"This movie actually has a pretty decent message for kids to hear, and that is, with all the obsession with winning and being the best, all you really need to do is go out there and just try."
Times do change, and apparently the remakes must change with them. Just last week, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," hit theaters with Johnny Depp playing a far darker Willy Wonka than Gene Wilder. With a $56 million opening weekend, the movie more than found its audience.
In reviving the role of Coach Buttermaker, Thornton knew he was treading on sacred ground, and would have to come up with something new. "I'm a big fan of Walter Matthau and the original movie, so I would never even pretend that I would ever be as good or as funny as he is," he says.
"I purposely didn't watch the old movie before we did this," he said. "I'd seen it years ago, but I didn't want to pick up any of his mannerisms because I didn't want to imitate him."
Instead, Thornton drew upon his own field of dreams. Growing up in Hot Springs, Ark., he fancied himself a big league junk-ball pitcher, and in the early 1970s he got as far as a Kansas City Royals tryout camp.
"I had no idea I would ever be an actor," he said. "All I really wanted to do was pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals."
That dream ended before the Royals ever let him step on the mound. He broke his collarbone in a minor collision and had to settle on multiple Academy Award nominations for his acting, and a screenwriting Oscar in 1996 for "Sling Blade."
Thornton's interpretation of the mess of a man that we call Buttermaker clearly fits in the pantheon of his bleak characters.
"Buttermaker pitched two-thirds of an inning in the majors a long time ago. And since then, baseball's only been something he can use as a pickup line in a bar," he says. "He's bribed to coach this team, and though he starts out doing it for the money, the old spirit of the game comes back to him."
Baseball is not always kind to screwball pitchers, but Thornton is already into his windup and nobody denies the kid's got loads of heart and wicked stuff. Certainly, the jeers won't spook him.