Billy Bob Thornton is a master at playing antiheroes. His murderer in Sling Blade, racist executioner in Monster’s Ball, and his foul mouthed womanizing degenerate in Bad Santa all found some form of redemption. Even when he’s a villain who gets his comeuppance like on Fargo season 1, Thornton makes them endearing until the bitter end.
Goliath’s Billy McBride may be the perfect role for Thornton, and his most personal. A disgraced trial lawyer who got vindication against his old law firm in the first season, McBride in season 2 helps his friend’s (Lou Diamond Phillips) son who’s being framed for murder.
Victory may be harder for McBride than being disgraced. He won $50 million from the case in season 1 and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself as season 2 begins.
“I think it’s hard for Billy to reconcile this kind of success, just like me in real life,” Thornton told Rotten Tomatoes. “I still don’t know how to act. Being somebody that got successful in this stuff, I’m not far away from the character in a lot of ways. In other words, it’s easy for me to go there every day and put those clothes on, because they’re the same clothes I wear in my regular life.”
Even a giant win like this might not last McBride long. He’s being overly generous with his winnings, giving away cars and cash.
“I’ve done that too,” Thornton admitted. “I’m a Leo so Leos tend to do that. ‘Oh, everybody get a drink. It’s on me.’ Maybe in a way it’s like yeah, I want the money, but then once he’s got it, it’s just here to spend and [he] doesn’t particularly pay that much attention. Fortunately he’s got a daughter who keeps him in check a little bit.”
McBride bought a fancy beach house for his daughter’s visits, but he still calls the Chez Jay motel home.
“He certainly doesn’t want to move into the fancy house he bought,” McBride said. “He feels weird there. He likes the motel. He likes Chez Jay. Why would he change that? That’s his mind.”
You’ll still find McBride on the beach drinking out of a bottle, a cigarette in the other hand. Thornton relates to sitting out the media circus too.
“At the end of the day I’m a little bit agoraphobic,” Thornton said. “I don’t get out much. You don’t normally see me on the red carpet and Star Tracks in the magazine and all that. I’m not out there too much. I’m kind of uncomfortable around rich people, kind of uncomfortable around social scenes, so it’s easy to play a guy who likes to just walk down to Venice Beach by himself and sit there and have a smoke.”
Thanks to Goliath, Thornton doesn’t have to go out much. He still does a movie in between seasons, but he wouldn’t even have to.
“Really, that’s all I have to do every year although I’m predominantly a film actor, so I want to keep doing movies,” Thornton said. “After the first season, I was kinda like yeah, maybe one more and I’m good. After we’ve filmed a second season, it’s like yeah, I’d like to do a couple more of these. I’m now into this guy where I can’t imagine not playing him.”
Season 2 finds Billy McBride in uncharted territory with a murder case, not his normal area of practice. In order to get Julio Suarez (Diego Josef) free, McBride will have to do more field work to get some dirt on the corrupt mayoral candidate (Ana de la Reguera) and real estate tycoon Tom Wyatt (Mark Duplass).
“This one has less in the courtroom and more out snooping around,” Thornton said. “Billy’s more lawyer-detective in this one. He has to get out there and get involved more this time. It’s not just going out and interviewing a witness at the house this time and then going back to court. He gets up to some shenanigans in this one.”
Tom Wyatt and his cronies are no match for Billy McBride, but they may not know it at first.
“I don’t think Tom Wyatt is intimidated by Billy McBride,” Duplass said. “Tom Wyatt is very, very powerful. He hasn’t had any obstacles in his life that he hasn’t been able to overcome. I think there’s a level of sociopathy there that allows him to shape shift and get done what he needs to get done. I don’t think he identifies Billy as somebody who’s going to be a problem for him.”
These smug rich guys in suits think they own everyone. They’ve never met someone like Billy McBride, who has a countermove for all of their moves.
“Billy’s good at smelling a rat,” Thornton said. “I think that’s one of his main strengths.”
The audience can look forward to seeing Billy McBride make Tom Wyatt and his henchmen sweat.
“When you’ve got a person who thinks that they are above the law and that they can do things that will harm people or negatively affect people and there won’t be any consequences, I think you want to see them get taken down,” Duplass said. “That’s part of the joy of watching a show like Goliath. Billy Bob Thornton as a person is a real seeker of truth and honesty. I think that’s very evident in the character of Billy McBride too.”
Tom Wyatt and Billy McBride will come face to face in Goliath, and Duplass may have had more butterflies from that encounter than Tom Wyatt does.
“Billy Bob Thornton is just as intimidating as Billy McBride,” Duplass said. “He’s got so much emotional power to him. When he walks in the room, you just feel it, but he does a really good job of making everyone feel comfortable. He’s super open and conversational, very easy to be around. Within five minutes we were talking about our kids. He’s still intimidating as sh-t once the cameras start rolling.”
For an actor as vulnerable as Thornton has admitted to being, to hear that someone is intimidated by him is shocking.
“I look at acting as a very natural thing,” Thornton said. “Once we get into it, Mark and I only had like one or two scenes together and they’re very natural. He doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with me. Nobody does. If you’re in a scene and both of you are being honest, you got it made. He seemed at ease to me. I didn’t think I ever had to put him at ease. He seemed perfectly fine.”
You will see Thornton on the big screen again in the film adaptation of A Million Little Pieces. Thornton plays Leonard in the adaptation of James Frey’s memoir, which drew controversy when it was discovered that Frey invented some of his memoir.
“I look at it this way,” Thornton said. “Let’s say it’s not based on reality. It’s still an interesting, amazing book to read so it’s worthy of a movie. Then they took it a step further from the book. A lot of stuff is the same but there’s a lot of stuff they took liberties with. They’re just trying to make a good movie, not something that’s true to a book which wasn’t even true to itself.”
Saying goodbye to a beloved character may be the hardest part for Thornton. He got to play Willie Soke one more time in Bad Santa 2, 13 years after the original. He wouldn’t rule out a Bad Santa 3 either, but most of his favorite characters were one and done.
“There are characters that I never wanted to stop playing,” Thornton said. “The character in A Simple Plan, Jacob, never wanted to stop. I wished that movie went on for five years. The Man Who Wasn’t There, Sling Blade, Monster’s Ball, Bad Santa, The Alamo, Bandits — all those movies. I just loved playing the characters. I didn’t want any of them to end. All those movies have varying degrees of success with box office or public or critics, but the experience of them was always great.”
So Billy McBride is certainly a keeper.
“Yes, I’m used to it now,” Thornton said. “I’d like to do it as long as they’ll let me.”
Goliath season 2 is available now on Amazon Prime.