Billy Bob Thornton — who co-stars with Bruce Willis in the screwball comedy Bandits (opening Friday) — is accustomed to fielding queries about his love life, quirky hang-ups and general rep as one of Hollywood's oddest individuals. And, in most cases, the actor's equipped with an equally eccentric response. Yet, when asked for his reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Thornton isn't quite sure what to say.

"I kind of feel guilty saying, 'Well, I'm just trying to make it through,' because I'm living in Los Angeles, the sun is out, and everything's okay here," he candidly admits. "We have no idea what it's like to be one of the people who are really suffering."

Thornton says he and wife Angelina Jolie were in Japan on the day hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "We had just finished dinner and we were feeling great, because we had done all our work and were going home the next morning," he recalls. "When we got back to our hotel, a friend of ours told us what had just happened.

"We thought he was joking," he adds. "But the look in his eyes was telling me something else."

For the next several days, Thornton and Jolie holed up in their hotel room glued to any English-language news broadcasts they could find on the TV. "It was a really odd feeling to be watching it from somewhere else," he says. "My kids were [in America] — which made me nervous — and we started thinking, 'What if a war breaks out and we can't get home?'"

Having been named a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, Jolie recently visited refugee camps in countries throughout the world, including Pakistan. (An online journal of her trip can be found at USAforUNHCR.org.) His wife's eyewitness account of the suffering there left Thornton greatly concerned for the impoverished Afghan citizens whose very survival now hangs in the balance.

"Here we were, movie people, sitting in a nice hotel and feeling nervous and lost," he shrugs. "Imagine if you're in a country where there's a war happening and you have no hope and no place to go. It just makes you think: What if you had nothing?"

While Thornton thinks the recent attacks mark a troubling new era for America, he's encouraged by our national display of unity. "I'm glad to see America coming together like this," he says. "I just hope we keep it up. If this passes in a decent way and we get comfortable again, I hope we don't get too comfortable. I hope we appreciate every day. That's all I can say."