I’ve had two interactions with Bill Paxton in my life… both were at the Dallas International Film Festival, and both were pretty wonderful. My first time meeting Bill was in 2007 when the festival was briefly called AFI Dallas. He was there promoting THE GOOD LIFE which he worked on with writer/director Steve Berra. I was a little nervous meeting him, as he had always been one of my favorite actors, but he made the interview easy, and afterward we had a nice chat about growing up in the area (I’m from Dallas, he was from Fort Worth). I even told him I was a little shaken up to meet him, which is funny because even at that point I had talked to a lot of celebrities on camera and rarely would I get rattled. As I recall he said, “Well what did you think I going to do, kiss ya?” We laughed and I walked away from that night feeling really good about the experience.
In 2010, my buddy Devin Pike and I were doing a special on-site LIVE web broadcast called DallasFest After Dark, where we would sit either outside the primary movie theater where DIFF was showing most of their films, or webcast from the filmmaker lounge each night. The idea was simple, pull in any filmmaker, actor or other crew as they walked by and talk to them live while the festival was going on. On night one, Bill Paxton was there to help kick off the Dallas International Film Festival. He wasn’t promoting anything, didn’t have a movie to sell, Bill was just there to support his friend Michael Cain (who founded DIFF) and show love for the festival itself. We were set up outside the Angelika Theater in Mockingbird Station, and weren’t having much luck pulling folks aside for interviews… then I see Bill coming out of the theater and getting mobbed by fans for photos. I told Devin “Bill Paxton is 50 feet away from us.” Devin said to me “Go get him and bring him here, now!” He then told the crew to get ready to go live, and I start running over to Paxton. Now, in my head I’m thinking there’s no way this is going to happen. He’s leaving, done for the day, he has no reason to stick around at all. But I got to him and told him what we were doing, and asked as nicely as I could among the commotion if he could give us five minutes. I fully expected him to laugh and leave, but he looked at me and said “Are you ready to go right now?” I said absolutely, and he said “Okay, let’s do it.” Understand something, I’ve been in this business many years now, and that sort of thing is RARE. Most actors look to a publicist or assistant to tell you no, or just tell you they have to go and wouldn’t even consider it. Once I got Bill to the interview area, I said “If you want to go just say the word and we’ll wrap it up.” He said “No, we’re cool, let’s have fun with it.” He gave us three times the time I asked for, and it was pretty wonderful – and yes, the camera guys were having some issues, but that’s partly because this was thrust upon them with very little notice or prep time. You can see that interview below, and we really got some great content from Bill – he talks about TWISTER 2 and how it could be more like JAWS, about FRAILTY, and even sings the praises of local filmmaker friends like Tom Huckabee. And I gotta say, the WEIRD SCIENCE ending of this interview is pretty priceless.
To hear of Bill’s passing today was pretty shocking. I guess I thought at some point I’d cross paths with him again, and I really hoped we’d see him direct another movie. His work on FRAILTY, to me at least, is exceptional. He excelled at stealing scenes in movies just by being his wonderful self, see James Cameron’s TRUE LIES or ALIENS to illustrate that properly. But he could also play a subtle and sympathetic character when needed, like in TITANIC or the rather overlooked gem A SIMPLE PLAN. Paxton is a great example of a character actor making the jump to leading man in the best possible way, and he leaves behind a fantastic body of work. It’s going to be odd to see his current series TRAINING DAY each week on TV, and know that’s some of the last work he had a chance to do. His final film appearance will be in THE CIRCLE based on the Dave Eggers novel (trailer here), playing the ailing father of the lead character… I have a feeling it will be a hard performance to watch. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family in this difficult time. Rest in peace, good sir.