Billy Bob Thornton Doesn’t Think He Was ‘Equipped’ To Become Famous as a Teenager

by Samantha Whidden

Although he first achieved success in his 40s with his 1996 Oscar-winning film “Sling Blade,” TV and film actor Billy Bob Thornton says he wasn’t “equipped” for fame in his younger years due to a history of certain “chemical refreshments.”

During a recent interview with PEOPLE, Billy Bob Thornton reflected on his acting career throughout the years. He also said he thinks achieving career success in his 40s was actually for the best. “If I had made it as an actor when I was in my 20s or younger, I may not even be here now,” Thornton explained. “I don’t think I was equipped in my early 20s to handle that, because I had a history in my late teens, early ‘20s, of certain chemical refreshments and things like that.”

Billy Bob Thornton then noted that he doesn’t know if he would have made it through. “I’m happy that things unfolded in a way that I didn’t force, that they just happened. I still appreciate that.”

Billy Bob Thornton went on to reflect on the early days of his career. The actor said he originally ended up in Los Angeles for music, not acting. He ended up taking an acting class. “Because a guy I met said, ‘You ought to try this. I think you could do it.’ Thornton remembered. He also discussed his time as a struggling actor. “The next thing you know, you’re starving to death for years and years. People would say, ‘Why didn’t you go home if it was so bad out there?’ I said, ‘Well, I had nothing to go home to. I was poor there. I’m poor here. What am I going to do?’”

Billy Bob Thornton Ended Up Being More Interested in Acting Than in Music

Despite his early career struggles, Billy Bob Thornton ended up getting little parts. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I just made $750 for one day.’” He said. “I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should try this acting.’ And I grew to love it.”

Meanwhile, Billy Bob Thornton discussed fellow actor Robert Redford’s hand in his career. The two appeared together in “Indecent Proposal.”

“I was in a scene in a movie that Robert Redford starred in,” Thornton recalled. “During a break, he came up to me and said, ‘This is an amazing article.’ He was holding a publication with an article praising ‘One False Move’ [Thornton’s 1992 directorial debut].”

Redford went on to praise Thornton for the film. “‘You have a career because of this,’” Thornton quoted Redford. “‘People are going to sit up and take notice.’”

Redford then gave Thornton some helpful acting tips. “But then he said, ‘Here’s what you don’t do. Now that you’ve done this, don’t take the next big [film]. Do these kinds of movies and take supporting roles, and then do your own thing before you take a big movie.’”