in the recent years I’ve started doing a lot of comedies. You try to put yourself into every character you play, as if you were one of those guys.”
This time around, Thornton tried his hand at action in “Eagle Eye,” also starring Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers”) and Michelle Monaghan (“Gone Baby Gone”). It’s produced by Steven Spielberg and is one of the fall’s most anticipated thrillers. “Eagle Eye” asks the question “How would you, as an ordinary person, react if you suddenly and inexplicably received a call ensnaring you in a terrorist plot?”
“Eagle Eye” is clearly different from many of the films that Thornton is used to making.
“I do a lot of character-based movies, and this is a big movie, an action movie,” Thornton said. “I do a lot more running around with a gun, that kind of thing.”
It would be foolish to assume that Thornton would accept just any action role, and “Eagle Eye” won’t be a typical action flick, if Thornton is to be believed.
“A lot of action movie scripts are pretty standard. But this script was actually very sound, and very well-written,” Thornton said. “When it’s well-written you have something to start with, since you don’t want to go do some boneheaded action film.”
As for working with Hollywood up-and-comer Shia LaBeouf, Thornton had only good things to say.
“Shia is a great kid, and he’s a very mature actor for his age,” Thornton said. “A lot of older actors don’t have their chops the way he does. I really hope for big things for him.”
Thornton has been known to shy away from technology and, therefore, he believes strongly in the issues faced by the characters in “Eagle Eye,” who are hunted through the vast array of technology around them. What’s more terrifying is that the characters are stalked with technology taken for granted every day: cell phones, the Internet and television. While Thornton acknowledges the importance of technology, he also owns up to his own shortcomings regarding it.
“I only got a cell phone two years ago, but I don’t know how to use it. I think there’s way too much access today and it’s kind of scary. I think technology has stolen our privacy,” Thornton said.
Adding to his already impressive resume, Thornton is also an accomplished director, Academy-Award-winning screenwriter and musician. He sees the future holding more for him than just movie roles.
“I’m looking to direct again,” Thornton said. “There are movie offers out there, of course, and a couple more records coming out.”
However you want to define Thornton — actor, director, screenwriter or musician — one thing is certain: The man cannot be pigeonholed and he’s perfectly content staying that way.