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Five questions with ... Billy Bob Thornton

Posted 8:05am on Sunday, Jun. 15, 2014

Billy Bob Thornton

It’s almost a sure thing that Billy Bob Thornton’s name will come up when Emmy nominations are announced July 10. His performance as Lorne Malvo in Fargo, which wraps its season at 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX, has been magnetic.

Malvo, a hired killer with a mischievous sense of humor, is likeable and terrifying at the same time. That’s a tough tightrope to walk, but Thornton hasn’t made a single misstep. To Thornton’s way of thinking, his character has been getting away with murder, figuratively and literally, because Malvo is more animal than human.

“We don’t get mad at polar bears,” the Oscar winner reasons. “They’re all white and fluffy and they do Coke commercials at Christmastime. Yet they’re one of the meanest, most ruthless predators on earth.” Compared to Malvo, they’re pussycats.

1Is television where you can find the most rewarding work as an actor these days?

There’s a spot television is filling that the movie business is not, which is the medium-budget studio movies, the $25 million/$30 million adult dramas or comedies, and the higher-budget independent films, in the $10 million/$12 million range. You can still make a great independent film, but you’re not guaranteed anybody will ever see it, because nobody takes much interest in putting money into distributing it.

2You worked with the Coen brothers in The Man Who Wasn’t There and Intolerable Cruelty. They made the original Fargo, a movie classic. Do you know what they think of the TV show?

I’ve talked to Ethan a couple of times. Ethan, when asked about the pilot, said, ‘Yeah, it’s good.’ Ethan saying ‘Yeah, it’s good’ is like most people saying, ‘This is [bleeping] amazing.’ They’re not real forthcoming about their emotions, so to get an ‘it’s good’ from Ethan is a four-star review.

3What most attracted you to the character of Malvo?

I think what really attracted me is he has this bizarre sense of humor. He likes to mess with people. I look at Malvo as a type of snake charmer: Once he looks at you, you’re under some sort of spell.

4Was there anything about the character that you added that wasn’t already scripted for you?

A weird haircut. I got a bad haircut and we planned on dyeing my hair and a dark beard and all that, but I didn’t plan on having bangs. But then, instead of fixing it, I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, ‘Hang on a second there. This is like 1967 L.A. rock. I could be the bass player of Buffalo Springfield. This is good.’ Bangs are normally associated with innocence and I thought the juxtaposition was pretty great.

5Any theories as to why Malvo is the way he is?

 I purposely didn’t ask about his backstory, because I think Malvo himself wouldn’t ever think about his past. He thinks in the moment, whatever job that’s at hand. Besides, let’s say we came up with a backstory for him, that his coldness and that sort of ruthless thing he has is because he was abused and had a horrible childhood, all this kind of thing. I might bring more sentimentality to the character and it might mess it up.

— David Martindale, Special to the Star-Telegram

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