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Billy Bob Thornton Talks About "Friday Night Lights"

Interview from the World Premiere of "Friday Night Lights"


Billy Bob Thornton Friday Night Lights

Billy Bob Thornton at the World Premiere of "Friday Night Lights"

© Rebecca Murray
Billy Bob Thornton stars as Coach Gary Gaines in the football movie, "Friday Night Lights," based on the book by H.G. Bissinger and inspired by the 1988 football season of the Permian Panthers in Odessa, Texas. The Permian Panthers have one of the most successful high school football programs in the United States, always playing before a packed crowd of 20,000 spectators in a high school stadium that's one of the biggest in the country. The players are treated like celebrities, with the entire town of Odessa pretty much closing up shop to root on their team for every home game.

Oscar-winner Billy Bob Thornton was chosen to play Coach Gaines, a man under pressure from the town and driven to win because, as director Peter Berg states, Thornton had never played a role like this before but seems to embody the complexity of the character. Producer Brian Grazer recalls, "I'd always been interested in having Billy Bob play Gaines in this movie for several reasons. First, he's very authentic. Even though he's from Arkansas, he has that style, that Texas way of storytelling. He's extremely interesting to watch just in terms of detail."

Thornton was in great shape, looking fit and tan, and obviously happy to be surrounded by real-life football players and other sports-loving celebrities while at the World Premiere of "Friday Night Lights." In this interview, the Academy Award-winner talks about playing a coach and his own sports memories.


How would you describe this character?
My character is the coach of a high school team and he has to win, not only because of his sense of competition and wanting to win for his team, but also because if he doesn’t win he’ll be fired and he has to move to another town and he has a family to take care of. And that’s part of what’s dealt with in the movie.

Did you pick up any sports terminology or favorite 'coaching' lines while working on "Friday Night Lights?"
Oh God, are you kidding? My favorite… See, my dad was a high school coach and I was raised as a baseball player. I had a try-out with a major league team, so I was raised in sports. My favorite thing to watch on television sports is when they do the NFL films, when they do those and they mic’d the coaches from the 60s and 70s. Hank Stram was my boy. I had to get at least one line in there, in this movie, that was kind of a Hank Stram-like line. It wasn’t one he said, but at one point when the ref made a bad, bad call, I said, “Don’t be helping me. I’m doing a good job of losing this game on my own, okay?”

How much is this a story of football and how much is it a character-driven story?
This story was so close to me because I was raised in sports so I knew the whole deal. I was very close to sports. This movie really depicts the human element of sports. It’s about the obession with it and how it plays into the spirit of a town. It speaks about the joys and the successes, but also the frustration and the drama and all the other things that go into sports.

How will this movie play outside America?
I think the world will understand this movie because football is essentially an American sport, but every country has sports and they all know what the competition means to them.

What was your reaction when you heard you were getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
The first thing I thought when I heard about the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – you’d think it would be, “Oh my God, this is fantastic.” My first thought was, “Am I that f***ing old?”

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