Bill Paxton has long been one of my favorite actors. In a lot of ways, his acting style reminds me of Nicolas Cage, when Nicolas Cage is at his best. They always take risks that sometimes, but not always, pay off to an incredible result… they just need the right project for them. Paxton’s work was usually more consistent, and he was capable of great subtlety, like his performance on the HBO series Big Love. He was also capable of amazing, over-the-top performances like that of Private Hudson in Aliens, or when he’s pleading for his life and saying he has a little dick in True Lies.
Bill Paxton also proved himself to be a more than capable director with his directorial debut film Frailty, in which he has plays the character known only as “Dad” who has, or maybe hasn’t, received orders from God to “destroy” demons that are disguised as humans. He took what could have been an exploitative work of horror and made it something special. It was a film, instead, about faith and family, about the deterioration of innocence. It was a great film, and remains one of my all-time favorites.
He is also one of only two actors to have fought (and lost) against a Terminator, an Alien and a Predator.
For anyone who’s never seen it, I recommend A Simple Plan, which was sort of like No Country for Old Men before there was a No Country for Old Men. It’s an excellent movie about the terrible things men are capable of when money is involved. It remains Bill Paxton’s best performance, and Sam Raimi’s best non-Evil Dead movie.
A consummate professional, Bill Paxton is remembered for giving it his all on any movie he was on the set of. Helen Hunt remembers his dedication as the success to Twister, that his great performance elevated the film. And it did. Paxton’s performance in that movie took what could have been a middling special effects disaster movie, and instead made it something special. His presence in a movie was often a blessing. What would Near Dark have been without him and the iconic bar scene set to the song “Fever”?
Years ago, and I wish I could find a clip of this, he was a guest programmer on TCM and introduced a series of films, including a personal favorite of mine, The Spirit of the Beehive.
Two years in a row, for my birthday I had my party “Bill Paxton”-themed, and we would dress as various characters from his decades of roles.
Bill Paxton passed away after a fatal stroke and leaves behind two children, and his wife who he met on a bus thirty years ago in London. He will be missed tremendously.