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Bowling with Billy Bob Thornton

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Billy Bob Thornton autographs a bowling pin at the request of an employee while bowling the night away with friends at Bolwmor Lanes in Santa Monica, Calif., on May 22, 2018.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Billy Bob Thornton takes aim at Bolwmor Lanes in Santa Monica, Calif., on May 22, 2018. His love of bowling may contradict the image of Billy Bob Thornton, the 63-year-old actor, musician, writer and ex-husband of five.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Billy Bob Thornton gathers with friends at Bowlmor Lanes in Santa Monica, Calif., on May 22. His love of bowling may contradict the image of Thornton, the 63-year-old actor, musician, writer and ex-husband of five.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. >> Billy Bob Thornton stood at the foot of a lane inside the Bowlmor bowling alley and arcade here and squinted at a rack of pins. He paused a moment, his right arm poised at a 90-degree angle, his right hand gently cradling the ball. He reached back, aimed and, with a quick two-step, lobbed the ball down the middle of the lane.

Sterrrrikkkkke!

Hollers, whoops and high-fives all around.

His love of bowling may contradict the image of Billy Bob Thornton, the 63-year-old actor, musician, writer and ex-husband of five. You may think of him as a tatted up, whiskey-swilling, uncensorable iconoclast with an 11,000-square-foot party pad in Beverly Hills and one ex who reportedly wore a vial of his blood around her neck.

That would be Angelina Jolie, except that’s not the real story. It wasn’t blood, he said. Well, not a lot of blood. Well, it wasn’t a vial. “She had one of those lockets, and we pricked our fingers and put few drops in there,” Thornton said.

Not that those crazy days didn’t exist, though the only hint of them is the tattoos that cover nearly every inch of his arms, and various hidden body parts. “We had a good time,” he said matter-of-factly, with only the faintest tinge of nostalgia.

These days, he is dedicated to his sixth wife, Connie Angland, whom he met in 2003 on the set of “Bad Santa,” and their 14-year-old daughter, Bella. Thornton spends a lot of time at home: “You’re only busy when you’re shooting.” The rest of the time, he is writing music or hanging out with the three other children he had with two of the other ex-wives.

Thornton has been bowling since he was about Bella’s age. Growing up in Hot Springs, Ark., he said, there wasn’t much else to do.

Though his mother, a psychic, predicted that her son would one day work with Burt Reynolds (he did, in “Evening Shade”), and win an Oscar (he did, for “Sling Blade”), what he really wanted to do was play professional baseball. He even tried out for the Kansas City Royals, but a wayward pitch broke his collarbone.

At Bowlmor, Thornton was surrounded by trusted comrades: Angland; Teddy Andreadis, a keyboardist, and J.D. Andrew, a guitarist, both of whom are in his band the Boxmasters (Thornton plays the drums and sings); his longtime publicist, Arnold Robinson; Jaime Sickora, the chief engineer at Henson Recording Studios, in Hollywood, where Thornton has done all of his albums; and the manager of Henson, Faryal Ganjehei.

Thornton is not Mr. Hollywood anymore. Other than “Dwight,” as in Yoakam, his closest pal in that industry is Dennis Quaid, invited tonight but, alas, out of town.

Thornton certainly looked like a rock star, in a sleeveless black tank top, fedora, dog tags dangling from a chain around his neck. His hair and goatee silver, he wore corrective lenses that remained dark even indoors. “They’re lighter than my sunglasses,” he said.

Wherever he and the Boxmasters go on tour, which they were about to embark for their new album, “In Stereo,” they make time for bowling.

He bought his own ball, with a blue-and-silver design, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Boxmasters were opening for Def Leppard, and on days off the two bands would get into competitive bowling.

But tonight Thornton was using the house balls, which were slick and sweaty and, well, gross.

“I have OCD, anxiety and a phobia of antique furniture,” said Thornton, walking back into the alley after one of several breaks to smoke American Spirit cigarettes.

Thankfully, he had the foresight to bring a large bottle of Purell, which he placed on a table by an oversize plate of untouched nachos. He squirted some on his hands after every turn.

“All musicians are good at bowling,” Sickora said. “I think it has to do with their hands.”

This was a busy summer for the actor. Along with the Boxmasters tour, the second season of his Amazon Studios drama, “Goliath,” in which Thornton plays a down-on-his luck alcoholic lawyer, started on June 15. He won a Golden Globe for it in 2017.

Three games, a few beers and many cigarettes later, the final tally was 398 for Thornton’s team, and 384 for his opponents. He bowled a 139, a 130 and a 99: not his best by a long shot, but still OK.

What would he do if he hadn’t won? “Probably go in the corner and pout,” he said.

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