Western Legend Bruce Dern Talks Friendship with ‘1883’ Star Billy Bob Thornton

by Keeli Parkey

During his decades-long Hollywood acting career, Western film legend Bruce Dern has appeared in many iconic movies. And he has worked with many other very famous people.

One of those famous people is actor Billy Bob Thornton. One of Thornton’s most recent projects is a role in the “Yellowstone” prequel, “1883.”

The relationship between Dern and Thornton goes way deeper than co-stars. The two well-known actors both appeared in the drama, “Goliath,” which was led by David E. Kelley.

The two actors are friends. And at one point, Thornton even dated a member of Dern’s family. That family member was Bruce Dern’s daughter, Laura Dern.

As film fans are aware, Laura is a successful actress in her own right. She has appeared in such films as “Jurassic Park,” “Wild,” and “Blue Velvet.” Her television work includes roles in such popular series as “Enlightened,” “Twin Peaks,” “Big Little Lies,” and “F Is for Family.”

According to what Bruce Dern said during an October 2021 interview with TV Fanatic, Laura and Thornton dated for a time. But even after their relationship came to an end, Thornton and her father, Bruce Dern, continued to be friends.

Interestingly, it was Billy Bob Thornton who recruited Dern to join the cast of “Goliath.” In that Amazon Prime series, Thornton plays Billy McBride. When he joined the cast, Dern took on the role as the character of Frank Zax.

“1883” Star Billy Bob Thornton Called Bruce Dern to Convince Him to Join the Cast of Another Series

In an effort to get Bruce Dern to join the “Goliath,” Billy Bob Thornton made a call to the now 85-year-old actor. Dern recalled the phone call he received from Thornton regarding “Goliath” during the October 2021 interview.

“He said, ‘Would you do a series?’ And I said, ‘Well, I did ‘Big Love,’ but I didn’t have much to do in it, even though I got nominated for an Emmy a couple of times from it.’ I don’t know why, but I did,” Dern recalled.

While he didn’t immediately jump on board for the work, Bruce Dern was interested in the project that his friend Thornton proposed to him. “So then I said, ‘Well, what’s, what’s the series?’ He said, ‘Well, I do a series called ‘Goliath.’ And this year, I want to do a series about two brothers that own pharma,'”

Dern had a very strong reaction to what Thornton had just proposed to him. “And I shouted out. I said, ‘I’m not a Sackler am I?’ Sackler is the family that owns big pharma. And he said, ‘No, no, no, but the same idea.’ And I said, ‘Well, what’s the part like?’ He said, ‘Think Raymond Burr in Rear Window,'” Dern also recalled.

This conversation convinced Bruce Dern to join his friend in “Goliath.”

“And I thought, ‘I get it.’ He saw them when he was cutting up his wife, watching him cut her up. Therefore, they know he saw them watching him, and he knows they saw him watching them. And that’s what Billy got me right away. I said, ‘I’m hooked. When? Where do I go?'” Dern also recalled.