The great Bill Paxton was a pleasure to watch. Paxton was an actor who straddled the line between leading man and character actor and he was adept at comedy and drama, starring in movies and TV shows, in roles small and large. I went through a period in the 1990s seeking out his performances and whilst not all the films are great, they all had Paxton offering 100%. That’s the sign of a good actor.
Paxton was born in Fort Worth, Texas on May 17 1955. His break-out role was as Private Hudson in James Cameron’s Aliens, but let’s not forget he’s the man who told Arnold Schwarzenegger that it was a nice night for a walk in 1984’s The Terminator. He was deliciously evil in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) and starred in the forgotten Slipstream with Mark Hamill in 1989. Paxton went redneck with Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson in Next Of Kin and was the mighty ‘God’ in the cheesy actioner Navy Seals opposite his Aliens co-star Michael Biehn and Charlie Sheen. He added some serious charm to Predator 2 and surprised everyone with his star turn in One False Move. Walter Hill’s 1992’s Trespass was overshadowed by the LA riots but Tombstone and True Lies were seen by the masses. His turn in the latter might be the highlight of the movie, with Paxton’s snivelling Simon stealing every scene he’s in.
He hit the A-list with Apollo 13 (1995) and Twister (1996) and Mighty Joe Young before going on to anchor the modern day segments in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, WWII thriller U-571 and Vertical Limit (2000) followed but he hit a career high directing and co-starring in 2001’s Frailty. The American gothic tale played like a feature-length Twilight Zone and Paxton teased out great performances from Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe. If you haven’t seen that movie, you need to seek it out now.
His next impressive role was in HBO’s drama series Big Love (2006-2011), before he joined Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but impressed opposite Kevin Costner in the record-breaking western mini-series Hatfields and McCoys. He starred in a selection of other eclectic films like 2 Guns, Edge of Tomorrow, appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and had a lead role in the TV reboot of Training Day.
Paxton was truly versatile and while he might not have been a huge star, he was able to take a supporting role and turn it into something very special. That takes talent.
Bill Paxton died on February 25 2017 following a stroke after heart surgery. He was 61 years old.