Thornton friendly as he wrestles with phobias

After listening to Billy Bob Thornton go on about his neuroses, it’s tempting to send him a bill for psychological services rendered.

Actor Billy Bob Thornton: much more amusing than an average neurotic.

PARK CITY, Utah — After listening to Billy Bob Thornton go on about his neuroses, it’s tempting to send him a bill for psychological services rendered.

Then again, he is much more amusing than an average neurotic. Maybe he is the one who ought to be paid.

It’s the morning after The Informers has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and Thornton, who has a small but indelible role in it, is up early to assist with promotion. He’s holding forth at a Main Street bar devoid of customers.

Although Thornton is courteous and charming in an easygoing Southerner’s way, you’re left with the impression he’d rather be sleeping.

He’s wearing an expensive leather jacket and a prominent necklace. Long gone is the vial of Angelina Jolie’s blood he wore around his neck during their tumultuous three-year marriage.

Thornton, 53, has kept a significantly lower profile since they divorced in 2003.

He has said they split because Jolie wanted to travel around the world, and he wanted to stay home and watch TV.

His need to be rooted on familiar territory has intensified, and Thornton now says he is “right on the verge of having full-blown agoraphobia,” a pathological aversion to being in public places.

“I am very, very nervous around people these days. I don’t get out much unless I’m working or doing something like this. I am getting really, really withdrawn,” he said with a winning smile that seemed at odds with his words.

“I have this kind of schizophrenic lifestyle because I am kind of a friendly guy. It’s not like I am some dark, creepy guy who won’t talk to anybody. If I do go out, I will socialize, but I prefer not to go out.”

Agoraphobia is nowhere near as bizarre as his other phobia. Thornton says he can’t stand to be around “really old stuff” and has a particular aversion to 18th-century French furniture.

“Buildings, too — for instance, an old castle in Scotland. I wouldn’t want to have dinner in one of those. It would just creep me out. I would become anxious and just imagine, like, dust and crud. And big old heavy silver flatware, I can’t use those. I use either plastic or cheap stuff from Target.”

Thornton grew up in Arkansas desiring to become a musician and lit out for Nashville in his 20s to try to make his dream come true.

“If things had gone better in Nashville I might never have gotten to Los Angeles at all,” he said.

He became a celebrity practically overnight in 1996 after writing and starring in Sling Blade, a sympathetic portrayal of a murderer returning to his hometown after being released from a psychiatric hospital, where he had been since age 12. The screenplay won him an Oscar.

The Informers, a saga of the rich, beautiful and nasty people in Los Angeles, is based on Bret Easton Ellis short stories of the same title.

Thornton is a fan of the author as well as a friend of his, and that’s one reason he agreed to do what is essentially a cameo, although he rarely accepts them.

While he keeps churning out movies, Thornton’s passion is music. He’s recorded several CDs with his band, the Boxmasters, performing a style of music he describes as equal parts hillbilly, rock ’n’ roll and pop. The six-piece band features Thornton on drums and vocals. He also writes many of the songs.

“My band has been very successful lately,” he said. “I am not really in a category with other actors who play music.”

Take that, Kevin Bacon and Joaquin Phoenix.

“We have a real great cult following,” said Thornton, who would gladly retire from movies and focus on his music if he could make the money he’s accustomed to making.

Since he and Jolie split up, his personal life has flown under the radar of gossip sites. He has settled down with Connie Angland, who used to work in special-effects makeup in Hollywood.

With four divorces behind him — that’s his count; most bios say he’s been married five times — he has decided he is not the marrying kind.

Contrary to several accounts, Thornton said he did not adopt Maddox, a Cambodian refugee, with Jolie, but he has spent time around the boy and said “he is a great kid, very intelligent.”

To hear him go on, you wonder why they ever divorced. When she and Brad Pitt are in Los Angeles they get together with Thornton. “She is absolutely great,” Thornton says. “She is amazing. I love her.”

Ruthe Stein writes for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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