Dwight Yoakam Reflects on 20 Years of “Sling Blade”—“One of the Seminal Moments of My Life as an Artist”

Dwight Yoakam Reflects on 20 Years of “Sling Blade”—“One of the Seminal Moments of My Life as an Artist”

With appearances in more than 30 feature films and television shows, including Panic Room, Wedding Crashers and Under the Dome, Dwight Yoakam’s acting chops are as lethal as his onstage dance moves. Speaking of lethal, Dwight’s performance as abusive boyfriend Doyle Hargraves in 1996’s Sling Blade, which was written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, is still one for the ages.

As the movie celebrates the 20-year anniversary of its release on Nov. 27, 2016, Dwight was kind enough to speak to NCD [from an interview in 2015] about his role as Doyle and the effect it had on his career as an actor.

NCD: As a whole, can you talk about the experience of being part of the film?

Dwight: “It will always remain a magical experience for me. I had done five movies at that point. After being on set a couple of days and shooting a couple of my scenes, I remember calling my manager on the phone and saying, ‘You know what, I think I’m in a real one here, something that will really have an impact. I think Billy [Bob Thornton] is doing something unique and lasting as a director and writer.’ I was really proud to be a part of it, and I still am.”

Billy Bob won an Academy Award for Best Writing for Adapted Screenplay. The dialogue is so well-crafted, but I can’t help but laugh throughout the movie with some of its absurdity, especially Doyle’s dialogue.

“It’s a tragically joyful movie [laughing]. There’s absurd humor in the tragic reality of that movie, for lack of a better way of putting it.”

Let’s talk about the most absurdly humorous scene, at least in my opinion, when Doyle goes on his drunken rampage and kicks his band out of Linda’s house and the ensuing beat-down he gets at the hands of Linda’s son, Frank.

“In a lot of ways, the argument Doyle has with Morris [actor Bruce Hampson] is what sent him into his tailspin, if you remember. It was Morris’ own ego trying to claim ownership of the brilliance of his lyrics: baking the cookies of discontent, by the heat of the laundromat vent [laughing]. Doyle had pretty much had it with Morris’ bullsh*t. Oh, my god [laughing]. It was an interesting film to be a party to.”

[warning: video below contains graphic language]

Doyle kicks everyone out of the house, including Terrance, played by singer/songwriter Vic Chestnut, who was partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair in real life.

“In memory of Vic Chestnut [who passed away in 2009], he refused to have a stunt double with that whole thing in the wheelchair. He actually hit the door. It was originally scripted that I was going to run him and the wheelchair through the screen door and off the porch. You were just going to hear him go [off the porch]. And then Billy [Bob Thornton] thought better of it and said, ‘No, I’m going to shut the door and you’re just going to run him into the door.’ They went to Vic twice and tried to convince him to use a stunt double, and Vic said ‘No. I want to do this. I want Doyle to take me and run me through it.’ I was like, ‘Aw man, it’s awful.’ But it was all of us wanting to do what was true. We really wanted that movie to be about the truth of human beings’ failings and how they’re able to interact. The character Doyle, to me and how I played it, was actually the most frightened guy in the room about losing everything. The character Linda tries to address that in her own way when she talks to her son at one point, ‘Doyle’s had a pretty messed up life.’ Well, no kidding [laughing].”

That’s when Linda’s son, Frank, played by Lucas Black gives you the beat-down.

“Lucas Black had run out of actual props to throw and he started throwing actual elements—real books, real encyclopedias [laughing]. Lucas was hurling that stuff. I actually did get hit pretty hard with a couple of the encyclopedias. The one hit me in the ribs and almost took the wind out of me completely.”

Any closing thought on the actual craft of acting and your role as Doyle?

“I know that the craft of acting is not something that happens by accident. It has to do with the rhythm of truth and how you say what you say as an actor. The old expression, ‘Does something have the ring of truth to it?’ To put it another way, ‘Does it have the rhythm of truth to it? It’s a performance of a scripted scenario of life. That fictional scripting, as with songwriting, is really addressing larger collective universal truths. Sling Blade is one of the seminal moments of my life as an artist of expressing myself artistically.”

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