SANTA MONICA, Calif.—-Billy Bob Thornton stood at the foot of a lane inside the Bowlmor bowling alley and arcade here and squinted at a rack of pins. He paused a moment, his right arm poised at a 90-degree angle, his right hand gently cradling the ball. He reached back, aimed and, with a quick two-step, lobbed the ball down the middle of the lane.
Hollers, whoops and high-fives all around.
His love of bowling may contradict the image of Billy Bob Thornton, the 63-year-old actor, musician, writer and ex-husband of five. You may think of him as a tatted up, whiskey-swilling, uncensorable iconoclast with an 11,000-square-foot party pad in Beverly Hills and one ex who reportedly wore a vial of his blood around her neck.
That would be Angelina Jolie, except that’s not the real story. It wasn’t blood, he said. Well, not a lot of blood. Well, it wasn’t a vial. “She had one of those lockets, and we pricked our fingers and put few drops in there,” Mr. Thornton said.
Not that those crazy days didn’t exist, though the only hint of them is the tattoos that cover nearly every inch of his arms, and various hidden body parts. “We had a good time,” he said matter-of-factly, with only the faintest tinge of nostalgia.
These days, he is dedicated to his sixth wife, Connie Angland, whom he met in 2003 on the set of” Bad Santa,” and their 14-year-old daughter, Bella, who is home-schooled. Mr. Thornton, too, spends a lot of time at home: “You’re only busy when you’re shooting,” he said. The rest of the time, he is writing music or hanging out with the three other children he had with two of the other ex-wives.
Mr. Thornton has been bowling since he was about Bella’s age. Growing up in Hot Springs, Ark., he said, there wasn’t much else to do.
Though his mother, a psychic, predicted that her son would one day work with Burt Reynolds (he did, in “Evening Shade”), and win an Oscar (he did, for “Sling Blade”), what he really wanted to do was play professional baseball. He even tried out for the Kansas City Royals, but a wayward pitch broke his collarbone.
At Bowlmor Mr. Thornton was surrounded by trusted comrades: Ms. Angland; Teddy Andreadis, a keyboardist, and J.D. Andrew, a guitarist, both of whom are in his band the Boxmasters (Mr. Thornton plays the drums and sings); his longtime publicist, Arnold Robinson; Jaime Sickora, the chief engineer at Henson Recording Studios, in Hollywood, where Mr. Thornton has done all of his albums; and the manager of Henson, Faryal Ganjehei.
Mr. Thornton is not Mr. Hollywood anymore. Other than “Dwight,” as in Yoakam, his closest pal in that industry is Dennis Quaid, invited tonight but, alas, out of town.
Mr. Thornton certainly looked like a rock star, in a sleeveless black tank top, fedora, dog tags dangling from a chain around his neck. His hair and goatee silver, he wore corrective lenses that remained dark even indoors. “They’re lighter than my sunglasses,” he said. “My wife told me not to get Lasik.”
Bowling is his only form of exercise, really. Wherever he and the Boxmasters go on tour, on which they were about to embark for their new album, “In Stereo,” they make time for it. “There’s not much you can count on in every town,” Mr. Thornton said. “But you can count on there being a bowling alley.”
He bought his own ball, with a blue and silver marble design, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Boxmasters were opening for Def Leppard, and on days off the two bands would get into some serious competitive bowling.
But tonight Mr. Thornton was using the house balls, which were slick and sweaty and, well, gross.
“I have O.C.D., anxiety and a phobia of antique furniture,” said Mr. Thornton, walking back into the alley after one of several breaks to smoke American Spirit cigarettes.
Thankfully, he had the foresight to bring a large bottle of Purell, which he placed on a table by an oversize plate of untouched nachos (Mr. Thornton is a vegan). He squirted some on his hands after every turn.
“All musicians are good at bowling,” Ms. Sickora said. “I think it has to do with their hands.”
“He’s like a professional,” Ms. Ganjehei said reverently, as Mr. Thornton bowled one strike after another.
This was a busy summer for the actor. Along with the Boxmasters tour, the second season of his Amazon Studios drama, “Goliath” (David E. Kelley is one of the creators), in which Mr. Thornton plays a down-on-his luck alcoholic lawyer, started on June 15. He won a Golden Globe for it in 2017.
Much of the show’s action is centered at the Ocean Lodge, a seedy hotel nearby.
Mr. Thornton appreciates the neighborhood’s many charms and the rest of this sprawling megalopolis. “I’m in a business I hate, but I worship L.A.,” he said. “I’ve been in L.A. 38 years. This is the city where my kids were born and raised, and the place where my dreams were realized.”
Three games, a few beers and many cigarettes later, the final tally was 398 for Mr. Thornton’s team, and 384 for his opponents. He bowled a 139, a 130 and a 99: not his best by a long shot, but still O.K.
What would he do if he hadn’t won? “Probably go in the corner and pout,” he said.