We look at the actor's recent success with ''Sling Blade'' and upcoming projects such as ''Primary Colors''
Billy Bob Thornton may have lost the Best Actor Oscar to Geoffrey Rush, but there’s no question who’s shining these days. The Sling Blade writer-director is suddenly Tinseltown’s new It Bob. ”I don’t know that there’s Billy Bob mania,” says his agent, Todd Harris, ”but he’s getting offered some very high-profile roles.” (For one thing, the actor will star in the upcoming thriller A Simple Plan.)
Certainly Blade‘s success has led Thornton to some substantial projects. He has landed roles in the upcoming movies The Winner, Primary Colors, and Oliver Stone‘s U-Turn. However, Thornton is using his flavor-of-the-moment status to indulge himself with a series of frothier post-award gigs as well.
Later this month, Thornton will direct a video for the neo-hippie rock band Widespread Panic, shooting the clip for their single ”Aunt Avis.” ”We’ve known him for a long time,” says the band’s frontman, John Bell. ”We’ve been screaming for years, ‘We’ve got to get Billy Bob to do a video.”’ Thornton will also make a few well-placed cameos: one this summer in the industry-insider flick An Alan Smithee Film, and one in that April 30 episode of Ellen in which something or other happens. Explains Mark Driscoll, one of the show’s executive producers: ”[Ellen] was doing the Sling Blade impression on the show, and she said, ‘Well, I want to do it right.’ And suddenly he was there doing it for her.”
By summer’s end, however, Thornton will head back to auteur-land. That’s when he’ll finish writing and begin shooting the second film in his three-picture Miramax deal. (Sling Blade was the first.) Although details have yet to be released, it is not, as has been widely reported, East End, the story of a white musician in an all-black ’70s band.
So how does one explain the appeal of this goateed country boy? ”Billy Bob does the human experience without going to the moon or on a spaceship journey,” offers Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein. ”He’s a working-class man with a working-class mentality.” Then again, Widespread Panic’s Bell sums it up best: ”He’s a good fella.”
—With additional reporting by Chris Nutter