“Directing this film was a very special thing for me,” Billy Bob Thornton said today in Berlin of his new film “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” his first directorial effort in over a decade. “The reason it came about was that I was complaining a lot about the state of movies in America. Most of the movies that are easy to get financed are movies about models in gladiator uniforms and wacky comedies with kids who get caught with sheep in hotel rooms. So instead of complaining I decided to just write one and direct it.”
The result is a film set in 1969 that follows two different families — one American and one British — who clash when they are brought together by the death of a mutual friend. Starring Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon and Frances O’Connor, the film premiered in competition at Berlin.
“It’s a story that I’ve had in my head for a long time,” Thornton said. “I think I’m a better director when I’m doing my own material. My last experience was on ‘All The Pretty Horses,’ which was someone else’s movie that I was hired to direct. I didn’t have quite much as control over what happened to it. In this case, I was able to cast who I wanted and cut the film the way I wanted.”
Thornton said that Berlin was the only festival they wanted to premiere at, and that he purposely didn’t apply to Sundance.
“The reason we wanted to come to Berlin with the movie is that this is known as a very serious film festival where the quality of the movies is paramount,” he explained. “It’s the only one that we tried to get into and that’s what we discussed. We were so honored to be accepted here. So in a lot of ways — no matter what happens — when we sit back and look at the movie and know that we made the movie we envisioned and that we got into this festival, we already are winners. We’re already happy to be here.”
As for whether this experience will get him back in the director’s chair on a more regular basis, Thornton is hopeful — if it’s the right situation.
“I think I will direct some more now,” he said. “As long as I can work with people that are financing movies independently and where they understand a clear vision is the most important thing about a movie. Not how many movie stars you have in, and things like that.”
Thornton said that one of the things that’s wrong with movies today is that they try to “squeeze people into roles that don’t belong there simply because of their popularity.”
“In our case, we have popular actors in the movie but they are also known as actors and not celebrities,” he said. “So that’s the way I prefer to do it. And if I can keep making movies like that, I will continue to do it. But I probably won’t direct the next ‘Star Trek’ movie or something like that.”
As one might expected, the question of Thornton’s famous ex-wife came up at the press conference. Here for her own directorial effort “In The Land of Blood and Honey,” a journalist rather bravely asked Thornton whether he’d be hanging out with Angelina Jolie while he was in Berlin.
“Here’s the fact of the matter,” Thornton said in response. “Anytime you are in a high profile relationship you know that this question is going to come up forever. If you want the honest to God truth, here it is: Angelina is a wonderful woman and one of my best friends in the world. We talk on a regular basis. When people split up, people like to make up stories about how much they are against each other. This was never true. Never will be. I’ll love her until the end of my life and she’ll love me. As friends. Brad is a friend of mine, and I love them both. I love their children, and they love mine. And in terms of meeting here her, she’s been very busy and so have I. But we were both excited when we heard we’d both be here. We haven’t seen each other so far, but I’m sure we will this afternoon.”