Billy Bob Thornton

The Man Who Wasn't There

Interviewed by James Mottram

How would you describe working with Joel and Ethan Coen?

Their set is very calm. Very calm. Their set is not unlike mine, when I'm directing, in that everybody gets along. It's a very happy, relaxed set. The difference is my set is very loud, and my crew are renegade, worthless alcoholics. With the Coens, people are very calm and happy. The Coen brothers talk a lot if you know them well, but in a very dry way. We spent all our time between takes just laughing and coming up with ideas for the scenes.

What sort of training did you go through to play a barber?

I worked in a barber shop called Dirty Dan's Clip Joint, which was in Los Angeles. I went for two or three lessons and I learned to cut hair. It was way harder than you expect. I learned something about curly hair, which is nice. Curly hair is easier to cut; so if you're ever gonna try and fool somebody into thinking you can cut hair, then curly hair is easier to cut. Straight hair, you see all the mistakes.

Do you think your character, Ed, is like his creators in any way?

In a lot of ways, Ed is the Coen Brothers. His character is them in so many ways. We had this thing that I just naturally did, and it became one of the Coens' favourite cinematic experiences. It was called the 'Ed-nod'. A very slow, visible nod of acceptance. I would naturally do that. It's very Ethan Coen. The smoking, though, is very Joel.

Read what Frances McDormand had to say on playing Billy Bob's philandering wife.

"The Man Who Wasn't There" hits UK screens on 26th October 2001.