Billy Bob Thornton is in a Texas state of mind these days. Not only is he starring as Davy Crockett in The Alamo, but the Oscar winner also is teaming up with Tim McGraw for a benefit concert in San Antonio – and he has the flag of the Lone Star state tattooed on his back. Thornton, 48, recently spoke to reporters about playing Texas hero Crockett, staying on good terms with ex-wife Angelina Jolie and getting his kicks from playing music.
Did you grow up wanting to be at the Alamo?
Yeah, I think everybody did – in my neighborhood, anyway. It was one of the main games we played, and Davy Crockett was sort of more of a cartoon character. The character has always been portrayed that way – you know, this larger than life bear hunter who wore a coonskin hat.
But I always wanted to be Davy Crockett, I used to argue with my brother over it. He always wanted to be Davy Crockett, so finally I let him be Daniel Boone, and he was satisfied.
And you got a tattoo for this movie?
Oh, yeah. Pretty close to the end of filming, I went down to a tattoo parlor in Austin. And you know, I got a bunch of tattoos already. It’s not like I need another one, but I felt it would be nice to have a Texas flag on my back that says “Remember the Alamo.”
You often get pinned as a bad boy. How do you differ from your reputation?
Well, sometimes I’m not as weird as people would like me to be. You know, I’m a little more normal than they say. So every now and then you have to throw people a bone, you know? Okay, I ate a cat.
Do you ever feel like setting the record straight about stuff that’s written about you?
Well, first of all, I actually have never set the record straight. If I set the record straight I’d be talking about people and I won’t do that. I’ve never said anything but good things about any relationship I’ve had, and frankly, that’s all I remember about them.
And you know, I have the utmost respect for my ex-wife. (Angelina) is a very sweet person, and I just talked to her yesterday. She’s a wonderful person, a really talented person, and one of my best friends in the world. And that’s the reason I have no problem talking about it, because there’s nothing, really, that’s dirt.
What about when people say that you cheated on her?
I didn’t cheat. She knows that.
Back to The Alamo. Were the battle scenes tough?
Yeah, the battle scenes were very tricky. One thing that people don’t understand, they think when you’re doing a movie everything is safe. Well it’s not. I probably been injured in movies more than anyone else, and I was an athlete growing up. I have five broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a cracked pelvis and several concussions from movies. People always ask me if I ever do my own stunts, and I say, “Not on purpose.”
You also play the fiddle in the movie. Was that easy to learn?
No, I want to tell you something. One of the hardest things about doing this character for me, playing the fiddle. I play guitar, and I figure, Well, I’m a musician, I can do this. I wanted to kill my fiddle teacher. And he was a great teacher, but sometimes I would just give up on it. I ended up learning the songs I played, but it wasn’t easy. Anybody who plays the violin? Hats off to you, my friends. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to play in my life.
Speaking of your music, what do you get from singing that you don’t get from acting?
Well, I’ve been doing it for a long time. And you know, it’s really hard to do it, because for some reason there’s this random notion that if you’re an actor, they always say you’re trying to be a musician. Well I was that my whole life, and most guys who do it are. There are plenty of musicians who are horrible who have never been actors. And there are plenty of actors who are horrible who have never been musicians. I don’t think that one thing means anything to the other.
I want to keep doing both. And I don’t see anything wrong with Russell Crowe playing music, frankly. I don’t see anything wrong with it at all. I don’t see anything wrong with Kevin Bacon doing it, either. But I can name you a bunch of bands that suck.