In Season 3 of the Amazon Prime Video original drama series Goliath, the unexpected death of an old friend leads Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) to take a case in the Central Valley, which is currently experiencing an extreme drought that’s made water more valuable than human life. While there, Billy faces off with a billionaire rancher (Dennis Quaid) and his sister (Amy Brenneman), and finds himself dealing with the personal demons that he’s always trying to avoid.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Billy Bob Thornton (who’s also an Academy Award winning screenwriter) talked about what he most enjoys about playing Billy McBride, really getting to dig into his character’s mortality this season, how happy he is with the evolution of the series, how much he enjoyed working with the new and returning cast for Season 3, shooting in an almond-mobile, how this character has rubbed off on him, and how he feels like this show and character have at least one more season in it. He also talked about why he doesn’t see himself directing again, and how he feels like he fits into this business better as an actor who’s doing other people’s stuff.
Collider: I wasn’t sure what I thought about this character, in the beginning, but he’s really grown on me and I really dig him now. He certainly seemed like he had a lot of layers to begin with, but over the seasons, even more layers have been exposed. Now that you’ve done three seasons, what do you most enjoy about Billy McBride, who he is, and who he’s developed and evolved into?
BILLY BOB THORNTON: Even though he becomes more and more of a mess, all the time, especially in this new season, he has to confront himself, finally, and he’s been getting closer and closer to that. After all this time, he’s gonna have to finally learn how to be a real father, and he’s gonna have to learn how to operate in this world, where even though he loves the law and loves practicing it, he has to decide if it’s what he wants to do and if he’s doing good for anybody. He keeps doing good for people, which is why he keeps it up, but he has to decide, what am I gonna do with the rest of my life? Who am I? How much of it is left, anyway? He’s gotta come to terms with himself and his mortality, and everything else, and this season deals with that a lot.
Did this naturally feel like the right season to do that? Was that something you had been hoping to be able to dig into, as far as him having to deal with who he is and where he’s found himself?
THORNTON: Yeah, I think so. But with a lot of characters, I don’t want them to change that much ‘cause you love the character so much and we need another season of them being screwed up. So, if we do another one, and I think they’re inclined to do one more ‘cause it’s been very successful for them, over there to Amazon, people love the show, and I love playing the character and would be open to one more, I do know that it’s probably gonna be heavier than the third season. And the third season is my favorite, so far, which is good news. You always hope that the latest one is the best. Some people liked Season 1 more than they did Season 2. I happened to like Season 2 the best. For me, it’s gone up each year, and I’m really happy about that. I love the people that I work with now. We have a different story each time, and some new actors come in. This time, Dennis Quaid is an old friend of mine, from years ago, and we got to work together, which was fun. There were people that I hadn’t worked with, like Amy Brenneman, who I loved. The experience of making this season was terrific. The creative part of it was great, as was the mood on the set. The fact that Larry Trilling directed every episode really helped us because I come from movies, where you’ve got one director, and I wasn’t quite used to the whole different director every episode kind of thing. So, Larry did all of them, for this third season, and we were really happy about that.
This season, this cast is an embarrassment of riches. You’re a great actor, and the work that you’re doing on this show, with this character, is really intriguing. But then, you throw in Dennis Quaid, Beau Bridges and Amy Brenneman, and it just keeps getting better. As an actor, when you share scenes with such talented people, do you feel confident that they’ll deliver, even if you don’t know how they’ll deliver?
THORNTON: Yeah, there were all right for the parts, and they did their jobs. That’s all you can ask for. And the writers really stepped up this year, even another level. I think they did a great job, writing it. And it was shot anamorphic, so it’s in widescreen and looks great. So, overall, it’s my favorite season, in terms of the actual show itself and the experience making it.
Along with the opportunity to have a longer period of time to play and explore a character, the downside of a TV series is always that you could get stuck playing a character that starts to feel like a repeat of the same, but this series seems to have really naturally avoided feeling that way, at least for the viewer. Has it felt that way for you, as the actor, as well?
THORNTON: Absolutely. If we had stayed in the courtroom, the way the first season was, I probably would have felt some stagnation, absolutely. We’ve got enough courtroom dramas. The fact that I’m out there more like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, that makes me feel a lot better. Each year, there’s something new, there have been more developments, and the character has stayed fresh to me, the whole time, which is really great. How long I would do it, I’m not sure. Eventually, I’ll go back and do another movie or two. But for right now, I love playing this character. There’s no reason to not want to play it. It’s been such a great experience.
One of the oddest moments in the first few episodes was when you had to ride around in the almond-mobile. What was it like to be in that vehicle and shoot that? Was it ever difficult to be in that and not want to just crack up about the fact that you were driving around in that?
THORNTON: Well, I used it in the scene. It is funny to be riding in an almond. I ride on a lot of golf carts. On sets, they’ll take you across the lot on a golf cart, which is essentially what it is. But when it looks like an almond, it really does feel odd and look odd, and even more so, when I saw it from the outside. One of the drivers would bring it up to the set, like it was one of the actors. It was like, “Oh, here comes the almond.” It was pretty odd. We don’t hold back much.
I love the oddness about this show.
THORNTON: I love that about it, too. I agree with you on that. I’ve made a career out of doing odd things. Why stop now?
One of the things that I love most about this show is how interesting, layered and sometimes odd the female characters are, and what an incredible energy that brings to the series. There’s a fun in watching your character interact with them. And this season, in particular, the dynamic that you have with both Sherilyn Fenn and Amy Brenneman is just really electrifying to watch. What do you feel they brought to the season, and what did you enjoy about having them to share those moments with?
THORNTON: Well, Amy is just really joyous, as an actress. She loves to get in there and play around. Amy’s all smiles in takes, and Sherilyn is sometimes all tears in takes. Sherilyn is actually very, very interesting, as a person, and she puts all of that into the character. We did this one scene, where I was talking to her, and I completely forgot that we weren’t just sitting in my trailer and talking. Every now and then, you lose yourself, and those are always great times. I think they both did a terrific job, as well as the female characters that have been on the show, like Tania [Raymonde], and Diana [Hopper], who plays my daughter, Denise. I always love doing scenes with them, and we’ve gotten to know each other, which is really good. Diana and I had a natural thing together, to begin with. It was just always easy to do scenes with her, which is great since she’s playing my daughter, but the other girl, I got to know, along with the audience, because she was new to my life. Now that we’ve done three seasons, and the whole idea is that we’ve known each other for three years now, we’ve grown together to be more comfortable with each other, as characters. She’s always frustrated with me, and I’m frustrated with her a lot. It’s fun to play around with that.
This really feels like both a big story and a personal story, this season. There’s such an interesting balance of those two aspects of it. What were the biggest challenges, in pulling this season off? Did you feel a sense of personal satisfaction, that it really comes back around, in a lot of ways?
THORNTON: For me, starting with Season 1 until now, it’s been my life, so I don’t have to worry that much about being spread out, all over the place, and having to think about all of these different things ‘cause they are things that I feel happened to me. One of the things about this show is that, after awhile, he’s such an alcoholic lawyer that I actually feel like a lawyer. My wife says that I even argue with her like a lawyer. But also, I’ve lived a life where I had a rough time growing up, so I’m accustomed to that and playing myself, in a lot of ways. I’ve been playing this character long enough that I’ve started to feel like these things are actually happening to me. That’s a good thing, for an actor. Maybe not always good for you, personally, when you go home and think about stuff, but it’s certainly good for the character.
When you’re a lawyer, it changes how you think and process and look at things, so I would imagine that playing one for any length of time also changes how you think about and see stuff.
THORNTON: Oh, yeah, no doubt about it. You see a lot of the underbelly of that world, and you see how the deals are made, and it can be pretty creepy. I was never big on lawyers. I’m playing one the way that I would be, if I were one. My sense of justice doesn’t always line up with what was the actual manual, for the way it’s supposed to work, and this character doesn’t see it that way, either. He tries to keep a human element, in all of it.
We spoke awhile back about your last film, as a director, Jayne Mansfield’s Car, and it’s been a bit now since you’ve directed a project. Is that something that you’re also looking to do again, or would like to do again?
THORNTON: I don’t know. I always say I won’t, and then a few years later, I’ll do it. The problem with directing is that I base most of my stuff on Southern literature, like Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor, and I do movies that have both heavy drama and humor. For some reason, today, people compartmentalize everything, and it has to be a comedy with no heart, or a drama with no humor. People don’t understand both, even though all of the classic movies had that. I don’t know if I’m relevant as a director anymore, or a writer, frankly. I think I probably fit in better as an actor, doing other people’s stuff. I don’t know how much people wanna see Erskine Caldwell on a screen anymore. The last couple of movies I directed weren’t really accepted and nobody sees them, and the ones who do see them, don’t understand them. But then – and it always happens this way – nobody cared for Jayne Mansfield’s Car, and nobody saw it, really. But then, now you read about it, and all of these critics, or just journalists, in general, come back and go, “This movie is a masterpiece,” or “How did I miss this, when it came out?,” or “I was wrong about this movie. I saw it again, and it was terrific.” I make things that nobody gets, until seven years after they’re finished. I’m too tired to do that again. Why throw stuff out there that people aren’t going gonna respond to and that nobody understands, and later on, they understand, when they see it on Showtime at three o’clock in the morning. It takes a year and a half out of your life, so I don’t know if directing is something that I really wanna do. That’s not to say that it might not happen. It could. It just depends on whether something comes along that I’m passionate enough about to go through all the torture of it again.
You said that this is a character that you definitely feel like there’s another season in. Will you know about a Season 4 soon? Would you have to shoot that soon?
THORNTON: We’re gonna know very soon. We’ll know, this coming month. I think they’re inclined to do another one. They’ve already been working on the idea for the next one, so I know that they’re moving forward. We’ll just see what their final decision is. I think it would be good, particularly given what they want to do with it. If we do a fourth season, I know what they want to do with it, and I’m vastly interested in it. The fourth season is a subject, a way to do it, and a place to do it, that I’m very, very keen on.
Goliath is available to stream at Amazon Prime Video.