Billy Bob Thornton didn’t want a bad “Bad Santa 2.” One reason they waited 13 years since the original instant classic — in which he plays a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, bracingly miserable thief who poses as Kris Kringle in order to steal loot — was they didn’t want to fall into the usual sequel traps. He wanted the follow-up to be similar but different. This time Willy is in Chicago, reuniting with not just Tony Cox’s Marcus and Brett Kelly’s now grown Thurman Merman, but also his estranged mother (Kathy Bates), who’s also a crook.
Thornton, 61, talks to us about not treating the movies as comedies, the reason Lauren Graham doesn’t return and that time someone wanted to make a sequel to “Sling Blade.”
The original created this cottage industry of “Bad” movies: “Bad Grandpa,” “Bad Teacher”…
They got “Bad” everything now. My friends and I sit around coming up with different ones. “Bad Lawn Equipment Salesman.”
One thing I’ve always liked about the first “Bad Santa” is Willy feels like a real guy. There’s a lot of dive bars across the country filled with people as miserable as he is.
Yeah. And that’s the thing about doing a comedy: To make a character genuinely funny or interesting, you have to play it straight. I play this part the same way I played the part in “Monster’s Ball” or “A Simple Plan” or “Sling Blade.” You don’t go out there and try to be a funny guy; you play it straight.
He’s not nicer this time, but we definitely see a couple more softer sides.
I think the thing that hurts the most is that he has a little bit of hope. If he had none, he would have jumped off a building by now. He probably believes this is his lot in life, that he’s going to live a long time and just be miserable. Because every time he tries to off himself something happens — like fate’s just saying, “No, you’re punished. You’re staying here forever.” [Laughs]
You’ve mostly avoided sequels throughout your career.
Yeah, I have. This one seemed to make sense to me. Not only did I want to play the character again, but it was a natural for a sequel. Some movies just aren’t. I’ve been asked to do a sequel to “Sling Blade.” I was like, “Well, how the hell would you do that?”
What could possibly be the plot of “Sling Blade 2”?
I have no idea. First of all, he would either be in a mental institution the whole movie, or he would be let out again and kill somebody else. [Laughs] At that point it would become like “Friday the 13th” or something.
That would be great if there was a slasher franchise whose first film was an art house drama.
[Laughs] That is a pretty funny concept. Years and years ago, not terribly long after we made the movie, I was offered the chance to make it into a comic. In each issue Karl would go to another town and help another kid and kill another bad guy. [Laughs] I thought, ‘What an odd idea to have Karl from “Sling Blade” be a superhero in a comic book.’