Actor’s dream differs from character

rick mcginnis/for metro ottawa


Actor Billy Bob Thornton values other possessions more than things like Academy Awards.

Last year’s World Series was a dream come true for Billy Bob Thornton.

The Oscar-winning actor (best adapted screenplay for 1996’s Sling Blade) was able to catch two games live of a five-game series in which his beloved St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers to secure their tenth World Series title.

Of course, if Thornton had it his way, the 51-year-old former hubby of actress Angelina Jolie would have been on the mound for that final game, afterwards hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates and paraded around Busch Stadium in glory.

But that dream died when Thornton was much younger, a pitcher in the Kansas City Royals farm system and eager to pursue a big-league career. A wild pitch crushed those hopes and sent the future actor and musician on a bohemian path that would eventually result in his ascension to near the top of Hollywood’s list of go-to male actors.

Perhaps that history led Thornton to empathize somewhat with his latest character, a stargazing, aspiring astronaut in the film The Astronaut Farmer.

In the film, Thornton’s Charlie Farmer is a former pilot who drops out of NASA’s astronaut program to deal with family issues. But his desire to one day orbit the Earth drives an obsessive pursuit to build a rocket in a barn on his Texas farm, much to the chagrin of local and federal authorities.

“I never had any dreams as big as building a rocket or anything like that, but now as years go by, my dreams are more to do with my kids,” the father of four states during a recent interview in Toronto. “I’ve done 40 some-odd movies, I’ve got a bunch more I still want to do, but still, it’s through the same continuous dream.”

When the notion of the acting classes being inherently stacked with dreamers is posited, the modest Thornton readily agrees, but adds a few caveats indicating that he’s not a fan of actor-speak.

“I think anybody who does anything creative or artistic, that’s what they are,” he says, continuing, “it’s certainly not a technical skill.

“There’s a lot of bullshit that a lot of actors talk about like (acting) being their craft. It’s really not a craft … When people start saying it’s all about the work, it’s really not work. A sawmill is work.”

Thornton should know. He worked a wide range of jobs including roadie work for several bands, selling pens by phone, waiting tables (most actors’ staple), even putting time in as a grocery store clerk before breaking into show business.

So it’s not surprising, given those earlier thoughts on his disdain for pretentious interpretations of the toils of acting, that the native of Hot Springs, Ark., doesn’t put much stock in awards, either.

“I’ve been nominated (for best actor) two or three times (actually twice for Sling Blade and 1998’s A Simple Plan) and I don’t know how much I value them, period. It kind of makes you feel good, it’s probably good for your ego more than anything else.

“I’ve got other things I value — probably an autographed baseball glove from (former Baltimore Orioles third baseman) Brooks Robinson, I value that.”

  • The Astronaut Farmer opens in theatres today.