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Film

The story of how Billy Bob Thornton got "blind drunk" on the set of 'Bad Santa'

@Russellisation

Bountiful food, good cheer, gingerbread and gumdrop smiles are just four adorable features that you might find in a classic Christmas film. Where the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone and Elf live up to this stereotypical expectation, there are other films that purposefully defy such festive innocence and imbue their own sense of pessimism on the holiday season. For such corrupt Christmas fun, look no further than 2003’s Bad Santa. 

From the acclaimed filmmaker of Ghost World and documentary Crumb, Terry Zwigoff, Bad Santa represents a strange deviation from the filmmaker’s usual sincerity, creating a smutty comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton. A miserable department store Santa, Thornton plays Willie, a conman who teams up with his little helper, Marcus, to rob shops on Christmas Eve, only for him to get a little too involved with his role as the iconic father of Christmas. 

Playing a frequently inebriated sexually active Santa, Billy Bob Thornton once revealed to Entertainment Weekly that he was actually “blind drunk” during a large portion of the film’s production. Adding that he has “a method actor aspect” to himself, Thornton explained: “I was drunk. It’s so obvious. I drank about three glasses of red wine for breakfast. That was just an appetiser. Then I switched over to vodka and cranberry juice and then I had a few Bud Lights”. 

Ever the professional, the lead actor then revealed that in the Santa’s Grotto scene, in particular, it was a miracle Thornton was able to act at all, stating: “By the time I got to that scene I barely knew I was in a movie”. Making a fool of himself in the scene, Thornton’s character trashes the carefully prepared festive set, falling over his own drunken feet.

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Explaining his performance in the scene, the actor added: “I get up, standing around because I thought I woke up in my house. And then I remembered what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to go there and fall down in all those gifts and be horrible in front of the kids”. 

Though he likens his performance to method acting, Billy Bob Thornton also entirely rejects the concept of ‘the method’, previously telling Total Film that it’s simply a tool for actors to pretend they’re “smart”. Clarifying his stance on the method, he added: “People want there to be a science to acting and that science is interesting. It makes it seem so fucking smart. And I believe that you’re either a good actor or you’re not”. 

Ridiculing the working practises of the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Jared Leto, he also asserts, “I’ve been poor. I’ve been rich. I’ve been moderate. I’ve been left. I’ve been right. And so, any time I play a character, I don’t go sit in a closet for three fucking weeks to become a dark guy”. 

Where Daniel Day-Lewis demands to be spoon-fed for months on end, Billy Bob Thornton simply gets drunk.