How ‘Love Actually’ Accidentally Revealed Billy Bob Thornton’s Bizarre Phobias

Many people see Billy Bob Thornton as very talented — and some of those same people also see him as very strange. The actor pops up on TV a lot this time a year because people are watching the coziest of Christmas romcoms: Love Actually.

Thorton plays a small part of the president of the United States. And that movie brought out the strange in him. 

Yes, it was Love Actually, and not so much Thornton’s other Christmas movie, Bad Santa. Once people know what they’re getting with Bad Santa, they expect the outrageous. But Thornton got the willies with the other movie. 

It’s a Billy Bob Thornton Christmas

Love Actually and Bad Santa both came out in 2003. The latter features Thornton as the most misanthropic movie Santa ever.

In Bad Santa, Thorton plays Willie Stokes, a criminal who plays Santa Claus in department stores while his diminutive accomplice plays an elf. Only they’re not very merry. What they’re really doing is casing department stores so they can rob them. What they don’t count on are an earnest kid who thinks Willie is really Santa, and Lauren Graham playing a woman with a Santa fetish. 

The movie has become a cult classic for people who love black comedy and/or need an antidote to all that sentimental hallmark stuff. A sequel, Bad Santa 2, came out in 2015 but is not as well regarded.

In many ways, Love Actually is the polar opposite of Bad Santa. Although it has some crass humor, with Thornton supplying some of the acid that movie is ultimately as warm and fuzzy as an ugly Christmas sweater.

Thornton’s president makes inappropriate comments about Natalie, a junior member of the Prime Minister’s staff who has a crush on the minister, played by Hugh Grant.

What is Billy Bob Thornton afraid of?

Billy Bob Thorton arrives at the opening of the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter' at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Billy Bob Thorton | Jason Kempin/Universal Studios/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Thornton’s part in Love Actually is relatively small, but it caused some grief for the actor. According to the New Zealand Herald, Thornton has a phobia of antiques.

Martine McCutcheon, who played Natalie, told EW: “Billy Bob Thornton hates antiques, and Hugh [Grant] was constantly pointing at pieces that were 500 years old, “And Billy Bob was going [in his Southern accent], ‘Oh my Gahd, Hugh, I dun’t laake this.’

And that wasn’t the only thing that rattled Thornton. According to Love Actually writer-director Richard Curtis, the most fun thing was that one of Thorton’s oddest phobias was towards [British prime minister] Benjamin Disraeli’s facial hair: “Obviously, this is the only movie in history where he’d have to walk past a picture of Benjamin Disraeli. So I told him, ‘Bad news, Billy Bob.'”

Thornton told The New York Times the stories of the phobias were exaggerated, although not without some truth. 

“I don’t mind a chair. I can go as far back as you want with Asia or Mexico. It’s that French/English/Scottish old mildewy stuff,” he said. “Old dusty heavy drapes and big tables with lions’ heads carved in it. Stuff that kings were around. That’s the stuff I can’t be around. It was too big to be functional. It creeps me out.”

Other celebrity phobias 

Thornton is hardly the only celebrity with odd hang-ups. Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense was good at what he did partly because he had particularly acute fears.

One of these was of the police, which is why in Psycho, the close-up the police officer looking in Janet Leigh’s car window, is so unnerving. Psycho ties loosely to Christmas as well, because it takes place in December, with decorations visible in one shot. 

Phobias and Christmas go hand in hand thanks to A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the title character being a bundle of neuroses, as explained by his five-cent psychiatrist Lucy. 

Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacophobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrophobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?

Charlie Brown: What’s pantophobia?

Lucy Van Pelt: The fear of everything.

Charlie Brown: THAT’S IT!

Good Ol’ Charlie Brown has Thornton and everybody else beat.