Billy Bob Thornton couldn’t have dreamed of a better reception for his feature length directorial debut, “Sling Blade.” The critically acclaimed film marked the arrival of a writer/director with a unique voice, and his feature, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s “All The Pretty Horses” nearly destroyed him. Battling with Miramax/the Weinsteins, Thornton saw his version of the movie cut to ribbons. “They saw the cast, the director, Billy Bob Thornton, and the fact that we spent $50 million, and they never released our movie—though the cut still exists,” Matt Damon said a couple years back. “Billy had a heart problem at that time, and it was because his heart fucking broke from fighting for that film. It really fucked him up. It still bothers me to this day.” And it would seem Thornton is done banging his head against the wall in Hollywood trying to make his more literary leaning films.
Doing the rounds for FX‘s “Fargo,” Thornton recently chatted with Reuters and was candid about the fact that there simply isn’t space for his kind of movies anymore. “All of a sudden, the higher-budget independent films, or the mid-level budget studio movies – the $20-25 million studio movies – and that’s where I lived … there was no place for me,” he said, explaining his transition to the TV series.
“I’m influenced as a writer by Southern novelists. That’s the kind of movies I do as a writer-director…So my career as a writer-director is probably over,” Thornton continued. “And so I started thinking, ‘What do you do?’ All that stuff’s gone, and then when I started studying television and getting into it, I realized, ‘OK, that’s where it went.’ “
It’s disheartening, but Thornton already suggested as much last year in our interview with him for his last directorial effort “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” “I don’t really make movies that are what’s popular now. There’s too much talking in them, or they’re too long; ten years ago no one said that,” he lamented.
The actor/writer/director believes the era of sitting back in a dark room and watching a lavish, epic drama unfold in the cinema is now gone. “You know, you can’t make a three-and-a-half hour movie. That attention span is gone for theaters,” he said to Reuters. “So what about making ‘Gone with the Wind‘ kind of movies that have intermissions and put them on television? That way, a guy like me, who always gets his ass handed to him by the critics for having a movie that’s too slow and too long…won’t be too slow and too long for television. Pee anytime you want. Make a cheeseburger, anything you want to do.”
One wonders if some of Thornton’s cynicism comes from the middling reception to his aforementioned last film, a very Southern story that got a limited release and then essentially vanished from theaters. It would be too bad if Thornton packed it all in as a writer/director, but hopefully he realizes that TV could be the format against which to tell a sprawling story, with the kind of budgets he’s not getting from the major studios.