It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Billy Bob Thornton is a more than adequate writer, he did pen scripts for Sling Blade and the underrated psychological mystery The Gift. He’s also an accomplished songwriter, with four albums under his belt.
His new book of recorded conversation, The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts (released May 15) features an introduction by none other than his former wife of two years, Angelina Jolie. So they’re on good terms? Who knew they were on any terms at all?
The book begins with Thornton’s childhood in Arkansas. On Jolie, he talks about her being too good for him and tells the Huffington Post that it was “like the janitor marrying Audrey Hepburn.”
Here’s what she says about him, in A Cave Full Of Ghosts…
Where to begin? I first heard from shared friends that there was this man who was “like the hillbilly Orson Welles.” I couldn’t imagine how that description would manifest itself. Then I saw Sling Blade.
I sat alone in a theater full of strangers equally engrossed in the film. Every nuance. Every facial gesture. The sound of the chair as it’s dragged along the floor. The characters. Each one completely original and yet it’s as if you knew them intimately. You watch as the filmmaker helps you to understand a place in time and people who he knows so well. You are getting to know him. His mind. His humanity.
Through the years I’ve known Billy I’ve learned that not only was he interesting, as truly original, as had been told to me, but that he was also so much more. I smile as I write this, as my instinct is to say, simply, he is not a “normal person.” But he isn’t. I have known him now for more than a decade and I still haven’t quite figured him out. Not that I want to. The puzzle is so much fun.
But I know this-
He has an unmatchable wit and can make you laugh until your face hurts. He has insomnia; he uses it to work obsessively on music until the sun comes up. My favorite recordings are when he tells a story. I like his raw voice with only hints of sounds that illustrate the feeling behind the story. He knows what I mean. “The sound of rain hitting the tin roof…”
He had a talking bird he trained by forcing it to listen to hours of Captain Beefheart. She liked to swear.
He’s a bit agoraphobic, and it’s really a miracle that he gets out of the house to make films. If he could shoot them in his basement he would.
I threw a surprise party once, ignoring the fact that he hates crowds and being social. When they said “Surprise,” it was as if he had been stabbed in the gut. He went pale and had to hide in the kitchen.
He did eventually come out.
Billy’s mother is psychic, and he worries he, too, has the gift. He can’t tell the difference between a dream, a thought, and a dangerous premonition. It’s why he has to correct it in his mind. He has to put things back into alignment. To be with him is like being with a mad mathematician. He is constantly counting and repeating.
To him, I am the number four. May sound strange, but it means a lot to me.
We often joke about how much I loved Ed Crane, the character from The Man Who Wasn’t There. He was beautiful in that. But I also knew things that others didn’t notice. I remember there was a courtroom scene, and when the judge would bang the gavel, Billy would squirm. The thing is, it wasn’t because of the scene, it was Billy trying to work out his OCD and the judge kept hitting the gavel a different number of times. Sometimes a good number. Sometimes not. And Billy was squirming trying to will him to hit it again.
He watches old sixties TV shows to remember better, simpler times when he feels down. If he’s not watching that, he’s following baseball.
One of my favorite things is to watch Billy play an entire game of baseball with himself on the tennis court. Only himself. Not easy to do. He throws the ball, calls out the action moment to moment. He catches the ball. Scolds or congratulates his teammates. It’s fascinating. Some who don’t know him well might call it crazy if they watched it for hours on end. But then, you don’t know Billy.
Billy still writes all his songs and film scripts on yellow legal pads. He scribbles on them and often draws pictures of ugly characters doing something ironic. I remember one morning waking up and he had been up all night filling one of those yellow pads with a story. Just one night and it was done. Perfectly done. And then, being Billy, he put it away and didn’t write again for years.
I keep trying to convince him to go spend time on a porch in the South and write the Great American Novel. I know it’s in him. I hope we get to read it one day. Maybe he’s already written it, on one of those yellow pads. And he’s put it away somewhere. Somewhere that may never be seen. I wouldn’t put it past him.
Most of all, he would die for his family. He has a big beautiful heart.
Some people walk through life able to quiet the voices in their heads. He can’t. And I, and everyone else who knows him well, we love him for it. I know one thing: the world would certainly be a hell of a lot more dull if that man weren’t in it.