Billy Bob Thornton has played a football coach, a Little League manager, and a really, really evil Santa. But with his latest comedic turn just around the corner, as a lecherous life coach in Dimension’s School for Scoundrels (Sept. 29), we were wondering: What happened to that other fiendish-teacher flick Thornton has in the can, Mr. Woodcock?
New Line originally saw the movie — about a guy (Seann William Scott) whose mom (Susan Sarandon) falls for his dreaded former high school gym teacher — as a natural way to build on the unexpected success of 2003’s Bad Santa. ”I play a PE teacher from hell, the one that’s your worst nightmare,” Thornton told EW on the set. Of course, that was 15 months ago, when Woodcock was still slated to be released this year. One explanation for the delay is that the filmmakers wanted to get out of the way of Scoundrels — which wrapped after Woodcock — and Thornton’s drama The Astronaut Farmer, due in theaters next January. But those scheduling issues came into play only when a behind-the-scenes creative struggle resulted in a second director and extensive reshoots that stalled the movie’s release.
At first, according to Woodcock producer Bob Cooper, the comedy proceeded without incident under first-time director Craig Gillespie. But after test audiences didn’t cotton to the initial cut, the creative team ordered a rethink. David Dobkin — the man who directed New Line’s $209 million hit Wedding Crashers — came aboard as a producer last winter and shot several weeks of new footage, altering a number of scenes including the ending. Woodcock finally finished earlier this year, and Gillespie — who had input on the reshoots — will retain his directing credit when the movie hits theaters next spring. (He is now in preproduction on his next film, the romantic comedy Lars and the Real Girl, and wasn’t available for comment.)
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Woodcock is a disaster. After all, there was another rancorous Billy Bob comedy that reportedly required a new ending: Bad Santa. And that movie not only grossed $60 million, it broke critical ground in the depiction of felonious little people dressed like elves.