Billy Bob Thornton Biography

Actor, Film Actor, Director (1955–)
Billy Bob Thornton is an American actor and director known for roles in such films as 'Sling Blade,' 'Monster's Ball' and 'Our Brand Is Crisis.'


Born in 1955 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Billy Bob Thornton eventually moved to Los Angeles, determined to make his living as an actor. In 1996 his career took off when he wrote, starred in and directed Sling Blade, which was awarded an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Also earning an acting Oscar nod for his role in A Simple Plan, he later directed All the Pretty Horses and has co-starred in numerous films, including Monster's Ball, Bandits and Bad News Bears, as well as the TV series Fargo.


Early Career

Billy Bob Thornton was born on August 4, 1955, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Brought up in suburban Arkansas, he moved to Los Angeles, California, determined to make his living as an actor. Initially surviving by working odd jobs and writing scripts, Thornton made his film debut in the wilderness thriller Hunter's Blood (1987). That same year he was cast in the television movie The Man Who Broke a 1,000 Chains alongside Sonia Braga, Val Kilmer and Kyra Sedgwick.

On the movie's production set, Thornton first began developing the character of Karl Childers, a hulking, slow-witted, but well-intentioned man in the tradition of John Steinbeck's Lennie from the classic Of Mice and Men. He played Karl Childers on stage in the form of a dramatic monologue, and in 1993, he used the character in a short film entitled Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, directed by George Hickenlooper.

Screenwriting Oscar

Meanwhile, Thornton honed his screenwriting abilities, co-writing and appearing in 1991's One False Move, a crime thriller. In 1996, after appearing in small roles in a number of successful films, he agreed to direct, write and star in a feature-length version of Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade. The subsequent film, Sling Blade, was an independent hit and earned Thornton an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

His acting performance in the film was nearly as acclaimed as the screenplay, which opened him up to major Hollywood roles, including Oliver Stone's U-Turn (1997) and the sci-fi blockbuster Armageddon (1998). Also in 1998, he gave a compelling performance in Primary Colors as Richard Jemmons, a character based on lively Bill Clinton adviser James Carville. In 1999, Thornton received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Jacob Mitchell, the tragic foil in Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan. The following year, he directed Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz in a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel All the Pretty Horses.

Other Notable Roles

Thornton starred in a string of movies in 2001, including the comedy Bandits, co-starring Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett; the offbeat The Man Who Wasn't There, made by filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen and co-starring Frances McDormand and James Gandolfini; and the dark drama Monster's Ball, co-starring Halle Berry, with Thornton playing a hate-filled prison guard who ventures down a more humane path. The latter two films earned Thornton twin Golden Globe nods, for best actor in a comedy and best actor in a drama, respectively. 

Continuing his high-profile work, Thornton headlined the 2003 comedy Bad Santa, and the following year he played Davy Crockett opposite Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston in the big-budget feature The Alamo. He also starred in the 2005 remake of Bad News Bears, drawing favorable reviews amid the film's otherwise mixed reception.

Musical Inclinations

Along with his acting, Thornton has pursued his interests in music. In 2001, he released a country-themed album, Private Radio, and began an American tour. Six years later, he was a founding member of the Boxmasters, a roots-rock band that has released several albums.

While in Canada on tour with the Boxmasters in 2009, Thornton attracted some attention for an interview he did with a television journalist there. He became belligerent after the interviewer made reference to his acting career and refused to answer some questions. Soon after the incident, his band canceled the rest of their Canadian tour.

Recent Projects

Thornton took his tremendous acting skills to the small screen in 2014. He landed a leading role in the television series Fargo, based on the 1996 Coen brothers film of the same title. Thornton plays a sinister drifter who stirs up all sorts of trouble in a small Minnesotan town. He received an Emmy Award nomination and won a Golden Globe for his work on the series. Back on the big screen, Thornton appeared in the 2014 legal drama The Judge with Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall and Vera Farmiga

The following year, Thornton was featured in two big-screen comedies: Entourage, based on the TV series, and the political venture Our Brand Is Crisis (2015), co-starring Sandra Bullock. He also landed a role in London Fields, a thriller based on a novel by Martin Amis and had a recurring role on the television show Goliath in 2016, for which he won a Golden Globe. That same year, he also finished up filming the sequel to Bad Santa.

Personal Life

Thornton is known for his many marriages. After breaking off his engagement with actress Laura Dern, in May 2000 he married fellow Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, his onscreen wife in 1999's Pushing Tin. It was the fifth marriage for Thornton, who was sued for spousal abuse by his fourth wife, Pietra Cherniak, in 1997. After divorcing Jolie in 2003, Thornton began a long-term relationship with special effects artist Connie Angland. They were secretly married in October 2014.

Thornton has four children. His oldest is daughter Amanda from his first marriage to Melissa Gatlin. He has two sons, William and Harry, with Cherniak. In 2004, Thornton and Angland welcomed a daughter named Bella.

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