Thornton Flees Canada After Likening Population to Gravyless Side-Starch


It doesn't take very long in today's trainwreck-hungry media environment for one surly interview to tank a movie star's career--a subsidiary, vanity career, mind you, but a career nonetheless. And in the few short days since Billy Bob Thornton delivered a barrage of impudent responses to unerringly polite CBC radio journalist Jian Ghomeshi, that's exactly what happened. The showdown, if you've not yet seen it, is highly entertaining--one yeshiva beard short of blogger nirvana, really--and occurred Wednesday, when Thornton was in Toronto with his band the Boxmasters to open for Willie Nelson.

Apparently Ghomeshi's cardinal sin was making a passing reference to Thornton's acting career in his intro, an affront to the Mr. Woodcock star's impeccable musical credentials. Thornton retaliated by whispering, "I'm not sure what that means," "I don't really know," and "I don't know...maybe..." to Ghomeshi's unprovocative questions. Then he mixed it up a bit, offering a non-sequitur shout-out to Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and finally a boastful, "I pretty much grew up as a music historian, so..." that instantly evoked Kristen Wiig's portrait of hair-twirling one-upmanship, Penelope.

Up until this point, Thornton just came across as a self-serious and impossible-to-manage asshole; but it was his decision to then take things out on reserved Canadian audiences themselves -- what he described as "mashed potatoes with no gravy" -- that really elevated this exchange to the level of international incident. For if there's one thing you simply do not do, it's accuse a nation of rabid poutine-gobblers of being even slightly gravy-deficient.

The fallout was swift, and severe. The following night, the Boxmasters (we're still not sure what a Boxmaster is; it sounds like something Billy Mays hawks on a 4 a.m. infomercial) were met with a chorus of boos from the Massey Hall crowd, to which Billy Bob responded, "Boo all you want, but I want to say something.... We're really happy to be here, but I need to say something. I talked to this a--hole yesterday...If you look someone in the eyes and promise them something, and you don't do it, you don't get the interview. That's the way it goes."

Surprisingly, that didn't seem to do the trick. The boos only intensified in volume, and were soon accompanied by catcalls of "Here comes the gravy!" -- an ugly phrase in any situation, and as vulgar as Canadians are likely to get outside a skating arena. Yesterday, Nelson's website posted a note saying the Boxmasters would cancel the remainder of their Canadian dates (last night's in Montreal, and today's in London, Ont.).

Asked by The Toronto Star if it had something to do with GhomeshiGate, Thornton's Rogers and Cowan publicist Arnold Robinson offered, "It is absolutely not because of the CBC interview. One of the band members and several of the crew have the flu and need a couple of days off to recuperate."

I suspect it's the kind of flu whose main symptom is a semi-rational fear of irate, spork-wielding Canadians -- just the latest addition to Thornton's well-documented list of highly-specific phobias, right beneath "antique furniture" and "certain types of flatware."

· Billy Bob ends Canadian tour []