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Billy Bob Thornton on 'Goliath': 'I Play It As If It's Me'

At 62, the Oscar winner has a Golden Globe–winning role on Amazon's hit crime show

spinner image Billy Bob Thornton in character, standing in a living room holding a paper.
Billy Bob Thornton returns as L.A. lawyer Billy McBride in "Goliath," Amazon's most-binged-watched Prime original series.
Amazon Prime Video

Billy Bob Thornton, 62, who won fame (and an Oscar) at 41 as writer-director-star of Sling Blade in 1996, has found new life on TV, winning Golden Globes for FX’s Fargo and Goliath, the smart, Hitchcock-esque crime show whose second season premieres on Amazon on June 15. He plays hard-drinking L.A. lawyer Billy McBride, a legal David up against a Goliath-sized conspiracy involving a mayoral candidate he’s dating, a drug lord with a buzz saw, a dirty detective and a sexually psychotic real estate developer. Thornton tells AARP about Goliath, which Amazon calls its most-binge-watched Prime original series ever made in America.

One of the greatest things about getting older as an actor is that you settle into who you are ...

—Billy Bob Thornton

Your friends call you Billy. What do you like about your Goliath character, Billy, who shares your devilishly suave goatee?

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I try to play the part as if it’s me, and it’s not that terribly far from me, anyway. He may be a mess personally, but he owns his flaws. He believes in justice and fairness — probably more than he does the law. It’s an age-old story but different than you’ve ever seen before — the last two or three episodes are even stranger than last season.

You still look rather youthful — you’re a sexagenarian dreamboat!

Well, I don't know about that. It gives you a certain peace, once you get to a certain age. You accept how you look. One of the greatest things about getting older as an actor is that you settle into who you are and you don't begrudge everyone else what they have. It's not like being a young actor full of piss and vinegar, where you're competitive and thinking, I should have gotten this part that guy got. I am very happy with where I am.

You also get to find your friends jobs, like Paul Williams, 77, who plays Billy’s informant living on the streets.  

He plays an old friend of mine, an old law partner who now lives off the grid, and I go to him for advice and information. They asked who I would see in that part and I said “Paul Williams.” And they were like, “The songwriter?”

Williams wrote “Rainbow Connection,” “Evergreen” and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” but he’s also a terrific actor, recovering addict and healthy-living activist. How do you stay calm and fit?

I always have a guitar or ukulele in the trailer, and I write songs. That keeps me in an artistic mind-set . And I'm kind of a healthy eater. I take a lot of turmeric and cayenne pepper. And I have to do a lot of stretching. Growing up, I was an athlete, and I've also had a couple of accidents and a horse fall, so I need a real good back-and-shoulder routine. I'm lucky when it comes to remembering lines, though. Other things I can’t remember at all. I do have obsessive-compulsive disorder, so maybe it’s a savant-like quality I have.

spinner image Paul Williams and Billy Bob Thornton standing in front of the Hollywood, California sign.
Actor and songwriter Paul Williams plays an unconventional ex-lawyer alongside Billy Bob Thornton in "Goliath." 
Amazon Prime Video

Was there a certain point in life where you decided to start taking better care of yourself?

Probably when my wife [special effects artist Connie Angland, 53] and I had our daughter, Bella, who’s 14 in September. When you have a daughter at my age, you're a parent, you're a grandparent — you're everything. But I've actually been eating well since the ‘90s, because I'm allergic to wheat and dairy. I'm a vegan who cheats — that's what I call myself.

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Your mother, Virginia, was a psychic who partly inspired Cate Blanchett’s character in the paranormal thriller you cowrote , The Gift [2000], and your father, William, was a high school teacher. What did you get from them?

My dad was one of those hard-ass coach types and a Korean War veteran. He didn't want me to take piano lessons. We didn't have much money, and he thought that piano was for sissies. One of the great regrets of my life is that I don't play piano . He taught me how to physically defend myself. But I was a mama's boy. I could trace everything I do that's decent back to my mother. She was a dreamer and a very artistic-minded person who encouraged me in the arts. She only passed away this past year, in July. She had Alzheimer's.

That's rough.

Really rough. My father died at 44, cancer. But my mom lived to 83. She had a great life. She even spoke at medical conventions on parapsychology.

Goliath is very noirish, and you’re a film noir fan, right?

I'm a big Bogart guy. And Robert Mitchum. One of my favorite movies I ever did was The Man Who Wasn't There by the Coen Brothers. And I’ve always liked really good law movies, too.

Are you a romantic?

Absolutely, all my life. Which seems odd for someone who's been married so much [six times, once to Angelina Jolie]. But every woman I was with — even if it was for a couple of days or six months or two years — for that time, I was in love. You know what I mean?

What’s your personal style these days?

Kind of what it's been since I was a teenager, other than I had long hair then. I’m kind of bony, so I usually buy my jeans in the women's Levi department or at Old Navy. Men's jeans are usually too baggy on me. I wear a women's size 4 or 6.

spinner image Billy Bob Thornton holding a Golden Globe.
During his long and successful career, Thornton has won several awards for his acting, including a Golden Globe and an Oscar.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

You just filmed A Million Little Pieces, based on James Frey’s controversial addiction memoir.

I play an older guy, Leonard, who takes the main character (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) under his wing in rehab. He's a Vegas fringe mobster, and it's the campiest role I've ever done. The wardrobe is pretty spectacular. The book had its controversies because [Frey] made a lot of it up. And the movie [directed by Aaron's wife, Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson] takes the story even further, so people will just have to watch it as its own thing.

Your very first screen character, in Hunter’s Blood [1986], was named Billy Bob. What would you like your last screen character to be named?

Ah, Charles de Gaulle. That way I'll live  forever,  because I know they'll never cast me as Charles de Gaulle!

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