Billy Bob Thornton Opens Up About Humble Childhood, Growing Up in Arkansas

It's been 13 years since Billy Bob Thornton's "Bad Santa" hit theaters.

ByABC News
November 23, 2016, 12:33 PM

— -- It's been 13 years since Billy Bob Thornton's "Bad Santa" hit theaters. The 8-year-old child star in the original film, Brett Kelly, is now a 21-year-old man. But along with Thornton, he's back for the sequel, "Bad Santa 2."

Thornton stopped by the ABC News studios to appear on the "Popcorn With Peter Travers" show. He explained the big gap between films.

Billy Bob Thornton and Willie Soke are seen here in "Bad Santa 2."
Jan Thijs/Broad Green Pictures/Miramax

"We had the feeling that we would make a sequel to it someday, but not right away," Thornton told ABC News. "I think it helped us that we waited 13 years because now it seems like another movie."

This time around, the "Bad Santa" crew is out to rob a charity and again bring on the laughs. Peter Travers asked if Thornton is in any way similar to his "bad guy" Christmas character.

"Nah, I’m the other kind of father. I’m the one where the kids are saying, 'Dad, don’t hug me so much, will ya?'" Thornton joked. "I’m kind of the opposite of Willie [his character in the film] in that sense. I love the holiday season and all that. But like anybody else, I think we’re all a little tired of companies preying on your sentimentality to sell you products, right? When you’re a kid, you don’t know anything about that."

Thornton pointed out that the "Bad Santa" franchise is not your typical, "tug at the heart"-type Christmas movie.

"I think that this movie, the first one, the reason it struck a chord was because it was the antidote to the usual Christmas movie," Thornton, 61, told Peter Travers. "It was sort of the alternative to the over-sentimental, very commercial kind of movie. And I think not all people have a great time when the family gathers at Christmas. Sometimes you've got an Uncle Ernie who can upset the apple cart at any minute."

Billy Bob Thornton and Peter Travers are seen here at the ABC Studios in New York, Nov. 16, 2016.

Thornton talked about his own upbringing, telling Travers he had a humble childhood.

"Well, I came from a big family and we would all gather at my grandmother’s house out in the woods there where I lived the first 6 or 7 years of my life. And you know, the family came in from Texas, we had a lot of family there. We didn’t have a lot of money. But you know when you’re a kid you don’t know that. I mean you’re not aware of all of that kind of stuff," Thornton said.

"I mean, we had what we had and we didn’t know any different. So it was pretty happy around the holidays," he added. "We would all get our stick and our rock in the stocking. It was amazing. I remember in high school, we would always order Christmas stuff out of the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog or whatever, you’d pick your stuff out. And I’ll never forget having a $15 limit, my brothers and I."

"This is going make me sound so old but in those days $15 bought a lot more, you know. I mean, you could get like three things. And even though we didn’t have much money, it was comfortable enough," Thornton said.

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Those special holidays included many Santa visits. Thornton talked about believing in Santa until he was nearly a teenager.

"I was one of those latecomers to the cynicism table," Thornton said. "I actually got into a fist fight at school when a kid told me there was no Santa Claus and that I was an idiot for believing that and I was probably 12."

"I think when I started to question it was when I was trying to figure out the logistics of how Santa Claus did that, and I was thinking, 'Well, hang on a second. How is he in like Sweden and he goes to every house in Sweden in one night and then he has got to go over to Denmark? Then after he goes to every house in Denmark, how does he get to New York and then L.A. and Arkansas and all this -- there’s no way. I mean he’s a cool cat but,'" Thornton said.

But Thornton's own children caught on to Santa a little earlier in life than he did and like many children, started asking questions.

"The way I explained it to my kids when they started figuring out that maybe Santa Claus was me, I just said, 'Well, look, it’s really more an idea. And you know they talk about the Christmas spirit? It’s more that kind of thing,'" he said.

Be sure to watch Peter Travers' full interview with Billy Bob Thornton above. "Bad Santa 2" hits theaters today.

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