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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 polygamy
By ANDREW MARTON
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

 
 

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/entertainment/television/13960562.htm?
template=contentModules/printstory.jsp

 

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
polygamy
By ANDREW MARTON
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Bill Paxton is grinning from ear to ear - and for good reason. Fort
Worth's most celebrated contemporary actor is in the middle of "Bill
Paxton Day," his hometown's full-blown tribute to the performer. Along
with all the usual shower of accolades, Paxton is due to receive the
key to the city, a lifetime achievement award from the Lone Star Film
Society and the chance to screen his latest directorial effort, the
golf story The Greatest Game Ever Played.

But catch up with Paxton on this unusually mild January afternoon and
he's wearing a smile of nostalgia for his Fort Worth youth. Strolling
the familiar emerald fairways of the city's Shady Oaks Country Club,
Paxton is reminded of those endless summer days when as a 10-year-old
he spent hours ambling all over the course and hiding under the 18th
hole bridge from the stern-faced members of the ritzy golf Mecca.

"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 course with
my dog, hunting golf balls or finding some kind of mischief to get
into."

Continuing his reminiscence-filled tour, Paxton stops in the clubhouse
and stares at the Ben Hogan memorabilia in faux-museum glass cases.
Paxton, an affable spinner of a good yarn, recalls being an
impressionable kid, shagging balls for the Fort Worth-raised golf
legend for whom Shady Oaks was a second home.

"Of course," recalls Paxton. "I was very intimidated by Hogan. Someone
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 career. He
left Fort Worth for LA in 1974, at 18, and hasn't looked back. Over
the course of 30 years and 60-odd movies, Paxton has curated a
character gallery as wide-ranging as a Texas prairie. He's cornered
the market on tic-filled eccentrics, Type-A strivers and, most
poignantly, the everyman caught in a vice between virtue and venality.

The 50-year-old has become known as one of director James Cameron's
inner circle of character actors, called on to play types unsavory
(True Lies), a manic Marine (Aliens), even the director's
history-minded alter-ego in Titanic. After Paxton completely inhabited
the role of Chief Dale Dixon in Carl Franklin's 1992 neo-noir classic,
One False Move, he was on numerous directors' speed dials, appearing
in everything from the period Western Tombstone to Apollo 13, where he
matched acting chops with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris.

But for all of his vast storehouse of big-screen characters, Paxton
has never created and nurtured one over the course of a TV series. Nor
has he ever established himself as a romantic leading man.

Until now. Debuting March 12 is HBO's Big Love, in which Bill Paxton
plays Bill Henrickson, an upright, fortysomething business- and family
man. Actually, he's a three-family man; a member of a Mormon Church
offshoot that condones polygamy. The result: three wives and seven
kids.

But all the logistics and sexual gymnastics involved in three
interlocking families aside, Big Love is most concerned with how
Henrickson juggles the emotional and physical needs of his career,
demanding spouses and expanding brood.

No one more than Paxton understands that embedded in both the
controversy and complexity of HBO's Love is a very "Big" opportunity.

"I have this weird feeling," he says in the husky voice of someone
fighting an oncoming cold, "that this might be the part of a
lifetime."

The guy next door

Like so many of life's lucky breaks, Big Love all but fell into
Paxton's lap. His agent had sent him a script, penned by two
relatively unknown writer-producers but backed by Tom Hanks'
production company, Playtone. It was the writing, not to mention the
show's eyebrow-raising premise, that sparked Paxton's interest,
spurring him to shoehorn in a meeting with the show's creative team.

"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 searing work
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 co-creator
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 shed that
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 Big Love's
potentially creepy material in an unsensational way. As the
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 mogul
struggling to manage three very different marriages and adjoining
households in the 'burbs of Salt Lake City. In many ways, Paxton's
character and his three families are a poignant if perverse metaphor
for the increasingly difficult challenge facing anyone who strives to
be a giving husband, concerned parent and upstanding member of the
community.

"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 looking at
contemporary marriage and family through the prism of polygamy."

The producers of Big Love were as aware as Paxton was of the diceyness
of the show's raw material. In fact, the pilot begins with the
disclaimer that the Mormon Church banned polygamy in 1890. Paxton's
approach to the inherently provocative premise was not to editorialize
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 experience and
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 multiple wives
and popping Viagra like Good & Plenty.

In one of the show's earliest scenes, Paxton captures Henrickson's
bizarre yet numbingly humdrum routine as if it were his own. After
Henrickson leaves the bed of wife No. 2, he must dodge the suburban
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 Big Love
co-star Jeanne Tripplehorn, "the quintessential American man next
door: nice, hard-working, who just happens to have more than one wife.
Frankly, if Bill was any other type of person or actor than this
charming guy you'd meet at a picnic, you'd probably think it's
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 women."

Though he steeped himself in Big Love's jarring world of polygamy,
Paxton found great universality in many of the series' themes.

"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 have the
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 Paxton by
demanding that he cultivate an intimate, spousal-quality relationship
with three totally different actresses. Tripplehorn plays the steady,
sage first wife, Barb; Chloe Sevigny plays the catalog shopaholic
second wife, Nicki; and Ginnifer Goodwin is Margene, the most
coltishly innocent spouse. Much of the show mines some trenchant
insight from the alternately grousing to genuinely supportive
relationships that grow between the three competing wives.

Paxton bonded most viscerally with Tripplehorn. This was very
convenient from the show's perspective, since the actress plays
Henrickson's first and most enduring soul mate. Before meeting
Tripplehorn, Paxton was convinced she hailed from a patrician family,
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 crazy about
big-eyed brunettes - which my wife is as well - and Jeanne just has
this wicked sense of humor. She really should have been on Saturday
Night Live."

Tripplehorn confirmed the instant rapport with Paxton.

"From the moment we shook hands we had this natural chemistry," she
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 relationship with
Jeanne," admits Paxton, who lives outside of LA, with Louise, his wife
of 19 years, and their two children, 12-year-old James and 8-year-old
Lydia.

"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 impression on
Paxton and influences his take on her.

"What I really admire about Chloe is that she's got this great sense
of personal style," he says. "She has a great drollness to her. She's
a professional's professional and never would put on airs."

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 Paxton's acting
experience to cushion her during Big Love's comically rambunctious
love scenes.

"Bill could make those intense scenes fun, even goofy . . . so that I
could dive right in to them," she says. "He made me feel very safe."

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 a romantic.
And now I'm involved in a series where there are three love stories
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 couple of
directorial projects on the horizon, along with plans to
executive-produce an indie movie called The Good Life, the early
positive buzz surrounding Big Love suggests HBO intends to keep Paxton
wearing three wedding bands for at least a second season.

For Paxton, who once parked cars at the Beverly Hills Hotel and has
often considered himself to be a Hollywood underdog, it looks like
he's going to get the girl - three of them - after all.
Andrew Marton, (817) 390-7679
amarton@...

 

 
 
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