It takes an almost superhuman level of crazy/weird to make people compare you to [movieperson id="166907"]Joaquin Phoenix[/movieperson] these days. But, in just 13 short minutes, actor [movieperson id="62326"]Billy Bob Thornton[/movieperson] has instantly made Phoenix’s now-infamous bizarre “Late Show With David Letterman” appearance seem like child’s play.
The Oscar-winning actor, appearing with his band the Boxmasters on Wednesday morning on a radio interview show on Canada’s CBC Radio, seemed to take offense when the interviewer referred to him at the top of the segment as “Oscar-winning screenwriter/actor/director” and Boxmasters bandleader/songwriter/drummer.
And things pretty much went downhill from there over the course of a nearly 15-minute interview that is painfully funny to watch and has drawn similar questions to the Phoenix interview as to whether Thornton was putting on an act to get some attention. (We put Thornton and Phoenix’s antics side by side, in the Newsroom blog.)
For instance, when host Jian Ghomeshi asks the seemingly innocuous question, “Billy Bob, you guys formed only in the last couple of years, right?” Thornton smirked and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The host, a bit taken aback, responded, “How so?” to which Thornton offered, “I don’t know what you mean by that.”
Thrown off by the stonewalling, Ghomeshi tried one more time, clarifying, “When did the band form?” Again, Thornton, 53, who has acted in more than 40 movies and written six screenplays, stonewalled, saying, “I’m not sure what that means.” Eventually, the band’s guitarist, J.D. Andrew, answered the question and went on to talk about how exciting it is for their throwback rockabilly band to be touring as the opening act for country legend Willie Nelson. Perhaps feeling this might be an acceptable line of questioning, Ghomeshi asked, “What do you learn from Willie Nelson, Billy Bob?”
“I’ve never met him,” Thornton said, causing Ghomeshi to chuckle a bit, perhaps sensing that he was being put on. “Are you being ironic, or are you being serious?” he asked.
“I don’t really know him … I said hello to him once. He’s a nice guy.”
At one point, after being questioned about his musical influences, the “Sling Blade” star — who spent much of the interview silently staring at the host while his bandmates did the heavy lifting — said, “I loved baseball when I was a kid,” and then made a reference to the obscure movie magazine Monsters in Filmland and a monster-making contest he remembered as a child. “Where’s the music fit into that?,” Ghomeshi stuttered, trying to wrap his head around the left-field answer. “Music? No, it was a monster magazine,” a sincere-looking Thornton replied.
Trying to reel him back in, Ghomeshi said, “Given that you seem to be quite passionate about music …” to which Thornton snapped, “Would you say that to Tom Petty … would you explain why it’s not a hobby?”
Ghomeshi, clearly realizing that he’d offended Thornton with his passing reference to the actor’s Oscar-winning career, was then scolded, “You were instructed not to talk about sh– like that.” An obviously flustered Ghomeshi replied, “I wasn’t instructed … you guys are here as a band, I wasn’t instructed … because I mentioned that you were an actor?” Thornton reiterated that Ghomeshi was, in fact, instructed not to mention his 20-plus-year career on the silver screen. “That’s just giving context, right? … I’m happy to interview you guys as a band, but for the listeners, we’re giving context of who you are. That’s part of your trajectory, isn’t it?”
“No, not really,” Thornton said. Things got increasingly tense as Ghomeshi — who, it should be noted, really kept his cool during the tense exchanges — tried to draw Thornton out and the actor grudgingly agreed to talk about his music, while casually throwing in a dis about how “reserved” Canadian audiences are.
The actor’s publicist, Arnold Robinson, told CNN that the interview did not, as has been suggested, represent a public breakdown by his client. Robinson said Thornton “simply elected not to engage with the interviewer because of the direction of the interview from the outset,” apparently taking the reference to his movie as an insult to his musical efforts.