After 13-year break, Billy Bob Thornton makes ‘Bad Santa’ sequel
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LOS ANGELES — “It took us longer than I thought it would, but we got ‘er done,” said Billy Bob Thornton, reflecting on the 13 years since he introduced the world to Willie Soke, the true holiday season anti-hero in “Bad Santa.”
In “Bad Santa 2” (opening Nov. 23), Soke is back and he’s as booze-fueled and sex-crazed as ever — once again looking to make a quick buck via whatever scheme presents itself. Soke’s always angry former sidekick Marcus returns, as does a grown up Thurman Merman, whose unchanged goofy naiveté is now packaged in a 250-pound body.
Added to the mix is Kathy Bates, playing Sunny Soke, the incredibly cruel, foul-mouthed woman who gave birth to Willie at age 13, but has never had one single maternal bone in her mobster mom’s body.
The premise of the film is a plan to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve — an idea that Thornton said “is about the most evil thing you could do: taking money from good people who only exist to help those who can’t help themselves.”
The Oscar winner said returning to the character of Soke after such a long hiatus “felt completely natural to me. We always knew we’d do it again. The circumstances just had to be right,” said Thornton. The actor was excited to see Brett Kelly “all grown up, yet still able to inhabit that special world where Thurman Merman exists. … Plus Tony [Cox, who plays Marcus] and I love working together, so that was fun too.”
For Thornton, the Thurman character is “key to the whole setup here. As raunchy as Willie can be, you know he’s got a heart, mainly because you see how he acts around Thurman. … The other thing: With Thurman, at the end of the day, you sense that he probably knows more about what’s really going on than he lets on.”
Making “Bad Santa 2” also was something of a reunion for Thornton and Bates, who previously had appeared together in “Primary Colors.”
“But that was like a couple of decades ago,” said Bates, referring to the movie released in 1998. “Plus, we really didn’t have any scenes together. There was one where the whole cast was there, but there was no real interaction between our characters.”
This time, of course, was completely different, as virtually all of Bates’ scenes are with her estranged son, who only grudgingly agrees to join her in the holiday heist plan. A big help to Bates in getting into character were the over-the-top costumes she got to wear.
“At my very first costume fitting they brought out this vintage leather jacket and black jeans and all those silver spurs and accessories. When I saw Sunny in the mirror that first day, I went, ‘Oh yeah! That’s it!’
“Plus I actually went to my own hairdresser and said, ‘Tom, I want a mohawk.’ He looked at me like I’d lost my mind and said, ‘A mohawk? You mean a mohawk-mohawk?’
“It was really funny, because he just didn’t get it! But actually, I had fun wearing a mohawk for this movie. … Look, it is all about dress-up — and the hair was a big part of that.”
Since the film is about a terrible Saint Nick, it seemed fair to ask Thornton to recall bad Christmas presents or experiences from his own life. “The only thing that comes to mind is an awful silk shirt that had sailboats on it that someone gave me. That was pretty bad,” said the actor.
“Of course, I can also recall a couple of Christmas meals that weren’t so nice. It’s especially bad when you’re going to someone’s house thinking it’s really going to be amazing — and it’s amazingly bad.
“When the turkey chews you back, you know there’s something wrong!”