Friday 10 April 2009

Entertainment: Train Wreck on Live Radio - the Billy Bob Thornton Q Interview

I had the pleasure of listening live to the Billy Bob Thornton interview on the CBC radio program Q, which hit the airwaves in Vancouver on Wednesday morning, April 8. Host Jian Ghomeshi had Thornton and the other members of his country music band The Boxmasters in-studio to promote a concert in Toronto.

From the instant that Thornton gave his first answer -- "I don't know what you're talking about"-- I sensed that I was about to witness a train wreck in slow motion. Was Thornton zonked out on drugs? Was he drunk?

The tension was evident over the air as the other three members of The Boxmasters tried nervously to rescue the session and answer Ghomeshi's questions. The combination of stress and anxiety in Ghomeshi's voice every time he directed a question to Thornton, not knowing what to expect and trying to salvage an interview from a clearly uncooperative subject, was riveting.

And finally when Thornton set-off on his "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine story, which was both sensationally hilarious and incredibly uncomfortable, it was clear that this interview was instantly gaining entry into the "all-time classic moments of radio" hall of fame, and it was just thrilling to be witnessing it.

So it turns out that Thornton was quite upset that his non-musical careers were mentioned by Ghomeshi in the introduction to interview. It seems that Mr. Thornton takes his musical career seriously and does not want listeners to even remember that he is also an award-winning actor and screen-writer. Whether or not he was also "under the influence" of something, we will never know.

As a semi-regular listener to parts of Ghomeshi's show, I could not help but feel a lot of sympathy for him as the drama unfolded. He ended up handling the situation brilliantly. It was one of these moments that a leader can never be prepared for, but when instincts need to take over and just the right combination of assertiveness and humility is needed to rescue the situation.

Almost as interesting was listening to Ghomeshi's next segment as he interviewed Canadian actor Albert Schultz. Even over the airwaves, I could sense the adrenaline gushing out of Ghomeshi as his heart beat returned to normal and his brain raced to replay what had just happened and the multitude of scenarios that could or should have happened. The veteran Schultz recognized that he had a role to help his host regain his bearings, and he did this very well.

So was Thornton following the age-old adage that "all publicity is good publicity", and recognizing that creating a bit of radio history was the best thing that he could do to boost the popularity of his otherwise obscure country music band? Maybe. But whatever his reasons, he should be thanked for creating a marvellously entertaining and memorable radio interview.

In case you missed it, here is a link to the interview.