Billy Bob Thornton talks politics, the legal system and why ‘Goliath’ has been so successful

Billy McBride, played by Billy Bob Thornton, returns to work at a prestigious law firm in San Francisco in 'Goliath.'
Amazon Studios

By María Estévez, MWN 

In the final season of ‘Goliath,’ Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) returns to work for a prestigious law firm in San Francisco to take down one of America’s most insidious “Goliaths” — the Opium industry. 

This Robin Hood of lawyering also fights his personal demons. Outside the doors of the Billy Bob Thornton trailer in a Los Angeles parking lot, Metro had the opportunity to interview the actor.

What does returning to ‘Goliath’ mean to you?

This character is a lot like me. I blame myself if I tell you the truth. My values and my sense of justice are the same as Billy McBride’s. Having accumulated a lot in the past and not being able to overcome certain things that we both wish we had not done or done differently, affect us. Neither of us like the change, we’re both traditionalists and we see our society getting weaker and weaker.

How does it affect you?

I don’t go out of the house, I have a 13-year-old daughter, two children and my wife. We like to do family life, watch sports and classic movies. The rest of the time I am working. It only affects me when I watch the news. Do you know that feeling when you’re on top of a building and, even though you’re scared of the height, but you watch anyway? That happens to me with the news. I don’t want to watch because I know I’m going to find horrible things and I always end up watching.  

How did your character change in these 4 years?

He has more money, but his demons are with him. I love playing him. We’re talking about a lawyer, but the plot doesn’t happen in front of a judge but in the middle of California. I really like the direction we’re going in. It’s only the external circumstances that change.  

Do you share Billy McBride’s politics?

I was a hippie in my youth, a liberal. But when you sit back and look at what’s going on in the world, the reality is that there are just as many unbearable people on the liberal left as there are on the ultra-right. I think anyone who is an extremist has taken the wrong path. I consider myself a radical moderate and fully embrace diversity. I think we talk a lot about politics and get angry because Trump’s presidency was so frustrating.

Is it hard to play someone so similar to you?

When you do, you give them a certain intimacy that belongs to you. I would prefer it to be more distant. Right now, all I have to do is show you who I am.

Have you been involved as a screenwriter?

Absolutely not [*winks*]. But I do improvise a lot, it’s something I always do. The only time in my career when I didn’t improvise was shooting with the Coen brothers.  

Have you talked to lawyers about your character?

Yes. I try to keep the character real and authentic. He’s a lawyer I created by drawing inspiration from people I know.

Did working on this series change your perception of the legal system in the U.S.?

Yes, absolutely. I thought all lawyers were disgusting. We live in a world where lawyers make a lot of money by pitting people against each other. The legal profession can be very damaging to our society, but there are righteous people who practice from the heart and do what they say. I have met prosecutors who regret having persecuted innocent people and put them in jail, and lawyers whose sole mission is to help those in need.

The series has been a success. Why?

David E. Kelley, its creator, is a genius. It’s a David versus Goliath fable and that’s always appealing to audiences. We all want to see the weak guy overcoming the beefy guy, it’s kind of relevant with the times we live in because the world is getting so crazy. A guy like this, who looks a lot like myself, is never fully redeemed. He has a very complicated sense of justice, he’s a lawyer and he believes in the system, but he has a lot of problems with society. Today people are going crazy, and he knows where the truth dwells. He has to work by the rules, but the rules don’t always apply. His sense of fairness doesn’t change because the world is fair to people.

Why don’t you like to talk about politics?

I don’t like to talk about politics because I don’t think I’m smart enough to make public comments on that subject. If you want to talk about the British invasion or music in Southern California, we can talk for hours because those are subjects that interest me and that I know very well. If you want to talk about writers like Faulkner I can go on for hours and answer questions intelligently, but not about politics. I can’t tell you if it’s the President running the country or someone else. Politics is played as a game all over the world to get more money.

You’re also a musician.

Yeah. I’m the guy who fell in love with music with the Beatles, the Beach Boys and The Kinks. All those bands turned rock into a classic. Music is a part of my life, I like to play with my band and feel the energy of the stage. Performing and writing is fine, it’s part of my life, however, the stage is something else. When I play live, the fans give me something that I can’t find anywhere else. It’s an incredible and exciting feeling.

Why are your characters so iconic?

I don’t play anything that’s not in my wheelhouse. I can play many roles and change my physique constantly, but all those characters have a thread that unites them. They are characters that I identify with someone I know. I know who they are and how their life works. When they call me to play Stalin or Steve Jobs I always tell them that they have knocked on the wrong door, I don’t play those roles because I have never wanted to do an imitation of someone. I live a very eclectic life and I know a lot of people, I want to play all those people I know. You may or may not like what I do, but I can tell you with total sincerity that everything I do is really honest.

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