Billy Bob Thornton

A candid conversation with america’s weirdest actor about life with (and without) angelina jolie, his nightmarish fears and the upside of having five failed marriages — may 2003


“Angelina was the only person I ever knew who went along with all my phobias. One night I woke up after dreaming that the house was on fire. She put together a bag and we went to a hotel.”

“I don’t want to do Shakespeare, a bunch of people talking in that fucking language. We don’t understand half the shit they’re saying and pretend we do. Get a fucking guitar out and let’s have a rock-and-roll show.”

“Sex you can get anytime. Just call up one of your regulars. That’s not ever why I got married. I like the friendship. Let’s put it this way: I am an extremist. I was never good at stopping at a blow job.”

In an industry full of eccentricity, it is no small feat that Billy Bob Thornton has emerged as Hollywood’s top oddball. Some of this reputation can be attributed to his riveting, never conventional performances; even more to his tumultuous personal life. The tabloids went crazy when he married Angelina Jolie. Their public displays of affection — blood vials and all — were a staple of the front page of the National Enquirer. Their sudden breakup was even better fodder.

Without Jolie, Thornton is still one colorful character. Part wild hillbilly and part neurotic auteur, he’s the artistic nexus of Jerry Lee Lewis and Woody Allen. His behavior is unabashedly peculiar — driving around a certain restaurant seven times before work, obsessing over his fear of Komodo dragons. No one would pay much attention to such behavior if Thornton, 47, were a less talented actor, writer and director. He won an Academy Award in 1997 for writing Sling Blade, a quirky drama that also earned him his first Oscar nomination for acting. His Monster’s Ball co-star Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar last year, in part for a raw sex scene with Thornton.

His union with Jolie was equally raw. “I think I’m going to die every few minutes when we’re having sex,” she told a reporter. Thornton had been married four times when he met Jolie. Laura Dern, Thornton’s fiancé at the time, was a bit surprised. “I left home to work on a movie, and while I was away, my boyfriend got married and I’ve never heard from him again,” she said.

The couple married in May 2000. Jolie began proceedings to adopt a baby while working in Cambodia in 2001, and within months of the adoption becoming final last year, they announced their divorce, with the tabloids all but accusing him of infidelity.

Thornton grew up in rural Arkansas in a home with no running water or electricity. Dinner sometimes consisted of freshly bagged squirrel. His father was a teacher and coach, his mother a psychic. Thornton worked in a sawmill and he laid asphalt. He broke his collarbone while trying out for the Kansas City Royals. In 1981 he moved to California, where he struggled to make it in show business for more than a decade, once landing in the hospital because of malnutrition.

This year Thornton has three movies due: Levity, with Holly Hunter; Bad Santa, with Bernie Mac; and another collaboration with Joel and Ethan Coen, Intolerable Cruelty (their first film together was The Man Who Wasn’t There). The Edge of the World, the follow-up to his first CD, Private Radio, is also expected to be released this year.

Contributing Editor David Sheff met Thornton in the recording studio of his Beverly Hills mansion. It’s Thornton’s first interview in a while during which Jolie isn’t nibbling on his ear.

Playboy: You have a new movie out, yet the public is still talking about your relationship with Angelina.

Thornton: It’s crazy. Some friends from out of town were visiting. Two girls. We went shopping and the next thing we knew, there were pictures in the interviewss of us walking down Melrose. I have been linked to people I’ve had nothing to do with. I did see one girl for a while, and that was all over the papers. But most of the girls I’m supposedly with are ones I barely know. I saw Sheryl Crow, whom I have known for years, backstage at her concert. The next thing you know, we were together.

Playboy: With all your press, are women wary of you?

Thornton: I get a lot of, “Oh, watch out for him.” It doesn’t stop them, though.

Playboy: Watch out for you why?

Thornton: They say, “Suzie told me to really be careful with you.” “Why is that?” “You have been married all those times, had all these women.” My message: If you’re worried about it, don’t do it. Would it be better if I was like a friend of mine who says, “I ain’t the marrying type”? Is that any more appealing to women? He has pretty good luck and so do I, but I’m the type who just might fall in love with you.

Playboy: The type who might fall in love with you and sign his name in blood, vowing it will be forever.

Thornton: I was that type once.

Playboy: Not again?

Thornton: I don’t know. I’m not really concerned with it. I know that what Angelina and I had was unique and always will be. It wasn’t some whim or fluke. It was the ultimate.

Playboy: Does that make the fall farther?

Thornton: You know, some people talk about their personal relationships and breakups. I only talk about it through music or movies.

Playboy: Except when you and Angelina talked about little else.

Thornton: Yeah, we mouthed off a few times. We were excited and happy. It’s not like we were reclusive people so into our privacy. I don’t regret it. People were interested, and we didn’t mind telling them.

Playboy: Why the shyness now?

Thornton: It’s private. I want to take the high road.

Playboy: It seems as if you want it both ways.

Thornton: I just won’t talk about it. Other people can talk about it.

Playboy: We want to set the record straight. Everyone knows how you two got together, but what ended the relationship?

Thornton: And that’s exactly what I won’t discuss. I get talked about a lot, but I don’t do much talking. It makes it hard sometimes because you end up looking like an asshole. All I can say is that was a really sad thing.

Playboy: People seem to enjoy when famous people get together, but not as much as when they split up.

Thornton: I’m not sure. Somebody called me the other day and said some interviews put out a list of the couples their readers wished would get back together. Me and Angie were the top one. I’m glad people feel that way.

Playboy: What’s up next for you in that department?

Thornton: It’s strange after you had it in your head that there was someone who was always going to be there. After that, you’re just standing there with your thumb up your ass. “Well, now what do I do? Do I just keep seeing Debbie, whose friend Suzie tells her not to see me because I have been married five times?” I guess that’s what I do.

Playboy: Maybe the sixth time’s a charm.

Thornton: You know, people talk about how many times I’ve been married as if it’s some negative thing, but I was trying each time. I was hopeful. Is it better to be somebody who will try to be in love — try to be married? It’s not like it’s pleasant when it ends. Because of that piece of paper, you end up losing your money, your records, a lot of stuff. But I’m a romantic, so I want to get married. I’m not sure if I’m meant for it anymore, though. Maybe someday. I like the companionship, the friendship. Sex you can get anytime.

Playboy: Anytime?

Thornton: Just call up one of your regulars. That’s not a problem. That’s not ever why I got married. It was because I enjoy the friendship.

Playboy: Couldn’t you live with a woman? Why the need to marry?

Thornton: I am an extremist. Let’s put it this way: I was never good at stopping at a blow job.

Playboy: Which means?

Thornton: Unless you’ve done the whole thing, you haven’t given your all. I feel we haven’t gone to the pinnacle unless we make that commitment. There’s another reason I get married: It’s a reflection of how I’m feeling at the time. I’m thinking, I feel more for you than I’ve ever felt for anybody. I married her, so I should marry you, too, right? The thing is, I really love women. Girls who know me pretty well know that about me. One of my ex-wives once told me, “Sometimes I wish we had stayed together. I could have taken the other women because I know how you are.”

Playboy: How are you?

Thornton: I haven’t always been all over the place in marriages or relationships, but with her I was.

Playboy: What’s the longest you have been monogamous?

Thornton: Three or four years. But mostly I was a hobo, always kind of on the rock-and-roll circuit.

Playboy: Which isn’t compatible with staying married. Is that why your marriages ended?

Thornton: That wasn’t always it. It generally came down to a difference in philosophy. You stop believing in each other. The first time I got married was when I was a kid. I had no business being married. Another time I married a close friend. We were never anything more, but we loved each other so much as friends that we got married. Then we woke up one morning and realized it wasn’t a full-on marriage. One marriage was annulled. God bless them all. I have nothing against anybody I was married to. Or in a relationship with. Sometimes I miss them. I wish we didn’t have hurt feelings, so I could hang out with them. My ex who I had my boys with, Pietra Cherniak, is one of my closest friends. The kids are here almost as much as they are at her place. We take them to Sea World together.

Playboy: When you divorced, she accused you of choking her.

Thornton: We were silly little kids who argued. And anyway, when we separated, the case got resolved. I’m as close to her now as anybody, though not as close as the rags say. They say we’re back together. She and I laugh about it.

Playboy: Do you think there will be a time when you’ll be friends with Angelina?

Thornton: I hope so. I can’t speak for her, but I think we’ll always love each other.

Playboy: Do you hope that you will get back together?

Thornton: I can’t dare contemplate that question. For all sorts of reasons.

Playboy: Was it harder for you two because you’re both actors?

Thornton: It’s hard for anybody to be married. It’s no different for a plumber from Encino. I’m sure his life is every bit as tragic and dramatic as a movie star’s life. We talk about the movie business because it’s a big publicized thing, but look inside any office, at the affairs people are having, at the politics and drama.

Playboy: Yet the plumber doesn’t fly off to work for months on end with some of the world’s most desirable women.

Thornton: Yes, we go off and do these movies and then Muffy Robertson comes up and says —

Playboy: Muffy Robertson?

Thornton: You know, Muffy Robertson — whatever you want to call a newslady. She comes up and says, “So, Tom, what is it like to watch Barbara and Raoul together in the movie?” What is Tom going to say? “It really pisses me off?” No. He says, “Oh well, you know, that’s the way it is in the movies. Honey here and I have a great marriage and blah, blah, blah.” Then Muffy says, “Barbara, what’s it like for you to see Tom with Vicky?” Barbara’s going to look at Tom starry-eyed and look back to the reporter and say, “Well, that’s just part of acting and blah, blah.” That’s what they always say. The percentage of it that’s bullshit is probably pretty high.

Playboy: Then what’s the truth?

Thornton: The truth is that if you are in love, unless you have no nerve endings at all and no sense of romance or desperation, then you’re going to feel bad when your husband or wife goes off for six months in the jungles of South America with some fucking actor to do scenes where they are down a river in a boat making out all day. At night you have nothing to do except sit in some shit hole and eat food that looks like grits, and you’re not sure you want to eat it, and you get some parasite. You’re out there talking with a beautiful person under some palm frond. The next thing you know… I was lucky to have been with someone in a marriage who had integrity and who was loyal to me.

Playboy: Was she lucky to be with you? Were you loyal, too?

Thornton: Believe it or not and contrary to popular belief, yes.

Playboy: News reports said otherwise.

Thornton: Yes, some things in the papers that were said about me were not true. And I understand why people would think they were true. I’m not going to pretend I have Pat Boone written all over me. If people believe bad things, there’s not much I can do. I know how it was, but I guess I’m like the boy who cried wolf: “Hey, wait, I really didn’t.”

Playboy: One article suggested that you may have been fooling around with girls you invited onstage during your concert tour. That can’t have helped your cause.

Thornton: That was fucking ridiculous. What rock concert have you ever been to where a girl did not get on the stage? Anybody who toured with me will tell you I was as straight as an arrow. I don’t like to defend myself, but that is one time I will because it is so fucking untrue. That stuff has always chapped my ass. At another show, we were just hanging out with a bunch of people. They wanted to take pictures of us together for their moms. Then all of a sudden, a picture of me and one of them — some girl — was in the Enquirer. I never laid a finger on her, but I guess it’s one of the hazards of the occupation. The fact is that sometimes what they say is true, and sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it alters your life.

Playboy: Although they know it’s your job, most women would have a difficult time watching their husbands in such a raw sex scene as the one you did with Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Was it just an average workday for you?

Thornton: No, it was pretty stressful and kind of uncomfortable. You’re literally showing your ass to people. You’re thinking your mom is going to see it. You have to put all that out of your head. It was really intense, but I would feel worse about doing a scene like that if it was at all gratuitous, which it was not. It was raw, fucked-up human emotion, two losers coming together with all the anger and frustration and passion that they had inside themselves.

Playboy: Apparently the European cut has more sex. Why is the American version different?

Thornton: According to the ratings board, you can have five breasts, but not six, in one cut. Bullshit like that. The only real difference is that you hold on things longer. It’s just like a minute longer, but it makes it more intense.

Playboy: How was it to watch the scene?

Thornton: I sat through it once, thought it was good. I try to watch my movies without thinking it’s me. Unfortunately, I usually play characters that reveal part of me. I can’t help it. That character in Monster’s Ball was kind of like my dad.

Playboy: How was he like your father?

Thornton: He was a guy whose father was way more redneck than he was, but it rubbed off on him. I also looked like my dad in the movie. After the fact, you often see things. When you look back on your work, you go, “Wow, I always do write movies where the father is either nasty or absent.” I operate in the subconscious. When I do everyday things — watch ESPN, play with my kids — I’m often operating someplace else. Whatever I do as an artist comes out of that place. There’s me, there’s this other place and then there’s a third place, too. If I’m alone for very long, I start to think about too many scary things, which may be another reason I like to be married.

Playboy: Scary things like what?

Thornton: Komodo dragons.

Playboy: Komodo dragons?

Thornton: The whole idea of dinosaurs and dragons is really frightening.

Playboy: But why Komodo dragons in particular?

Thornton: Because I don’t know why they are here. It’s a dragon, for Christ’s sake. Why would we have dragons anymore? In fairy tales, the guy cuts the dragon to pieces because he is trying to get the damsel out of the tower. Dragons are evil. Komodo dragons have this horribly toxic bacteria in their mouths. When they bite you, you go blind. Then they all gather around you and watch you die like they are watching fucking television. They don’t eat you right away. They wait till you die. Then they eat you.

Playboy: Maybe you know too much about Komodo dragons.

Thornton: I tend to learn a lot about what I fear.

Playboy: Have you ever seen one?

Thornton: Angie and I were in Cambodia at a zoo. She saw the thing and grabbed me and put her hand over my eyes. God bless her for that. She was the only person I ever knew who actually went along with all my phobias and shit. One night I woke up after dreaming that the house was burning. I said, “We have to go to a hotel right now.” She put together a bag and we went to the Sunset Marquis and stayed three nights. I have nightmares. Once a Komodo dragon was up on the side of the bed, which freaked me out so bad that I cannot tell you. So we woke up and she goes, “OK. It’s OK.” We went to the hotel.

Playboy: Have you ever seen a psychiatrist about your fears?

Thornton: I know what they are. They have nothing to do with my uncle playing with my weenie when I was four. They are fucking dragons that have no focus other than killing.

Playboy: But there are no dragons in Beverly Hills.

Thornton: They put them in zoos and shit. What if one got out? Some woman called and wanted to know if I would make a donation to save the Komodo dragons. No. If I could, I would fly over there with a helicopter and mow them all down. Because they are fucking dragons. They are dinosaurs. I grew up watching Raquel Welch and all those people being fucking flung around by pterodactyls and shit.

Playboy: There are no movies in which old chairs attack people, yet you apparently have a phobia about furniture.

Thornton: Certain antique furniture.

Playboy: What furniture?

Thornton: Louis XIV. Victorian kind of shit. Old European furniture. Shit you would find in a castle in Scotland.

Playboy: Why does it bother you?

Thornton: I have no idea. It just seems like you would not want to eat anywhere near it. It makes me think of people sitting around with those big puffy neck things that the queens used to wear. And the dust and the moldy odor. God knows how often they bathed and shit. I think the fear has a lot to do with cleanliness.

Playboy: Like your character in Monster’s Ball, is it true that you prefer eating with plastic utensils?

Thornton: Yes, but it’s not like the dragon thing. I like things in little plastic packets that you can open, because I don’t know who cleaned the silverware. Antique silverware? Forget it. But I use silverware when I go to restaurants.

Playboy: Are you superstitious?

Thornton: I have quirks.

Playboy: Joel Coen once said that you are “bizarrely unneurotic,” except you insisted on driving around a particular coffee store seven times before you would go to work. Why?

Thornton: I just get some things stuck in my head.

Playboy: You got it in your head that you had to drive around a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf shop seven times?

Thornton: Yes.

Playboy: Did you inherit superstitions from your mother, who is a psychic?

Thornton: I don’t know how superstitious she is. Her stuff is based on actual supernatural phenomena.

Playboy: As opposed to yours?

Thornton: At least some of mine is obsessive- compulsive behavior. It’s the kind of stuff doctors say is based on children being out of control or abused.

Playboy: How about in your case?

Thornton: Let’s just say it comes from being nervous all the time. You start to develop these little tricks in your head, like, If I just break this toothpick into three even pieces, my father will come home in a good mood and he won’t beat me. It becomes a protection. I still have some of that, but I don’t feel like it’s running my life.

Playboy: Were you always afraid of your father?

Thornton: Yes, but I understand my daddy’s anger toward me now. He could have been more than he was. He was jealous of me. He just wanted me to like football, but I liked art. I was sensitive. He saw that I was creating something and couldn’t handle it. I was not some wild-ass kid, but I wasn’t his kind of guy.

Playboy: Did you try to be?

Thornton: I don’t think I knew him well enough to try. I was nervous whenever he came home, because he was always pissed off. I didn’t want to get into an argument with him.

Playboy: Did he ever beat you bad enough to send you to the hospital?

Thornton: No, no. He just whipped the shit out of me with his belt.

Playboy: Did your mother try to protect you from him?

Thornton: My mother always protected me. He was always cool to my mom. My mother was a strong woman. It was interesting growing up with a psychic for a mom and a high school basketball coach for a dad. It sets you apart.

Playboy: Did your mother do readings and predict your future?

Thornton: Mostly I just got it by association. I watched her. All the books in our house were Indian books and spiritual books and books on ESP.

Playboy: Did your friends think it was weird?

Thornton: In the beginning, I guess.

Playboy: Your character in Bandits is afraid of the actor Charles Laughton. Are you?

Thornton: No. I’m afraid of Benjamin Disraeli’s hair, though.

Playboy: So that’s not another rumor? Why him?

Thornton: I saw it in pictures when I was growing up — this little shelf of hair. I just knew there were dust and mites in it. It freaked me out. It made me feel the way a castle makes me feel. See, I don’t understand why people write all these things about me that are untrue. Why do they need to make things up? I don’t think eating orange food is as weird as having a fear of Benjamin Disraeli’s hair.

Playboy: So you eat non-orange food?

Thornton: Yes. That rumor started because I eat papaya at this one place a lot. It’s orange. Maybe I had salmon there once, too. Some waiter maybe said I only eat orange food. That’s how it starts.

Playboy: Do you have a fear of flying?

Thornton: I don’t have a fear of flying. I have a fear of crashing.

Playboy: Live theater?

Thornton: Yes, because they talk too loud. I have a hard time sitting in my seat in a quiet, dark place. It’s almost as if I have Tourette’s syndrome — I want to run up onstage and pull the actor’s pants down or something. Another thing bothers me about it: Why do they do it? In the old days they did live theater because that’s all they could do. I wish they would fucking quit. I like original plays and I sit through them. I love musicals. But I don’t want to go see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and I don’t want to do Shakespeare, for Christ’s sake, a bunch of people talking in that fucking language. We don’t understand half the shit they’re saying and pretend we do. The reason they used to do Shakespeare in the town square was because they didn’t have any electricity. Now? Get a fucking guitar out and let’s have a rock-and-roll show.

Playboy: When you decided to release an album, were you worried that you were following in the footsteps of William Shatner?

Thornton: The thing is, some of the actors everyone shits on for creating music are as good as some of the shitty pop stars. You don’t have to be an actor to be a shitty musician.

Playboy: What is it that has made it a cliché for actors to want to be musicians?

Thornton: Growing up, you don’t ever consider that you can’t be both if you do both. Music? Movies? It’s all art. Dennis Quaid plays some pretty good rock and roll. Why not? Russell Crowe was touring about the time my record came out. A bunch of articles had something about, “Who the hell do these movie stars think they are?” Fortunately for me, they singled me out as one who was real.

Playboy: There’s an advantage for wellknown actors. Many would never get record deals if it weren’t for their fame.

Thornton: On the other hand, you’re also going to get slammed. Who cares? People can kiss my ass. They think I didn’t pay my dues? If they want to come out here and live what I’ve lived for the past 20 years, they will see I worked my way up. I was a roadie. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Johnny Paycheck. At 18 I had a band that opened for Humble Pie. I have no apologies; I worked my ass off as a musician, worked my ass off as an actor. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

Playboy: How bad did it get during your years of struggling to make it as an actor and musician?

Thornton: I came to California in 1981. I didn’t know where I was going to eat much of the time. Not having enough money to stay here, not having enough to go home. And having nothing to go home to anyway. What was I going to do? Go back and shovel asphalt for the Arkansas Highway Department?

Playboy: Is that when you worked in a pizza restaurant?

Thornton: I worked at a Shakey’s, went in there in the middle of the afternoon. The place was empty except for this manager, who asked if I had ever cooked in a restaurant. I said, “Yeah.” I could barely make toast.

Playboy: You landed in the hospital.

Thornton: Later. I ran out of money and did not have any food at all. The last thing I had bought was a big bag of potatoes. I ate potatoes boiled in water or fried, kind of chipped them off the pan. Eventually I ran out of those, too, and got sick. Malnourished. In the emergency room, a girl on the other side of the curtain had been in a car accident and died. Another guy had been shot with a shotgun. I was on morphine. I got up in my hospital gown and just got the hell out of there.

Playboy: Were you doing drugs during that period?

Thornton: No. I quit pretty early — in my early 20s.

Playboy: What was your drug of choice?

Thornton: All of it.

Playboy: Did you shoot drugs?

Thornton: I did all of it.

Playboy: What made you stop?

Thornton: I was watching The Honeymooners on a little black-and-white television with some friends in this trailer. Jackie Gleason started doing things in the show that I knew damn well he could not have been doing in the show.

Playboy: You were hallucinating?

Thornton: Yeah. Then, when you’re high, you start having these stupid thoughts of what will make you better. “If I can only get in my neighbor’s yard and start his lawn mower everything will be OK.” Whatever. I thought, If I could only get in George’s car. George, a friend of mine who wasn’t there, had a Pontiac Bonneville. I stepped outside the trailer and it seemed like a 12-foot drop. I went to the car, but the hood seemed only about a foot long while the rest of the car seemed as if it went down the block. I thought, If I could only get in the backseat, I’ll be OK. One of those nights of too many mixtures of drugs. It wasn’t the worst experience I’d ever had, but I thought, What an asshole you are. I stopped.

Playboy: Do you drink?

Thornton: It’s not something I need. I’ve always been a sporadic drinker.

Playboy: When did you start having sex?

Thornton: I wasn’t taken by my dad to a whorehouse or anything, but I was 12. The girl was 12, too.

Playboy: That’s fairly young.

Thornton: Us hillbillies get along pretty well in that way. She and I tried to figure out what the hell to do. “What’s this?” “I don’t know.” “Why don’t we put it in there.” She screamed bloody murder. It wasn’t all that much fun. It kind of freaked me out. Afterward, she seemed pissed at me even though it was her idea. I didn’t do it again until I was 14. After that I was like a hound dog. I was with a lot of women. Through baseball and playing in a band, I got all the girls. Also, I hung out with girls. Usually it’s the gay guy who’s hanging out with all the girls. But I was never a caveman. There’s a lot about guys that I didn’t get. “Look at the tits on her!” I always was more into finesse than whistling or honking. Maybe the combination of athlete and artist was appealing, compared with a lot of the lugs. Like Carrie is Roger’s girlfriend and they won homecoming king and queen, and in the meantime Carrie would come and fuck me on Thursday night before the game, telling me what an asshole Roger was. Roger gets off in 30 seconds, then eats a bologna sandwich and drinks a Dr Pepper. I’m talking to the girl about Dickens and playing Beatles records.

Playboy: Did you fall in love or was it sport?

Thornton: I fell in love until I had my heart broken a few times. Then I started falling in love again. It’s my pattern. I fall in love, get my heart broken and spend a couple of years having fun, then somebody comes along again and it’s like, Oh yeah. I forgot. I was always like that, in Arkansas and when I came to California.

Playboy: Where you finally broke into the movies. How did that happen?

Thornton: I was writing all the time, was in a theater group and doing music, too. I was just trying to keep my head above water. Then the acting things started to pay me enough to live — bit parts on Matlock, Divorce Court or whatever the hell show would have me. My friend Tom Epperson and I kept writing scripts. We had written One False Move. Eventually, meeting this person, meeting that person, we were able to do it.

Playboy: Were you surprised by the reaction to Sling Blade?

Thornton: I thought it might be a critical success but had no idea it would become a phenomenon. I think the reason is that it appealed to the more artsy crowd as an independent film and to the regular Joes as a regular film. I was accepted in two worlds. The guy who runs the John Deere shop in Iowa likes my movies and so does the snotty, beretwearing person at the art gallery.

Playboy: Why haven’t you directed more?

Thornton: I had a bad time with All the Pretty Horses. The studio cut my soundtrack. Then they marketed the movie as this young romance about the West and lost the audience that might have come to see it if it were an artsier picture. I’ll direct again if I find something I love that is not going to get butchered.

Playboy: You’re releasing a new CD. Is it the sequel to Private Radio?

Thornton: It’s sort of a concept album — an Arkansas version of Tommy. We have 25 songs, 21 originals. The covers fit the story, too, about a broken man on his way to healing.

Playboy: Anyone we know?

Thornton: Anything I do in movies or music is autobiographical. I wrote nine songs in three days over at the Sunset Marquis right when I got back from the tour. I called Johnny Cash one day and said, “Cash, I wrote nine songs in the last three days.” He said, “I am sorry. You had a bad few days, didn’t ya?”

Playboy: What did he mean?

Thornton: I was sad. Really sad. So I just wrote all those songs.

Playboy: Are you unhappy now?

Thornton: Everything now is all right. I am at the point careerwise where I had hoped I would be. I still work from movie to movie. I don’t make $20 million a movie, but for a small-town guy who grew up in the middle of nowhere, I make more money than anybody back there would ever dream. Careerwise I do not feel that there is anything lacking. My kids are doing better than ever. So all those parts of my life are fine.

Playboy: What part isn’t?

Thornton: After a while, I start thinking that maybe I’ll never have a real home. I got my kids, but they’re across town. I got friends, but they’re out there somewhere. My family is back in Arkansas. I have a house, but I don’t have a center, an actual home where I live with the people I love. Thanksgiving doesn’t just happen around me, I have to make it happen, gather people together.

Playboy: Do you know why?

Thornton: I don’t. Like I said, I’m a hobo: born to roam, though these days I don’t go out much. As I get older, I get more paranoid. I had hoped it would be the other way around. So instead of going out, I have friends come over and we shoot pool and hang out and listen to music and watch television and stuff here. My friends make jokes about me becoming like Howard Hughes. I hardly go out, but I get by all right.