It's every journalist's nightmare: an interview with a star that goes horribly wrong. In a 6 a.m. interview Wednesday morning in Toronto, Canada, on the CBC radio show Studio Q, Billy Bob Thornton refused to answer questions posed to him by the show's host, Jian Ghomeshi, and then, when confronted by Ghomeshi, lectured the host on how to do his job.
Thornton — on tour with his band The Boxmasters promoting their third album this year, Mod Billy — took offense that Ghomeshi mentioned Thornton's film career during the introduction for the show. It's unclear why this was such a terrible transgression, but from that point on, Thornton evaded or ignored Ghomeshi's questions. When asked about his band being together for only two years, Thornton responded: "I don't know what you're talking about." And then, when asked the question more directly, he said, "I don't know what you mean." It went downhill from there.
The band is currently on tour with Willie Nelson, but when Ghomeshi asked Thornton, "What do you learn from Willie Nelson?" Thornton responded: "I've never met him." The tension built to a confrontation, with Thornton telling Ghomeshi that the host was "instructed not to discuss" Thornton's film career. Ghomeshi respectfully tried to resolve the situation and move on, but to little effect. At the end of the segment, when the band was supposed to play a track from their album, Thornton said the band would be performing without him because he didn't bring his drums. He soon afterward stood up and walked out of the studio.
What's particularly odd about this incident is that Thornton, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Sling Blade and was once married to Angelina Jolie, is typically one the best interviews around — funny, engaging, a born storyteller and willing to psychoanalyze himself (and his costars) on the record. Given that, there's already speculation floating around the web that Thornton was under the influence for this interview. His spokesman, Arnold Robinson, says that is flatly untrue. "Billy Bob clearly just had an issue with the guy," Robinson says.
Robinson confirms that while it's true Thornton does not like to be asked about his movie career while he's out promoting his band, Ghomeshi was never "instructed" to avoid the topic. "Bottom line: We don't tell people what questions they can or cannot ask," Robinson says.
Apparently, Thornton just wasn't in the best mood this morning, but he doesn't seem to have had a change of heart in the hours since. When asked if there were any apologies or group hugs after the segment, Robinson laughs. "I don't think so, no."