HOLLYWOOD -- Billy Bob Thornton suffers from allergies (during this interview he threatens to "sneeze all over the table"), phobias (a well-publicized fear of antique furniture, for one) and admits he rarely leaves his house.
All of which might make you question his current reign as Hollywood's go-to alpha male in such fare as Friday's School for Scoundrels, in which he plays a suavely sociopathic self-help guru who teaches losers how to become ladies' men. (Sneezing all over them, presumably, is not in the lesson plan.)
Until you remember this small, if not insignificant, point noted by Scoundrels co-screenwriter Scot Armstrong: "I have never made out with Angelina Jolie. But Billy Bob has."
And more, of course.
He married her. He swapped vials of blood. And, when he wasn't having honest-to-God sex with Jolie, he was going off to work to perform a naked sex scene with Halle Berry in Monster's Ball, which, while staged, was probably still better than 90% of the real sex other guys have.
No wonder in a town of pretty waxed boys, Thornton has ascended the ranks from Sling Blade auteur to a tattooed, hirsute man's man.
The subject of his mojo even comes up during roundtable interviews when one journalist asks Thornton what the secret of his romantic success is.
Suddenly, a routine press junket is transformed into a de facto version of Thornton's cinematic Scoundrels school.
"I don't know if there's any formula for it," says the 51-year-old actor of his enviable good fortune with the opposite sex.
"I think you have to have a sense of humour. And you have to be who you are upfront and not have any surprises. You kind of say, 'Just so you know, I'm not perfect here.' "
Thornton and Jolie divorced in 2003, but the topic of the former Mrs. Thornton arises thanks to a line of dialogue in Scoundrels.
At one point, Thornton's character, Dr. P, mocks people who get married and adopt Chinese babies. Jolie, of course, adopted her Cambodian son Maddox while she was still with Thornton, and has since adopted an Ethiopian girl with new squeeze Brad Pitt.
Both Thornton and director Todd Phillips (Old School, Road Trip) deny the joke is meant as a jab at Jolie.
Suggest that it might be seen as such, regardless of intentions, and Thornton responds, "Well, that's just stupid. That's a line in script. A lot of people are adopting Chinese babies and that's what the line meant. I didn't write the script. I'm just an actor. If people want to think that, then that's their own judgment. It's not anything anybody intended. Matter of fact, I didn't even think about it until somebody said something about it and I was like, 'So what?' That's pretty ignorant if (they think) there's some reference to Angelina."
Explains Phillips, "The truth is, we wrote that line as a goof line. We never talked about it. I don't think he made a connection (to Jolie) and we just wrote it about how people are."
Did they consider cutting the line once they realized some people might think it's a diss at Jolie?
"No. It gets a laugh, it's funny, and it's not really a mean line."
Post-Jolie, Thornton has moved on as well.
He has a two-year-old daughter, Bella, with girlfriend Connie Angland.
But the actor, who has been married five times and has five children, including Bella, says a sixth wedding isn't in his future.
"Probably not. I don't want to put someone through that in the papers -- 'Here's another one,' you know?
"I do have a girlfriend and we've been living together two or three years and that's who I have my daughter with. She understands I don't really want to do that. It's not that I have anything against marriage as an institution. It just doesn't work for me. I think maybe the official documentation for me creates a sort of claustrophobia in me, maybe."
As does, from a career perspective, the prospect of playing only louts and Lotharios for the rest of his life.
Scoundrels, Phillips reveals, was written with Thornton in mind.
"Ever since Bad Santa, people like to watch me play that kind of guy," Thornton admits. "The difference with (the Scoundrels) character and sort of Bad News Bears and Bad Santa, those two characters operate more from heart, this guy operates from his head."
Still, he doesn't sound like he minds too much.
"It's nice to play an ass**** every now and again."
Does he believe in Scoundrels' prevailing theme that nice guys finish last?
"I think there's a little truth in that, actually. Certainly you see a lot of bad guys in the world doing OK and everyone else suffers for it. I don't think it's a rule, though. It's better to be a nice guy."
Is it hard to be a nice guy in show business?
"Not for me. I don't really participate much. I don't go out much. I rarely go out of the house. When I do, I don't mingle much with the Hollywood crowd. I used to.
"In the beginning, you have to. But then you reach a certain level of success and you don't have to necessarily beat around the bushes anymore. It gets easier.
"And I've got a two-year-old, so I've got a lot to do. I spend a lot of time watching television. If it's not sports, it's Teletubbies and Dragon Tales and all of that.
"My boys are 12 and 13, so they're into a whole other thing. They're hockey players and I don't know much about hockey. When I go to their hockey matches, I don't know what the rules are so I just watch all the other parents and when they cheer, I do, too."
Phillips describes Thornton as "very outgoing. He is a big personality and very much the centre of attention when he's in the right mode. He's the alpha male on the set. Everyone looks up to him."
Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) first worked with Thornton when they co-starred in 1998's Armageddon.
"I knew he was a nut then," says Duncan, who plays Thornton's henchmen in Scoundrels.
"He did one scene in total drag. He did the whole scene as this gay guy, which was so funny. The camera wasn't on him, it was on us. It was just hilarious.
"At that point, I said that's a cool guy. He doesn't pretend to be anything other than what he is. Whatever you see is what you get. He's not one way and then the other. That's what I like about him, he's not Hollywood at all. He's just Billy Bob and that's what I adore about him."
With Scoundrels out this week and Mr. Woodcock, a dark comedy in which Thornton plays a gym teacher who torments former student Seann William Scott, Thornton says his next few projects will be dramatic.
The first of those, The Astronaut Farmer, is due out in January.
He'll next shoot the coming-of-age saga Peace Like A River in Calgary early next year.
He would also like to direct again, something he hasn't done since All The Pretty Horses with Matt Damon.
"I have a couple things I want to direct, but I don't know when it's going to happen. It's really hard to get a movie made these days. They've really cracked down on budgets unless it's a big franchise movie -- it's not as hard to get Spider-Man. But even studios just want to make either $12- to $15- million movies or $150-million movies and not much in the middle. And it just so happens the movies I want to make are $25- $30-million movies and those are really tough to get made now. They want you to make it for half that.
"One of the things I want to do is a period piece, sort of an epic, and we can do it for $25-30 million, which is still pinching pennies, but I can't cut it in half. I have to just keep going until I find someone willing to do it -- maybe outside the studio system, some rich guy. Maybe I have to go to an oil company to get it made."