The comedy movie Mr Woodcock pits Seann William Scott as self-help author John Farley against Billy Bob Thornton as John’s worst nightmare from his high school days: Mr Woodcock, the no-nonsense gym teacher. Now years after John graduated from high school, his mother (played by Susan Sarandon) has fallen head over heels in love with the gym teacher from hell and John’s determined to do whatever it takes to stop his mom from making a big mistake.
The set of New Line Cinema’s Mr Woodcock turned out to be a hazardous place for both Thornton and Scott. The physical comedy really took its toll on both actors. “He broke my foot. I hurt his back,” said Thornton. “We studied with these – not studied – we rehearsed the stuff with these expert stunt guys. And then we shot the scenes in a couple of days and it was pretty physical, actually. I mean it was funny sometimes, but it was…that was the work part of it.”
Thornton’s co-star offered his own opinion about working on their big choreographed action scene. “It kind of sucked.” Elaborating, Scott said, “You know, honesty, we’ve talked about this scene, like, in the sequence, but it really sucked. You know what I mean? It wasn’t really fun at all. Because we knew it was going to be funny, but like I didn’t want to hurt Billy and he didn’t want to hurt me and we were getting hurt. It was one of those things we were like, ‘Hopefully this is funny so it’s all worth it,’ and so it’s a weird thing.”
The fact it was Oscar-winner Billy Bob Thornton he had to square off against physically weighed heavily on Scott’s mind. “It’s one thing to do a stunt and take a fall, but it was so many weird little things,” explained Scott. “And, for me, it’s like I’m working with one of my favorite actors on the planet and the last thing I want to do is do something wrong.”
Paired up at the film's Los Angeles press junket, Scott turned to Thornton and confessed, “When you showed up the second day with a broken foot, I felt terrible.” And he’s not joking about the broken bone. “Yeah, he showed up with a cast! I felt awful,” admitted Scott.
Thornton wound up sporting that cast for the remainder of the shoot. “Imagine how I feel,” joked Scott. “I go home and after that I’m like, the few friends that I have I’m like, [somberly], ‘Yep, I broke Billy Bob Thornton’s foot.’ That’s how bad of an actor I am. I was an athlete. I can’t even do that right.”
Thornton can relate to the adversarial teacher/student relationship central to Mr Woodcock. Back during his school days, Thornton wasn’t shy about voicing his negative opinions of algebra and other subjects he believed would never have a place in his adult life. Thornton recalls how his teachers didn’t take kindly to his views of math and other important subjects. “Oh, I was tortured by all of them. They all hated me. I didn't have any teachers that liked me that I can remember. … I just told them that I wasn't ever going to be anything other than a musician or an actor and stuff.
They told me I needed algebra, I needed geometry and stuff. And I said, 'No, I don't. I don't understand it. I don't get it. I don't know how to add letters. It's like y plus x, it doesn't make any sense.’ So they said, ‘What if you become a building engineer?’ I said, ‘I promise you, I'm not gonna be.’ And they just didn't like my attitude. My attitude was very much like it is still.”
While Thornton didn't have the best relationship with his teachers, he did have a baseball coach he greatly admired and labels as 'terrific'. There was, at one time, even a possibility of Thornton pursuing a career in baseball rather than in acting. "I was a baseball player and I was a pretty darn good one, actually," revealed Thornton. "I actually had a tryout with the Kansas City Royals.” However, get Thornton talking about some gym teachers he's had and it's a whole other story. "I didn’t like to go to gym class because as an athlete you don’t like to go to gym class. It's sort of like sports light. You have a lot of people in there that can't really do anything anyway. You end up playing like dodgeball or some goofy game like that.”
Scott had a completely different high school experience when it came to both academics and sports. “My teachers were pretty nice,” recalled Scott. “I was pretty lucky.” But it was his coaches who ultimately set Scott on his way as an actor. “I had some coaches that were pretty rough. They were tough and I think, actually, in a good way… They pushed me to not want to play sports anymore. I think I probably would have played professional baseball if it hadn't been for them. So then I wanted to be an actor. That's when I graduated early and moved out to LA to do this.”
Although Scott and Thornton get into it in Mr Woodcock, the two became good friends during filming - despite any mishaps on the set. Scott was even willing to share one particular incident that happened when he visited Thornton at home that demonstrates just how close they became. “There's a great story. [To Thornton] I don't know if you remember this. Billy invited me over to his place. …Basically, it was such a treat for me to go and hang out with him. I got to listen to his music and his house is amazing. It's the Snake Pit, right? Downstairs, where Guns N Roses recorded all their music. It's this insane studio. So I was able to listen to music and see his place, see this recording studio and listen to his music. It was awesome. So then when I was about to leave, I'd asked him if he had any copies of his films because there's a lot that I'd seen. I'd seen U-Turn maybe like five times. He had an extra copy, so I just wanted to get every one of his films. We're talking about it and I think he ordered food, and literally as he was opening the door, I had his movies in my hand and gave him a hug. The delivery guy's standing there just like… It was such a funny scene. Do you remember that?”
Thornton answered, “It was pretty embarrassing. …We're standing there hugged up in the doorway. The delivery guy's there and he's holding all my movies...”