I always felt that Billy Bob was a strange cat, mainly because of his tabloid personal life (Angelina Jolie) and films like Sling Blade and Monster‘s Ball.
In recent years, I have reassessed my view of him. Mostly. I still have to pick and choose from his work, not everything he does is my cup of tea. There is no doubt the man is a very talented actor, but his strength lies in certain types of roles. There is a folksy, down-home charm that draws you in, which is both good and bad. When he’s playing a sympathetic character, that Southern charm is like warm honey. In scumbag roles, that charm can be hypnotic and then like a razor, slice your artery. He also had a laser-focused smile with those eyes that burn right through you.
Charming is a good word to describe him. Even when he is playing a high powered role, like the U.S. president in Love Actually, there is an earthiness, a humility, although is fake and aimed at getting staffer of the U.K. prime minister into the sack.
He admits that he is often typecast as the scumbag and is on speed dial for certain producers who want that stock Billy Bob asshole character, as Billy Bob himself called it. It could be that he is both good at it, and accepts those high-paying jobs. No wonder they keep calling.
It is precisely those type of roles that sets him apart from other actors, that gets him all those calls. Here are three.
Bad Santa (2003) A shopping mall Santa, Willie, who drinks excessively and has few prospects. Each year, he and Marcus, who dresses as an elf, rob the mall they work at.
Willie lucks out by moving in with a kid who seems to believe he really is Santa. The kid’s parent is in prison and his grandma seems zoned out most of the time. Willie screws his girlfriend in the hot tub, drinks all the liquor in the house and drives the expensive car in the garage. Willie feels protective over the naive kid, particularly as he is bullied by other kids. The plan to rob the mall goes haywire and Willie is pursued by the police as Willie leads them on a chase as he is determined to give a gift to the kid.
Willie is not totally bad, but the Angel and Devil fight for control of him. Willie is an opportunist who plays the angles.
Billy Bob fits comfortably like a hand in glove as Willie. He has a smarmy charm.
Bad News Bears (2005) A remake of the 1976 film, updated with more contemporary sensibilities. Billy Bob was perfect for the role, not quite Bad Santa, but a flawed man, whose moral boundaries are flexible. He drinks a lot, goes out with strippers, and skirts polite society.
He’s as boozy as in Bad Santa, but not as unguided and self destructive. He may not be proud of his life, but he’s comfortable in it. Instead of being a pool cleaner as in the original, he’s an exterminator. And he enjoys being a bad boy, women seem to like that.
Billy Bob is a more realistic Buttermaker than was Walter Matthau. Billy Bob is more believable as a former athlete gone to pot. Matthau was grouchy and somewhat misplaced as the womanizing loser. Billy Bob looks the part and has that dry, depreciating sense of humor.
Goliath (2016-2021) Billy Bob had appeared in series before, like Fargo, but really came into his own with Goliath on Prime. Billy McBride used to be a very successful attorney, in fact, his name is still on a high-priced L.A. law firm, but he lives in a low-rent hotel. His legal helper is a hooker, he drinks too much, and tends to be overly direct with what he is thinking.
Billy is asked by another attorney to get legal papers accepted by his old law firm. Instead of settling for pocket change, he takes on the case, which leads to his arrest, the death of his client, and many setbacks, but in the end, he wins a $50 million settlement. All of that is in season one. There have been three seasons thus far with a fourth and final season coming up.
David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Picket Fences) is the co-creator, he has developed many successful legal and medical series. Goliath was the role Billy Bob was born to play.
Billy Bob and the Boxmasters.