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.’
One reason I’ve always liked “Bad Santa” is because, as I got older, I realized that for some people the holidays are the worst time of the year.
It’s very easy to get into a melancholy state during Christmas. Because you remember the joy of being a child and how magical Christmas was. If I didn’t have kids there’s no telling how I’d feel at Christmas. But at least through them I can enjoy it.
Do you find that you amp up the merriment for your kids?
Definitely. I want my kids to have a childhood for as long as possible. Because it’s harder than when I was growing up to have a childhood that lasts a while. Now people are adults when they’re 14. [Laughs] When I was 14 I was still a little kid. Kids are doing so much. They know so much because of the social network. Life doesn’t have as much magic and mystery as it once did.
One of the surprises this time is there’s a scene with Octavia Spencer. I think a lot of people don’t know she was in the first. Her life has changed a lot since 2003.
It was very gracious of Octavia, at her stature now, to come back and do that little cameo for us. We had to have those moments in there that reprised something from the original. Frankly, we missed Lauren Graham. I loved working with Lauren, she was so good in the first one. But to bring her into this one, it would have been forced. We would have had to concoct some cockamamie story about how she got to Chicago, and it wouldn’t have worked. It certainly wasn’t because we didn’t want her in the movie. That would have been amazing.
You have a scene where Willy cries. And it’s not sentimental. It’s actually touching.
Absolutely. It’s like “Cinema Paradiso” or something. [Laughs] That scene was actually a little more moving than any of us had envisioned. I actually [got choked up]. I was thinking, ‘Here we are, all these years later.’ There was some personal emotion in there, too.
You should wait another 13 years, just so you have that same feeling.
If this one’s successful, they’ll do it a little sooner this time. If they wait another 12 or 13 years it will be called “Old Folks Home.” [Laughs] They’ll have me on a walker trying to rob the nursing home.
Or it could be that Willy finally, at long last, gets his stuff together. He’d be a nice guy. There wouldn’t even be any jokes.
[Laughs] Exactly. Just call it “Good Santa.”
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