Bill Paxton (17 May 1955 – 25 February 2017)
Can you imagine what The Da Vinci Code (2006) would have been like if Bill Paxton had played Professor Robert Langdon, and not Tom Hanks? It should have happened, but Fate (in the form of TV show Big Love) dictated otherwise. If you’re having trouble imagining Paxton reeling off tons of symbolic exposition in an overly earnest manner, then that’s a disservice to an actor whose career included a wide variety of roles, and whose skill as an actor was often under-appreciated.
Starting out as a set dresser for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, Paxton spent the early part of his career in bit parts, but eventually it was a part in Franc Roddam’s The Lords of Discipline (1983) that brought him to the public’s attention (and casting directors). A year later he began a fruitful relationship with James Cameron, playing one of the three punks unfortunate enough to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 at the beginning of The Terminator (1984). Two years later and it was the very opposite of “Game over, man!” as Paxton’s role as Private Hudson in Cameron’s sequel to Alien (1979) gave him all the exposure an up-and-coming actor could need. From then on, Paxton’s career was assured.
He hit his peak in the Nineties, appearing in a succession of well received roles in a succession of popular, well received movies that often found him being one of the best things in them. But in amongst a run of Hollywood blockbusters (including some movie about a sunken ship), Paxton made several movies that may not have been as successful, but still provided examples of his range and skill as an actor, from the misfire that was Boxing Helena (1993), to offbeat crime drama Traveller (1997), and even turning up in horror portmanteau Future Shock (1994). Paxton wasn’t afraid to dive into roles, and even in something as daft as Club Dread (2004), you could still see the effort he was making in bringing his character to life and making him as credible as possible given the nature of the movie.
As well as acting, Paxton was a director, producer and writer, and he worked equally well on television, particularly on the aforementioned Big Love, a show that demonstrated how good he was in leading roles, though it’s likely he’ll be remembered more for his supporting roles over the years. Paxton’s last movie is The Circle (2017), and it’s hard to believe that he won’t be making any more, that we won’t see that infectious, mischievous grin anymore, or hear that distinctive Texan drawl. He’ll be sorely missed. After all, who else could have taken a line like “I’m navel lint!” and made it funny, pathetic, heartrending, and despairing all at the same time?
1 – Aliens (1986)
2 – Near Dark (1987)
3 – One False Move (1992)
4 – Tombstone (1993)
5 – True Lies (1994)
6 – Apollo 13 (1995)
7 – Twister (1996)
8 – A Simple Plan (1998)
9 – Frailty (2001)
10 – Hatfields & McCoys (2012)