Some may think Billy Bob Thornton’s book, "The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts," would be full of juicy details about his marriage to Angelina Jolie, but that's simply not the case. In the memoir, Thornton writes about his fifth wife briefly and only in the nicest way. In fact, Jolie penned a charming and clearly heartfelt introduction to the book.
Instead, "A Cave Full of Ghosts" is filled with fascinating stories from Thornton about growing up in the South, his years of struggle in Hollywood and the backstory behind "Sling Blade." The book reads as if the 56-year-old actor is sharing some wonderful tales with a few friends.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I had an incident in Canada where a guy was a real ass to me and really disrespected my bandmates. (Thornton is a member of The Boxmasters.) Everyone said I was on drugs. I didn’t know it was being videoed. They introduced us in a way that they had been asked several times not to do. I’ll talk about movies and Academy Awards, but please introduce my band. Don’t make this [look] like they’re my lackeys. That’s all we ask of you. They promised us three times in a row and he looked me right in the eye and introduced us in a defiant manner that pisses off guys like me and I just decided, not only am I not going to co-operate, I’m going to answer the questions with other answers.
Then this guy writes on the Internet that I should appreciate what I have and I shouldn’t be such an asshole and I thought, first of all, what does this guy know [about] what I have? He has no idea what I have and how I got it, so yeah, I’ll write a book.
Essentially, I starved to death most of my life and when I came to California, I beat my brain out for a decade before I could make a decent living. Now there are people who skateboard into a pile of cantaloupes and become famous. I didn’t do it in a minute and a half. I did it in years and years, so if people are going to say things, that gives me reason enough to write a book, just so you know, here’s how it happened.
Billy Wilder encouraged you when you were struggling.
I was working as a waiter and got offered to work a private party. I didn’t know it was Billy Wilder. He was just very, very nice to me, treated me like a human instead of the guy passing the hors d’oeuvres. He talked to me about writing being the foundation of everything. He said if I’m a writer I should concentrate on that because everyone is an actor out here. People can become successful for acting when they can’t do it for shit, but usually with writers it’s different and they really need writers, so that really stuck with me. I was already doing that but it reinforced the initial idea that maybe I should create my own thing instead of following the crowd and trying to get a hamburger commercial.
You write about your phobias. My favorite is that you’re creeped out by former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It’s so obscure!
It happened when I was broke. I walked in the snow to get a TV dinner. I was living in a house with no heat, but the cable hadn’t been turned off. I have this really weird thing with food; I can’t eat around creepy shit. You know, castles with mildewed halls and the big old drapery and the silverware. I don’t want to use a garden implement as a fork, and I saw this movie about Disraeli and he just had this big weird face and this wispy hair. It made me not want to eat and it was at a time when I desperately needed to eat.
You also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which sounds rough to deal with.
It is hard to deal with; it’s exhausting. I spend a lot of energy on it, but I’m not big on medication. I eat really healthy and don’t take medication. I just learn to live with the stuff I have. Reading is painful for me; it always has been.
I think it was genius to have your ex-wife Angelina Jolie write an introduction for your book. It immediately answers all those questions about if you two get along.
She’s a wonderful person. We’re great friends. There was never any bad blood. That was something people made up. She and I laugh about it.
But you write that you didn’t think you were good enough for her.
She’s in a different class than I am. I think I’m a guy who has a talent for certain things. I’m thankful that I’ve been successful with it, but she’s a true star. She’s a real magical person. I think she’s part of providence, part of what makes the world go around. I’m just sort of a guy who scratched and clawed and made some opportunities to work. I had no business probably ever thinking that I should be with someone like that. It’s like the janitor marrying Audrey Hepburn.
You also write that the rumor that you wore vials of each other’s blood was completely false. It was just a smudge of blood on a locket, which sounds sort of romantic to me.
That’s exactly what it was. It was never more than that, but by the time the press got a hold of it, it became a goat’s bladder full of blood. You say something like, "I spent most of my time in the dungeon" meaning the recording studio and next thing is we have a dungeon; we tie each other up and drink each other’s blood. It’s all ridiculous.
You’re not a big fan of the Internet.
I was always a critic’s darling till the Internet came along and that’s when every fucking mouth-breathing idiot on earth was able to have their own blog and talk about who they don’t like. If you’re just somebody with a computer and suddenly your voice matters, then how much does that water our society down? That’s the people I’ve had the most problems from -- the guy down in his basement who jerks off to pictures of Cameron Diaz.
I’m always amazed and horrified by people’s comments. Some of them are so nasty! I’ve always thought if they met that celebrity, they’d be gushing.
I see people in the street every day, or the days I can get out of the house, who come up to me and gush and I promise you some of them are the people saying nasty stuff about me.
It’s weird, right?
Very strange. I don’t understand why people think it’s good and funny to be cynical. I’ve never understood it and I never will.
It must be hurtful.
Absolutely. Everyone’s a kid inside. The fact of the matter is, aside from the shitty jobs I did growing up, we don’t get paid as much as people think. You get paid if you do "The Avengers" and that’s not what I do. Three or four times in my career I got paid a lot of money. That’s it. I was never one of those actors who made $20 million a movie, never have been and certainly not now. Now if you’re going to be in a real movie, you’re going to have to do it for scale.
Do you suffer from agoraphobia?
I don’t know. I’ve been driven inside by these things we’re talking about. So I don’t know if it’s by nature or chemical. I think it’s been coming for a long time and it’s just added up until, finally, it’s hard for me to go out there because I’ve become afraid of people in a way.
How many times have you been married?
Four and a half.
What’s a half?!
One of them was an annulment. I was always a romantic. I had two sides to me. I wanted to live a rock 'n' roll lifestyle, and at the same time, I wanted to have a family and I wanted to be with one person. I would fall in love with people. I had both sides to me and then no matter who you fall in love with, you find out there’s another part of you that’s like a lion stalking around the territory.