SI: Walter Matthau played Buttermaker in the 1976 original. Did you study his performance?
Thornton: I purposely did not watch the movie around the time we were filming because I didn't want to imitate him.
SI: You're a Cardinals fan. In 1998 you threw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium. Who was your catcher?
Thornton: Bob Gibson. It was nerve-racking. All of the pitches I learned growing up I learned out of this book he had written. I threw him a slider--a good one. He gave me the ball back and said, "That was a damn good slider. Where did you get that?" I said, "Out of your book."
SI: You were the drummer in a band called the McCoveys, after Willie. How good were you?
Thornton: We were little kids. I was nine or 10. I was such a baseball nut that I wanted to name my band after a player, but none of the Cardinals' names sounded good. The Floods. The Gibsons. But I always loved Willie McCovey, even though I wasn't a Giants fan. He had so much class. A couple of years ago I was doing a radio interview [in San Francisco], and the guys brought that up, and McCovey called into the radio station. He invited me to the Giants' game that afternoon. We sat in his box and had a great time.
SI: You won an Academy Award for the Sling Blade screenplay. Would you like to write a sports movie?
Thornton: Absolutely. My dad was a high school basketball coach in Arkansas. I've thought about writing a movie about a guy like my dad and his family. We touched on some of those topics in Friday Night Lights, particularly the one where if you don't win, you may have to move. That happened to us quite a bit.
SI: You've been married five times. Do you see any similarities between you and a ballplayer who's played for five teams?
Thornton: Yeah, it's probably the same kind of the deal (laughs). I feel like that sometimes, like I've bounced around from Seattle to Kansas City to San Diego. --Richard Deitsch
SCOTT GRIES/GETTY IMAGES (THORNTON)
JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (THORNTON PITCHING)