A Minute With: Billy Bob Thornton on recasting himself for TV

Wed Apr 9, 2014 4:03pm EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

WEST HOLLYWOOD, California (Reuters) - Billy Bob Thornton, the actor of dark, psychological films such as "Sling Blade" and "A Simple Plan," takes a turn on the small screen as a laconic hit man in a TV adaptation of 1996 Oscar-winning black comedy "Fargo."

"Fargo," which debuts as a 10-episode limited-run series on April 15 on Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's FX cable network, re-imagines the film from directors Joel and Ethan Coen with new characters and plot but the same doses of frigid Minnesota winters and Midwestern folksiness.

In between puffs from his cigarette, the 58-year-old Oscar winner (best adapted screenplay for 1996's "Sling Blade") spoke to Reuters about his character and how television has begun to trump film as the best storytelling format.

Q: Your character, Lorne Malvo, has no past, roots or issues, murdering on a whim. How do you begin to tap into his thinking?

A: The psychology is like the same psychology an alligator would have. ... So whatever I have to do in order to eat, that's what I'll do. He really doesn't have a conscience. I don't think I've ever played a character who hasn't had a conscience whatsoever, and what's interesting about this conscience-less character - and a guy whose psychology is like an eating machine - there's a greed or a gluttony, but that's all that exists.

Q: The soft-spoken "Minnesota Nice" stereotype is crucial to the repressed emotions of characters in both "Fargo" the series and the film. What makes that ripe for character development?

A: It's a different kind of society. I think the reason we're fascinated by that world is because Americans by nature are very passionate, edgy, crazy kind of people. ... That northern Midwest is its own animal. There's no place like that in America. We look at them like, 'How do these people talk about suicides like they're going to the grocery store?'

Q: Like the popularity of FX's "American Horror Story" and HBO's "True Detective," limited-run series have earned critical acclaim and also made TV an appeal venue for Hollywood actors. Did you consider that when you signed up for "Fargo"?   Continued...

Director Billy Bob Thornton arrives for the screening of the movie "Jayne Mansfield's Car" at the 62nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 13, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter