Billy Bob Thornton, on the right side of the law in `Faster'

 

Billy Bob Thornton has played a lot of characters -- astronaut (Armageddon), prison guard (Monster's Ball), lecherous conman (Bad Santa), gangster (The Ice Harvest), simple-minded avenger (Sling...

Billy Bob Thornton has played a lot of characters -- astronaut (Armageddon), prison guard (Monster's Ball), lecherous conman (Bad Santa), gangster (The Ice Harvest), simple-minded avenger (Sling Blade), Davy Crockett (The Alamo), president (Love, Actually), even air traffic controller (Pushing Tin), where he met his ex-wife Angelina Jolie.

Not a whole lotta cops, though, except for a 2002 indie called The Badge.

``That didn't exactly set the world on fire,'' acknowledges Thornton from New York. ``Cops are something that actors do a lot of. I admit, it's odd that I haven't.''

You can't blame a guy for not wanting to be typecast, but Thornton, 55, is a natural in Faster, as a soon-to-retire, seen-it-all lawman on Dwayne Johnson's trail.

What was the attraction?

``There have been movies with characters like this before,'' Thornton says. ``He's worn out and gone over to the dark side a little bit, lost his family, gotten into drugs.''

The film reminded Thornton of some of his favorites, like The Verdict with Paul Newman as a down and out lawyer who resurrects himself with a case, and Bullitt with Steve McQueen.

``Faster is a kind of throwback,'' Thornton says. ``But it's got a very contemporary style in terms of how quickly it's cut.''

Working with The Rock was more fun than it looked.

``He's such a nice guy,'' the Arkansas native says. ``When people see someone that hulking they think, `Wow I bet he's scary,' but he's nothing like that.''

Now that the cop role is behind him, the presently single father of three is looking to branch out.

``I've always wanted to play a professor,'' Thornton confesses. ``None of the newer movies seem to hit on the college experience.''

He's been around schools, though, like in the remake of The Bad News Bears and raunchy comedy, Mr. Woodcock.

``My dad was a high school coach, so it wasn't that hard for me to fall into,'' Thornton says with a chuckle. ``I remember him throwing basketballs at me.''

Sounds like the sometime musician (he has a blues rock band, The Boxmasters) won't be doing much more funny stuff.

``Comedy is a lot harder to do than drama because you can't let the script be the guide,'' he says. ``You have to go for a specific result: Making people laugh. With dramas you don't have that pressure. I don't know how stand-up comedians do it -- I'd be mortified.''

-- MADELEINE MARR

``Faster'' is out Wednesday.

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