Izumi Hasegawa: Can you talk about playing a heroin-addicted detective? Is it supposed to signal something about being morally corrupt from the start--of moral failings?
Billy Bob Thornton: I didn't work my butt off, in terms of being a drug addict. Right off the bat, you see this guy has dipped pretty low in his life, and it makes it a more interesting character than just "there's a cop in the movie." One of the flaws in most commercial action movies: the characters are usually not very developed. They're just there to service the job. You'll have the movie star hero and then some bad guys that are there to be killed by the hero, and they're nameless, faceless people, and as a result, you're usually not afraid of them because you don't see them as somebody to pass the salt, and you don't see their kids. In this case, which is attributed to the screenwriters, they gave each character some type of story. That world-weariness of the character added to the movie because he's not black or white. It puts him in a grey area.
IH: Did you see this character as a hero or a villain?
BBT: Before we go any further, I'd like to clear something up. In a day and time when misquotes are used as poison darts on a regular basis, I never said Dwayne [Johnson]'s character is a hero in this movie. I said in most commercial action movies, there's a movie star hero with a bunch of nameless, faceless bad guys. I was speaking in general, not about this motion picture.
IH: How do you come to the set without preconceived notions about each other?
BBT: That's easy. I think actors are pigeonholed sometimes, and they're portrayed that way by other people. I don't think we think of each other that way as much. With Dwayne, I'd seen him do several movies already, and I was interested in him as a human being. We didn't know each other until shortly before the movie. We had mutual friends and we were always sending messages back and forth to each other saying we've got to do something together. I was aware of him as an actor, but more importantly, you can kind of tell; it's one of the reasons why I don't always audition people for movies when I'm directing. I'd rather sit and talk to them for a few minutes. If you look at a person that way instead of "that's the guy who played the Scorpion King but he also was the Tooth Fairy" and all that, I don't think of it that way. I just think of that guy and whatever their specific vibe is. You also try to stay enough in your own character where you're kind of surprised by people every day. In this case, not being around each other in the movie that much--we're not in that many scenes (together)--really worked for us because we weren't supposed to know each other.
IH: What do you think about dealing with the press? Do you enjoy it? How do you know how much to give away, and how do you how much to keep to yourself?
BBT: Wow! I actually think it's cool of you to ask that question because normally we don't get the opportunity to talk about that much. I'll put it this way: we're living in a time in the entertainment business when, if you have the opportunity to do something real...and that's one of the reasons that this particular movie, maybe in a different time, might be just considered an action movie. But this movie did not rely on computers and things like that. People are saying it was like a '70s movie. It kind of is. It does have a contemporary feel because of the editing and the sound design, but at the same time, it is a real movie. In other words, if we're chasing each other down the hallway, it's a hallway. I'm getting to your point. I know it sounds like I'm rambling. [Laughs] We've done something real here, and it is nice to be able to talk about it in this day and time because most movies are about vampires in 3D or fantasy movies and war eagles and all these kind of things, whatever they are. When you're an actual actor and you like to do real movies and you want to stay grounded, over the years, we do get to know a lot of you guys. We know each other! It's real nice to be able to do good work and work with guys like these and come in and talk to you guys about it. I haven't always been tightlipped, so as a result, I would get in a sticky situation every now and then. But right now, we rely on you guys when we actually do a good movie or a real movie, or at least we're trying to, whatever it is, to come in and be able to say, "Hey, good to see you," without getting stuck in the ass. I suppose there are guys who will not do a movie for three years and they won't talk to anybody and they pass you by, and they won't sign your kid's thing, and yet still you just love them. And then a guy like me who might say a few too many things...but I'm trying, and I will sign your kid's thing, and I will tell you everything about what I thought about that chick or whatever it is. And by "that chick" I mean any chick. When you do that, what I expect from you guys is, because I will be your friend and because I will talk to you--instead of the guy who won't talk to you--I expect to not get stuck in the ass. And for the most part, you guys have been really good to me. It is a nice thing to be able to talk and everything, and the way I look at it is this: when people say, "I don't like the press," and "I don't like the fans," and "I don't like this and that or the other," the fans are the people who allow my kids to go to school and to keep us going, and I can pay for the house. You guys are the people who get it out there to people so they even know what the hell is going on. So yes, we owe you guys, and in return, if we're going to be forthcoming and honest with you, you owe us to not just twist it in just because I said something bad about cats and you like cats, or whatever. All I'm saying, this is real easy. We're actually trying, so we'll be good to you, you be good to us, and that's what I feel about it.
IH: What was it like working with Carla Gugino? How much time did you guys have to build the relationship?
BBT: I didn't know Carla before the movie. She's such an easy person to work with. She blends into a scene so easily. I was very fortunate in that case, because Carla was cast not too long before we started the movie so we didn't have any time, really. I think Carla is one of those actors who sometimes is overlooked as a really terrific actor. Not that people don't respect her and think she's great, but sometimes, when somebody is really good in the part and they don't try to eat the walls off, they can be overlooked because they're so good, you don't notice it because you buy them in the part. I think Carla is one of those. She was terrific. Couldn't be a nicer person. People said, "What was hard about doing this movie?" and I'm trying to think about it, because there wasn't really anything hard to me about doing this movie, other than reminding myself that I was in this very intense, dark movie and why that character was, because everybody on this movie was so nice, I couldn't believe it. Dwayne is the nicest guy you'll ever run into. George Tillman--you don't see directors like this ever. At some point during a movie, always, you want to pull the director aside and say, "Listen! You didn't create this thing, you understand me? Those creeps over at that studio hired your old bones to come out here and resurrect your ass so, you know, whatever." And this guy, every day I'm like, "Would you yell at me or something?" And the writers are like, "Hey, you got any ideas?" And I'm like, "Am I in Disneyland?" So that was the hardest thing about it. When people like Carla and Dwayne and Moon Bloodgood, by the way, who played my wife, and Aedin [Mincks], the little kid, and Oliver [Jackson-Cohen]–just everybody--they were just fantastic. I know a lot of these people don't get mentioned sometimes, and I do have to say this one thing about the little boy that played my and Moon's son: he came up to me when we first got there, I didn't even know the kid yet, and he goes, "Hey! I loved you in Bad News Bears!" And I said, "Well, thank you." I'm getting used to that from kids, and you're always glad that it's Bad News Bears and not Bad Santa. But he walks up and he said one of the weirdest and funniest things I ever heard anybody say to me on the set, which was, "Hey, do you watch the Capital One commercials with those Vikings?" and I go, "Yeah, I do. I love those things, they're very funny." "You know the fat kid?" "Yeah." "That's me!" Just a little anecdote.
IH: I thought your scenes with the family were great and really did expand that character more than just having the action scenes. How important were those family scenes for you?
BBT: First of all, once again, the writers actually thought to put something like that in there to give us other aspects of the guy's life. That was really important to George. That was a big thing for him to get those scenes right. Thing is, there wasn't much of it, but what there was there, he got the most out of it. If you get a good kid, it's always kind of amusing and sweet. It was easy just to lay there and talk to the kid about baseball, and you look at him and you can imagine he's probably not very good, so it was pretty easy to feel something for the kid is all I'm saying. And George really wanted to make sure that, even though there's a brief thing there–I mean, we had a lot of discussions about how to be around the kid and everything–and of course as usual, from the top brasses: "You can't smoke around the kid!" But I can do heroin around the kid? His mother can puke in the bathtub? But yeah, we went through a lot of stuff with the kid.
IH: You used the term "real." You never know what kind of world you're releasing a film into because it takes a while to put together, but considering the recent Ronni Chasen shooting, and hearing other audience members' gleeful reactions to the shootings depicted in this film makes me wonder about the responsibility of films to also depict the consequences of violence...
BBT: In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we're living in a time when we're making, in my humble opinion, the worst movies in history because they're geared toward the video game-playing generation. In these video games, which I'm on my son about constantly, are people killing for fun. I think traditionally, in movies, there's always been some kind of lesson in the violent movies. Even Peckinpah's movies–inadvertently, Sam Peckinpah created this movie and a lot of other movies with slow motion blood and things like that, which we don't really have in this–those things, at their core, were morality tales. This movie doesn't say, "Oh, here's this fun guy and we're going to do this tongue-in-cheek character right out of a video game who likes to destroy things and you can laugh about it." This movie actually shows what prisons create, what murder creates. It shows this perpetual violent string of events. This thing creates that, which creates that, where does it all end? My guy trying to start over, but at the same time, I still gotta get this one last mess over with. This really is about something, because I totally agree with you. If you're just showing a movie that has violence for violence's sake, I don't believe in that either. But also, we are in a time when we can have the most violent things you've ever seen, and they're hugely popular and everything, and at the same time, the very people going to see these movies are somehow so hyper-moral and all this kind of thing. It seems like they're butting their heads or there's some hypocrisy going on. I believe that, in this case, nobody here ever intended to just go do a violent movie because it's fun. These are dark characters who are in trouble, and sorry you had to see it right after all that, because that was someone I knew also, and it's really not a good thing.
IH: How old is your son?
BBT: [Deadpan] Fifty-two. The one with the video games is 17. He's not so bad about it, but every now and then, I'll see one that's kind of like, "What's this?" and then I find out it's something that some company I worked for in a movie sent him.
IH: Does your daughter play video games?
BBT: Yeah, but they're little kiddie games.