Bob Thornton doesn’t need anyone to tell him what scripts
and how to direct his career. His two new films don’t seem
to have anything in common. “Bad Santa,” coming out
Nov. 26, is a raunchy Christmas comedy. “The Alamo,”
originally scheduled for Christmas but now due out in April, is
a historical epic. The films have nothing in common except that
controversy and rumors surround both of them.
Bob Thornton's role in "Bad Santa" is but one of many
strange, disturbed people whom he has portrayed.
try to play a different part in every movie—that’s sort
of my bag,” Thornton said. “I’m one of the few
people who actually became a movie star by playing characters. I’d
say that my biggest achievement is my body of work [rather than
a specific film.]”
“Bad Santa” is one of Thornton’s broadest comedies,
but his character is almost a tragic figure, leaving him to pull
off an interesting dramatic feat. “I thought it was wonderfully
written,” he said. “I laughed in every page. And I hadn’t
played a character like that before. I also wanted to play a character
where I didn’t have to hold back whatsoever in any way.”
Rumors have been circulating about both of Thornton’s upcoming
films. Some question whether “The Alamo” is historically
accurate (Thornton says it is and that people from Texas will be
“pretty darn pleased”) and theorize that this problem
influenced the delay. The controversy around “Bad Santa”
is whether the R-rated story of Thornton’s alcoholic, criminal
store Santa is appropriate.
“I don’t understand controversy with movies. We’re
not in the dark ages. I just wish they’d all shut the fuck
up,” Thornton said.
Speaking from his Los Angeles home on Tuesday, Thornton had just
heard about a story alleging that executives at Disney, the parent
company of Miramax/Dimension Films, which produced “Bad Santa,”
were upset with the content of the film. Thornton was skeptical.
“I can’t imagine that they said that,” he said.
“They read the script and knew what this movie was. It’s
not like it was a surprise or anything. People like to say things.
They like to stir up controversy about everything. There’ll
be controversy about ‘The Alamo,’ and there should be
controversy about this. Any time that people think that they can
get something going, they will.”
Despite the allegations of offense, Thornton believes that people
in the age group for which the film is intended will enjoy it. “I
don’t consider it a family film in terms of taking your 7-year-old
to it, but I think that anyone 16 and older—or 17, whatever
it takes to get into an R-rated film—I think it’s for
any of them. At all the test screenings, people from 17 to 75 are
laughing their butts off.”
Terry Zwigoff, whose last two films were the documentary “Crumb”
and his satirical comic book adaptation “Ghost World,”
directed the “Bad Santa” with an approach that worked
well with Thornton’s method.
“One of the great things about working with Terry was that
he likes actors to just do their thing and be natural,” he
said, “and I think that probably comes from doing documentaries
since he’s dealing with real people…He doesn’t
come ask you to do goofy things as an actor…I loved working
with Terry for that reason.” Thornton compared Zwigoff to
Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers (the latter were executive producers
on “Bad Santa”).
Part of the film’s charm is its misanthropic approach to Christmas.
It remains true to its attitude even as the character changes. Thornton
said that an effort was made to avoid cheap sentimentality:
“If the movie had become too sentimental in the end, it wouldn’t
have worked. Since it was a sentimental ending in a way…we
had to keep the same tone. So even if the scene was sentimental,
we still had to act like the character.”
Thornton compared this situation to his work in “Sling Blade”
and “The Man Who Wasn’t There”: “In both
of those movies, if there had been a scene where I’d broken
down and cried, actually, then it would just break the whole tension
of the character. In [“Bad Santa,”] that’s the
one thing Terry Zwigoff and I really concentrated on—making
sure that the tone of this character was the same throughout.”
“Bad Santa” also marks the last film performance by
Thornton’s recently deceased friend John Ritter, who starred
with him in the sitcom “Hearts Afire” in the early ’90s
and appeared in Thornton’s directorial debut “Sling
Blade,” which won Thornton an Academy Award for his screenplay.
“We were really close friends, almost like brothers, over
the years,” he said. “When I heard that he was going
to be in the movie, I was thrilled. Although we only had a couple
of scenes together, it was like the old days. Even though I saw
him all the time socially, it was amazing to work with him again.
He cracks me up, he always did. He actually played a character in
the movie he used to play for me all the time called Chuck Hurly—a
guy who was always on the verge of vomiting. That’s who he
based the character on.”
Thornton describes himself as very sentimental about Christmas who
believed in Santa a little too long. “I was one of those kids
who just was in total denial. When I started hearing rumblings at
school, I ignored it for a couple of years. Finally I broke down
and asked my mother,” he said. These feelings make Thornton
comfortable with the Christmas movie formula.
“You have someone who somehow gets lost along the way and
finds himself in the end…And also the idea of not believing
in Santa and then realizing, well, there really is a Santa or there
really is a spirit of Christmas, even if it’s not what we
think it is…I don’t mind if every [Christmas] movie’s
like that from now on,” he said.
Looking to his next release, Thornton agrees with the decision to
delay the release date of “The Alamo,” in which Thornton
plays Davy Crockett, to give director John Lee Hancock more time
in the editing room. “I think it’s one of the best decisions
that Disney’s ever made, he said. “[The filmmakers]
didn’t have time to get the cut by Christmas and it didn’t
finish shooting until the end of June. I wouldn’t even try
to put an independent film out that quickly [let alone try] to do
an epic film in that short a period of time. Finally they realized
that it’s not worth it just to cram it out there for awards
season—let’s give the guy time to cut his movie.”
While waiting for “The Alamo,” Thornton hopes people
will get a little something out of the completely different “Bad
Santa.” “I wish they would just have the shit entertained
out of them,” he said.