This one is more about Bill
Paxon - antoher very positive review:
Married to a mob
Fort Worth golden boy Bill Paxton takes a break from the
big screen to
star in 'Big Love', HBO's buzz-heavy comedy - yes,
comedy - about
By ANDREW MARTON
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Bill Paxton is grinning from ear to ear - and for good
Worth's most celebrated contemporary actor is in the
middle of "Bill
Paxton Day," his hometown's full-blown tribute to the
with all the usual shower of accolades, Paxton is due to
key to the city, a lifetime achievement award from the
Lone Star Film
Society and the chance to screen his latest directorial
golf story The Greatest Game Ever Played.
But catch up with Paxton on this unusually mild January
he's wearing a smile of nostalgia for his Fort Worth
the familiar emerald fairways of the city's Shady Oaks
Paxton is reminded of those endless summer days when as
he spent hours ambling all over the course and hiding
under the 18th
hole bridge from the stern-faced members of the ritzy
"This course was our Camelot, my playground," says
Paxton, taking off
his Chanel sunglasses and inhaling the scene. "I was
never an avid
golfer, but, God, there wasn't a day I wasn't out on the
my dog, hunting golf balls or finding some kind of
mischief to get
Continuing his reminiscence-filled tour, Paxton stops in
and stares at the Ben Hogan memorabilia in faux-museum
Paxton, an affable spinner of a good yarn, recalls being
impressionable kid, shagging balls for the Fort
legend for whom Shady Oaks was a second home.
"Of course," recalls Paxton. "I was very intimidated by
once asked Hogan if he ever felt lucky. And his answer:
'You know, I
do feel lucky. The more I practice the luckier I get.'."
Adjust that Hogan slogan so that it comes out, "The more
I work, the
luckier I get," and you have the credo for Bill Paxton's
left Fort Worth for LA in 1974, at 18, and hasn't looked
the course of 30 years and 60-odd movies, Paxton has
character gallery as wide-ranging as a Texas prairie.
the market on tic-filled eccentrics, Type-A strivers
poignantly, the everyman caught in a vice between virtue
The 50-year-old has become known as one of director
inner circle of character actors, called on to play
(True Lies), a manic Marine (Aliens), even the
history-minded alter-ego in Titanic. After Paxton
the role of Chief Dale Dixon in Carl Franklin's 1992
One False Move, he was on numerous directors' speed
in everything from the period Western Tombstone to
Apollo 13, where he
matched acting chops with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Ed
But for all of his vast storehouse of big-screen
has never created and nurtured one over the course of a
TV series. Nor
has he ever established himself as a romantic leading
Until now. Debuting March 12 is HBO's Big Love, in which
plays Bill Henrickson, an upright, fortysomething
business- and family
man. Actually, he's a three-family man; a member of a
offshoot that condones polygamy. The result: three wives
But all the logistics and sexual gymnastics involved in
interlocking families aside, Big Love is most concerned
Henrickson juggles the emotional and physical needs of
demanding spouses and expanding brood.
No one more than Paxton understands that embedded in
controversy and complexity of HBO's Love is a very "Big"
"I have this weird feeling," he says in the husky voice
fighting an oncoming cold, "that this might be the part
The guy next door
Like so many of life's lucky breaks, Big Love all but
Paxton's lap. His agent had sent him a script, penned by
relatively unknown writer-producers but backed by Tom
production company, Playtone. It was the writing, not to
show's eyebrow-raising premise, that sparked Paxton's
spurring him to shoehorn in a meeting with the show's
"Before getting together," says Paxton. "I understood,
thanks to years
of auditioning, that if you're not walking in there with
any stink of
desperation, then a good break usually comes to you."
From the Big Love creators' perspective, it was Paxton's
in two thrillers - 1998's A Simple Plan and 2001's
Frailty (on which
Paxton also made his directorial debut) - that spurred
them to offer
him the lead in the first place.
"What is hugely important for this role," says Big Love
Mark Olsen, "is the guyness of this character, and Bill
is just an
American guy's guy."
"Yeah," echoes Will Scheffer, Olsen's creative partner.
"Bill could be
in a Grant Wood painting, he is that American."
But before Paxton could leap into Big Love, he had to
cliched screen actor's bias against the tube.
"I definitely had a stigma about television," says
Paxton. "Though I
rarely want for movie work, in recent years I hadn't
seen a great role
in a movie like what this HBO series was offering. The
truth is that
any prominent film actor would have jumped at this role,
and I was,
frankly, lucky to get in early."
For his part, Paxton thought it was crucial to approach
potentially creepy material in an unsensational way. As
patriarchal nucleus of the show, Paxton's Henrickson
could have been
played any number of ways, including high camp.
But Paxton never takes the character less than
seriously, playing him
as an entrepreneur and aspiring home-improvement-store
struggling to manage three very different marriages and
households in the 'burbs of Salt Lake City. In many
character and his three families are a poignant if
for the increasingly difficult challenge facing anyone
who strives to
be a giving husband, concerned parent and upstanding
member of the
"Here is this [guy] trying to juggle his marriage and
family - and
it's just times three," says Paxton. "This show came up
with this - no
pun intended - mother lode of an idea as a way of
contemporary marriage and family through the prism of
The producers of Big Love were as aware as Paxton was of
of the show's raw material. In fact, the pilot begins
disclaimer that the Mormon Church banned polygamy in
approach to the inherently provocative premise was not
in any way on this alternative domestic ecosystem.
"He just plays the relationships - he's a small-business
owner and a
married man times three - and he just plays the life
not the controversy," says Olsen.
Given the queasiness of Love's story, it was vital the
lead be as
likeable as possible. Paxton was a perfect fit because
he comes across
as so endearingly normal - even when in the company of
and popping Viagra like Good & Plenty.
In one of the show's earliest scenes, Paxton captures
bizarre yet numbingly humdrum routine as if it were his
Henrickson leaves the bed of wife No. 2, he must dodge
peril of a yard sprinkler system run amok. The water
stains his suit,
but dries in the super-sized SUV he navigates to the
office, as he
begins yet another day on the hamster wheel of life.
"He's like Jimmy Stewart or Jack Lemmon," says Paxton's
co-star Jeanne Tripplehorn, "the quintessential American
door: nice, hard-working, who just happens to have more
than one wife.
Frankly, if Bill was any other type of person or actor
charming guy you'd meet at a picnic, you'd probably
despicable he has three wives."
Another one of his co-stars, Ginnifer Goodwin, also
thinks this role
was perfectly tailored to Paxton.
"I think he naturally comes by all the qualities you
need to juggle
three wives," she says. "Bill is dynamic, completely
mature, a really
old soul yet with a vibrant youth inside him - all
qualities that his
character would have to have to be with those different
Though he steeped himself in Big Love's jarring world of
Paxton found great universality in many of the series'
"I was honestly surprised," says Paxton, "with how I
connected with my
character's trying to do the right thing by all the
people around him,
by his God, and to be a good steward of himself and of
his families. I
think the real message of this series is tolerance. Big
Love is this
looking glass into contemporary society and how three
women and myself
are trying to figure our way through this life.
"And, another thing," he adds. "While I don't think I'd
physical stamina to handle three marriages, I'd like to
think I have
enough of a heart to handle them."
Three times the challenge
Big Love threw down an unprecedented acting gauntlet at
demanding that he cultivate an intimate, spousal-quality
with three totally different actresses. Tripplehorn
plays the steady,
sage first wife, Barb; Chloe Sevigny plays the catalog
second wife, Nicki; and Ginnifer Goodwin is Margene, the
coltishly innocent spouse. Much of the show mines some
insight from the alternately grousing to genuinely
relationships that grow between the three competing
Paxton bonded most viscerally with Tripplehorn. This was
convenient from the show's perspective, since the
Henrickson's first and most enduring soul mate. Before
Tripplehorn, Paxton was convinced she hailed from a
judging by her Fitzgerald-heroine bearing and the
refined pedigree she
brought to her roles. But when Paxton finally met her
for the first
Big Love audition, he discovered Tripplehorn was raised
in Tulsa, not
too many odometer ticks from Fort Worth.
"We just hit it off immediately," recalls Paxton. "I'm
big-eyed brunettes - which my wife is as well - and
Jeanne just has
this wicked sense of humor. She really should have been
Tripplehorn confirmed the instant rapport with Paxton.
"From the moment we shook hands we had this natural
recalls. "Because we're from the same part of the
country, we get each
other's humor. I find Bill to be like so many from that
part of the
country: open, with no artifice."
"I bring a lot of my own marriage to that onscreen
Jeanne," admits Paxton, who lives outside of LA, with
Louise, his wife
of 19 years, and their two children, 12-year-old James
"One evening, I was showing my wife the first five
episodes of Big
Love and there is a moment when I'm about to make love
to Jeanne and I
move the pillow in such a way that my wife said to me,
'Oh, I know
where that gesture came from.'."
Sevigny's work in Boys Don't Cry made an indelible
Paxton and influences his take on her.
"What I really admire about Chloe is that she's got this
of personal style," he says. "She has a great drollness
to her. She's
a professional's professional and never would put on
As for his third television wife, played with unabashed
gusto by the
fast-rising Goodwin, whose performance as Johnny Cash's
first wife in
Walk the Line has put her on an acting fast track,
Paxton found her to
be "just adorable and charming." Goodwin leaned on
experience to cushion her during Big Love's comically
"Bill could make those intense scenes fun, even goofy .
. . so that I
could dive right in to them," she says. "He made me feel
Perhaps the key to why Paxton connected so effortlessly
with all Big
Love's ladies is that he has been waiting 30 years to
play the object
of so much affection.
"Though it's been denied me, I've always wanted this
kind of role - to
be part of the great love story," says Paxton. "I'm just
And now I'm involved in a series where there are three
simultaneously. I'm almost objectified. I'm going to
ride this rocket
for as long as I can."
Which may be for quite some time. Though Paxton has a
directorial projects on the horizon, along with plans to
executive-produce an indie movie called The Good Life,
positive buzz surrounding Big Love suggests HBO intends
to keep Paxton
wearing three wedding bands for at least a second
For Paxton, who once parked cars at the Beverly Hills
Hotel and has
often considered himself to be a Hollywood underdog, it
he's going to get the girl - three of them - after all.
Andrew Marton, (817) 390-7679