‘Daddy’ next for Thornton

Cast includes Dern, Affleck, Preston

NEW YORK — Before he directs Matt Damon in the Columbia/Miramax adaptation of “All the Pretty Horses,” Billy Bob Thornton will direct “Daddy and Them,” a comedy about a dysfunctional white trash family.

Thornton wrote the screenplay and will star with Laura Dern and an ensemble cast of Kelly Preston, Ben Affleck, Diane Ladd, Andy Griffith, Brenda Blethyn, Michael Jeter, Jim Varney, musician John Prine, Tuesday Knight and Saundra Seacat.

“Daddy,” which starts shooting shortly on an under-$5 million budget, has been acquired for distribution in a negative pickup deal by Miramax. That continues a relationship with co-chairman Harvey Weinstein that began on Thornton’s breakout film “Sling Blade,” for which he won an adapted-screenplay Oscar.

The film will be produced by Industry Entertainment’s Geyer Kosinski and Shooting Gallery’s Larry Meistrich and Robert Salerno.

Aside from prepping the Ted Tally-scripted adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel “Pretty Horses,” Thornton has acted steadily over the past year in such films as “Armageddon,” “A Simple Plan” and “Pushing Tin.”

Idea hatched

It was during shooting of “Pushing Tin,” a Mike Newell-directed comedy with John Cusack and Angelina Jolie, that Thornton hatched the idea for the comedy and began writing. He finished the script in early July and found the opportunity to make it right away, since he had already decided to shoot “Horses” in March for weather reasons and so that Damon could topline the Anthony Minghella-directed “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

“Daddy” concerns a family with serious communication problems who convene in a small town to lend moral support to an uncle on trial for attempted murder.

During the week, the members of the family learn to somewhat work out their differences. Thornton plays a guy bent on being a music star, who has a serious love-hate relationship with his wife, played by Dern. He’s mostly concerned with his musical aspirations and his washboard stomach and looks, and she is obsessed with his prior romantic relationship with her gorgeous sister (played by Preston).

Dern’s character isn’t helped by the fact her mother (Ladd) seems to favor the sister in this romantic tug-of-war. Griffith plays Thornton’s father.

As he put the film together on a shoestring, Thornton tried to keep the film low on the radar, though there were whispers that he might sneak a project in before “Horses.” These rumors were denied because it was unclear whether he’d have time to do it. Dern passed on lead roles in two studio films in order to be ready to star for Thornton, her off-screen steady.

Thornton is repped by Todd Harris and John Fogelman at William Morris and managed by Industry Entertainment’s Kosinski. Dern is repped by CAA.

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