As Thornton, 61, was approaching the stage to give his acceptance speech, he awkwardly passed by Dern, 49, who appeared to avoid eye contact from the actor.
Fans were reminded of their former relationship as many took to Twitter to comment on the almost run-in. “Never in my life have I witnessed something as awkward as Laura Dern dodging the same oxygen space as Billy Bob,” one viewer tweeted.
The pair, who dated from 1997 to 1999, have a fraught history as he abruptly ended their engagement to marry Angelina Jolie, just months after.
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In 1997, Dern was featured in Widespread Panic’s music video for their song “Aunt Avis,” which was directed by Thornton, her then-boyfriend and fiancé-to-be. And in the 1999, she was cast as Thornton’s love interest in his film Daddy and Them.
“I left our home to go and make a movie and while I was away, my boyfriend got married and I never heard from him again,” Dern described her split from Thornton to Talk magazine.
“It’s like a sudden death. For no one has there been any closure or clarity,” she recalled.
During their romance, Dern and Thornton also shared a household. “I’m now happily involved with someone who’s my best friend,” Thornton said of Dern in an October 1999 interview. “We have a dog and a yard.”
Dern attended the 2017 Globes ceremony as a presenter.