Tuned in to small screen
Billy Bob Thornton. Picture: Chris Large/AP

At a party full of Hollywood TV stars surrounded by journalists brandishing tape recorders, Billy Bob Thornton stands out from the crowd.

First, he is one of the few who doesn't have a minder hovering next to him trying to wind up the conversation and move along to the next interview.

Second, he's happy to talk. Genuinely talk.

To anyone, from anywhere, about his movies, his mentors, his band, his three kids and of course, his move to television, which is why he is at the Fox and FX event in Pasadena.

Third, he's probably the only Oscar winner in the room.

Add to that, he's effortlessly charming and not at all scary like some of his movie characters.

Thornton won an Oscar in 1997 for his screenplay for Slingblade and was also nominated for best actor. Roles in A Simple Plan, Bad Santa, Bandits and The Man Who Wasn't There earned him Golden Globe nominations and a slew of critics' awards around the world.

Having just completed three films, you have to wonder, why TV and why now?

"Hi, how are you," Thornton enthuses, convinced we have met before.

"First of all, everybody's going to TV now who wants to do acting for adults.

"The kinds of roles you can get in movies, especially studio movies, that field is being narrowed more all the time unless you're going to be in a big event movie - which is not what I'm known for - or you're going to be in a TV vampire movie or an action movie or a broad comedy - which I'm also not known for.

"Some people may argue Bad News Bears and Bandits and Bad Santa were broad comedies, but not really.

"If you really think about it they were a little more contained and Bad Santa especially was a little more dark.

"The mid-level movies and the higher budget independent films, which is my wheelhouse, that's what they do on TV now.

"I wasn't planning on doing it but when I got offered this . . . I didn't really want to be in a series that could potentially go five or six years.

"They said 'Ten episodes, the Coen Brothers executive producers, here's the script'. I read it, it was amazing and I said 'Ten episodes of something this great, who wouldn't do it?'"

Fargo, adapted by novelist/writer Noah Hawley, follows an all-new "true" crime case with new characters entrenched in the trademark humour, murder and "Minnesota nice" that made the 1996 Oscar-winning film an enduring classic.

Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo, "a rootless, manipulative man who meets and forever changes the life" of small-town insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by BAFTA Award-winning Sherlock and The Hobbit star Martin Freeman.

Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh and Oliver Platt also star.

"I'm not trying to get out of it but I really can't because I play the mysterious stranger from out of town," Thornton says when asked to describe his character.

"Nobody knows who I am, where I'm from or what I'm up to.

"That's the honest answer. With each episode we read, this thing unfolds in a way you can't believe, it's pretty great.

"It's more like a continuation (of the movie) and not necessarily with the same people. It's that area, those things happened there but here's what happens with them and other people later. It's got exactly the same tone as the movie did, so I think they are doing a wonderful job."

Thorton's forthcoming big-screen ventures include The Judge with Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall, London Fields (based on Martin Amis' book) with Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and Jim Sturgess, and Cut Bank with John Malkovich, Bruce Dern and Aussies Teresa Palmer and Liam Hemsworth.

He regards Duvall as a mentor, Dern as a father figure and loves working with

Aussies such as Cate Blanchett and Hemsworth, whom he has stayed in touch with since filming for Cut Bank wrapped in Canada.

"He was great, what a great kid, I love him, we had a great time together up there," he says.

"He's a very focused kid when he's acting, he was really focused and very good. I went out with him a couple of times and he and I just hit it off; as a matter of fact he and I text each other all the time.

"I play the father of the girl he is seeing in the movie. I have worked with people from down there a lot.

"I was very close with Heath Ledger also. I loved Heath. You know Liam reminds me a lot of Heath in certain ways."

The West Australian

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