Bad Santa was an unexpected Christmas hit, featuring a drunk, foul-mouthed Billy Bob Thornton as a crook who takes on the role of Santa Claus with unexpected and hilarious results. The cult comedy classic went down well with most audiences but was slammed by some for showing an incarnation of Santa who was crass, vulgar and perpetually intoxicated. And now, Thornton has revealed in a new interview that he took the ‘drunk’ part of the character to method acting extremes, particularly for the infamous drunken rampage scene.
“I drank about three glasses of red wine for breakfast… Then I switched over to vodka and cranberry juice, and then I had a few Bud Lights. By the time I got to that scene there, I barely knew I was in a movie.”
Of course, this incident is only one indication of a serious alcohol problem that Thornton was dealing with at the time. While committed to being as professional as possible for the duration of shooting, the actor’s after-work revelry with friends often had a negative impact on his performance during production, with Billy Bob saying:
“A couple of times, I was drunk, but not every day. I showed up with a hangover a few times. There were times when I’d be with my pals until 3:30 a.m. and have to be at work at 7 a.m. I wasn’t the most pleasant guy to be around.”
All of this led to more than a few standoffs between the actor and director of the film, Terry Zwigoff. So much so that when the producers wanted to reshoot certain portions of the movie, Zwigoff flatly refused to work with Thornton again, and instead, Todd Phillips, of Joker fame, was brought in to add some scenes which aimed to inject more heart into the pic and give the protagonist something of a redemptive arc for audiences to sympathize with.
While the making of the movie was riddled with difficulties, Bad Santa managed to be a hit at the box office and even garnered positive reviews from critics, which is a rare feat for small budget Christmas flicks. Both Thornton and Zwigoff have buried the hatchet over the years, too, noting that at least they were able to put out a movie that’s stood the test of time and added an unlikely comedy credit to Thornton’s resume, who was until then mostly known for working in serious dramas.