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Maybe every generation believes the ones that come along after it have lost a certain innocence.

"When we were kids and we went to a movie," said Billy Bob Thornton last week, "we went in there because it was fun and amazing and magical. As opposed to going in there with our arms crossed, looking at the screen like, 'OK, show me what you've got.'"

Of course, fun and amazing and psychotic are the more likely adjectives for the roles Thornton has played over 20 years and more than twice as many films.

But the Hot Springs, Ark., native is also a lifelong musician who's released four solo albums plus a fifth with his new band, the Boxmasters. And, as dark and cynical as his work can be, Thornton himself is a kind of cockeyed optimist.

Asked if the world has become more cynical than him, he responds without hesitation: "Oh, there's no question about it. But see, I was never cynical. The stuff I've done in movies like Bad Santa, things like that, I was doing for entertainment.

"You know, dark stuff is kind of funny sometimes, right? But my attitude in life has always been pretty upbeat and positive."

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