‘Bad Santa 2’ stars Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks on what Christmas means to them
LOS ANGELES — Bad Santa 2, like its raunchy, profane and absolutely insane original from 13 years ago, puts the boots to political correctness. This disjointed movie franchise is the antidote to the idea of Christmas as a family-friendly time of celebration.
So please, please, please heed this warning: Do not take the kids! This is an adult movie about crime, punishment, gun violence, sexual perversion, wild insults and other deviant behaviour perpetrated by people in an alcoholic haze!
Meanwhile, this is also a learning opportunity. I sat down for one-on-one interviews with each of the three leading actors: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks. Talking turkey, with a side of cranberry sauce, they each offered insights into their own holiday traditions and how much that contrasts with the way Bad Santa 2 so gleefully trashes the Christmas spirit.
Some background first: For better or worse, audiences dive back into the criminal world of mall Santa Willie T. Stokes (Thornton reprises the role, of course). Willie is persuaded by his former partner and now sworn enemy Marcus (played by Tony Cox) to team up for another score. But they will have to go to Chicago.
Once there in the Windy City, Willie discovers that his psychotic, heavily tattooed, biker-chick mom (Bates) is part of the criminal plan. Along for the ride is naive simpleton Thurman Merman, Willie’s young pal from Phoenix. New to the mix is the alcoholic sex addict Diane (Hendricks). She happens to run the children’s charity that Willie & company target for the heist. The charity collects money through an army off on-street Santas. Willie gets back into his white-trimmed red suit. Let the hijinks begin.
CHRISTMAS WITH BILLY...
Billy Bob Thornton, an Arkansas-born Oscar-winner, turned 61 this year. He plays Willie with gusto. But he remembers the Christmas traditions he grew up with as a very different experience from the one depicted in the two Bad Santa movies.
“I grew up in a family that was pretty poor but, when you’re a kid, you don’t know you’re poor. You just think that’s the way it is and, when you get a couple of little toys, you just think that’s what everyone gets. Until you get older, in high school, and then you see there is a pecking order and you start to feel it. But Christmas was still real traditional around our house. It was just a regular Christmas and my favourite time of the year. Now it’s that way again, with my own family.”
Thornton has been married six times, divorced five times and has five children. One ex-wife is Angelina Jolie, who just split up with her third husband, Brad Pitt. Thornton is currently married to Connie Angland, a makeup and special effects technician, and they share a young daughter.
In some of the years between Arkansas and his current state of family bliss, Thornton recalls some sour Christmas experiences. “When I came out to California, I was pretty destitute — for years, you know. So I spent some Willie kind of Christmas’s — all alone with a few in me, with no money to go back home and feeling sorry for myself. Between 1980 and maybe 1986-87, I had some pretty bad ones. Christmas to me now is a really happy time, because of my kids, but also kind of a melancholy time because of reflecting on the past.”
His connection to the world of Willie and the Bad Santa movies is mostly professional, however. “First of all, as an actor, you don’t want to just play the sheriff all the time, or whatever it is. You want to play interesting, out-there characters. On the first movie, there had never been a character like that. It created a new sub-genre within comedies. Nobody had gone that far yet. So, yes, it’s absolutely fun to play.”
But Mark Waters’ movie works on another level, too, and actually has a serious subtext, according to Thornton. “Willie is a guy who desperately wants things to be different but he knows they’re not going to be. So, not only does he self-medicate, he just pours salt in his wounds every day.”
CHRISTMAS WITH KATHY...
Kathy Bates has three Oscar noms, with one win as best actress for Misery (1990). At 68, Bates is feeling this Christmas more than she does most. “It has been a very reflective time for me,” she says, tears welling up in her soulful eyes. “I’ve been very aware of what’s going on in the world. I’ve had so much given to me, this year especially, in terms of work and honours and attention. People say: ‘Oh, you deserve it!’ Well, we all deserve it!”
Bates feels haunted by images of orphaned refugee children from war zones. “I see their faces and I think: ‘I want them to have all of this, too.’ ” Then she sees her country elect Donald Trump as its next president and despairs. “I want to give him an opportunity … but I am so worried!”
For solace, Bates plans to spend Christmas 2016 as she has for years: Alone in her Los Angeles house with her dogs, watching the year’s movies on Academy screeners. At New Year’s, she will join close friends in New York.
For Bates, doing Bad Santa 2 was “an escape hatch” from the pressures she felt building up all year. She also thinks there is something beneath the surface that audiences should value.
“I know this is a raucous, insane and raunchy comedy about thieves, deviant souls and con artists, but I believe there is a little bit of gold in each of us that can still be mined.”
But the idea that her fans think of her only as a classy dramatic actress generates a one-word response, with a big Bates smile: “Oops!”
CHRISTMAS WITH CHRISTINA...
Christina Hendricks, now 41, earned six consecutive Emmy Awards for her sterling support work on TV’s Mad Men, playing the vivacious office manager Joan Harris. The native of Knoxville, Tenn., grew up in a family that celebrated Christmas in a secular way. “So it really was a time of being together and taking that time to relax and cook and socialize and decorate the house.”
She and her husband, actor Geoffrey Arend, are hosting this year, inviting both their families to come calling at Christmas.
For Hendricks, who adores cooking for family gatherings, Christmas is actually stress-free. It is the only time of the year that agents or producers or directors or studios do not interrupt her daily life. “There is no one who is going to call me in that two-week period, and I can sit home and relax and knit something and catch up on all the movies I want to watch.”
As for Bad Santa 2, any shock that her fans might have over her choice to do this movie is more amusing than concerning, she says. Plus she had no qualms about the naughty stuff her character gets up to, including sex acts with Thornton’s Willie.
“When you walk into this situation, you have signed on to what it is,” Hendricks says. “There is no place for feeling awkward or dainty.”
The fact that the original Bad Santa is a cult classic paved the way. “It is undeniably funny. And I wanted to work with these actors. So, if anyone says: ‘What were you thinking?’ I could say: ‘Well, Kathy Bates did it and she really classes up the joint! They all do.
“Listen, this is a film that is raunchy and lowbrow. But it loaded with incredible actors, with great writing, and everyone I know who is a fan of the first one wants to see another one. And this movie is f---ing funny! That I know to be true.”
Bad Santa 2 opens Nov. 23.