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Bill Paxton's Greatest Roles
Bill Paxton, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor who appeared in Aliens, Titanic, and HBO’s Big Love, has died at the age of 61. A family representative said on Feb. 26 that Paxton died due to complications from surgery. “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable,” the statement said.
Paxton’s career also included roles in Apollo 13, Twister, Weird Science, and Tombstone. He starred on Big Love through its five-season run from 2006-2011, and more recently earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in the History miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. He’ll also be seen in the upcoming drama The Circle, which comes out April 28, as the father of Emma Watson’s character.
Read on for a closer look at some of Paxton’s best roles.
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'Weird Science' (1985)
Paxton began his career working in the art department on low-budget flicks like 1981's Alien rip-off Galaxy of Terror, whose second-unit director was a guy named James Cameron. But his big acting break came as Chet, the bullying older brother of Ilan Mitchell-Smith's nerd hero in this John Hughes movie. Just how awful was Chet? At one point he asks his hungover sibling if he would like "a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray." "Me and my older brother, if we were hungover, my father liked to needle us," says Paxton. "That was one of his stock lines."
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After Cameron found success with 1984's Paxton-featuring The Terminator, the director cast him again in this Alien sequel. Paxton is unforgettable as panicky space marine Private Hudson ("Game over, man! Game over!"), who is reprimanded by Michael Biehn's Corporal Hicks. It's been reported that director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) wants to literally revive Hicks in a proposed fifth franchise entry. Does this mean we might see the also deceased Hudson again, too? "That's the first I've heard of that," says Paxton. "Maybe. I mean, if you're going to bring Hicks back, you've got to have Hudson!"
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Near Dark (1987)
Aliens cast members Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein all play vampires in this cult classic from director Kathryn Bigelow, who would marry Cameron in 1989 (the pair divorced two years later). "She called Jim up and said, 'Would you be mad if I cannibalized some of your cast?'" Paxton recalls. "He said, 'God, if they want to do it, hell no.'"
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One False Move (1992)
The actor is particularly proud of this underseen thriller, which costars, and was cowritten by, Billy Bob Thornton. Indeed Paxton is eye-catchingly terrific as a small-town cop. "There were a lot of films that were significant in different ways for me," says Paxton. "But One False Move was the movie that Ron Howard had seen me in, that led to Apollo 13, and it was also the movie that Jan de Bont saw me in, that led to me being cast in Twister."
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Kurt Russell plays lawman Wyatt Earp while Paxton and Sam Elliott are his brothers in this starry and now-classic Western. "Kurt is one of the greats," says Paxton. "He's the real deal. He's kind of a man's man, an actor's actor. He really took me under his wing as if I was his little brother."
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True Lies (1994)
Cameron cast Paxton as a sleazy car salesman pretending to be a spy so he can sleep with women in the director's Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring action film. As with Weird Science, the actor got an assist from his colloquialism-loving father. "I got a ton of his stuff in True Lies. 'Got a pair of titties, makes you want to stand up and beg for buttermilk.' All that stuff was my dad. 'Ass like a 10-year-old boy.' The great directors, when I'd throw stuff at them like that, they would go, 'Put it in there!'"
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Apollo 13 (1995)
Paxton, we have a problem. The actor played astronaut Fred Haise opposite Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell and Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert in Ron Howard's based-on-real-events space thriller. "Ron Howard did such an amazing job with that film," says Paxton. "The movie was nominated for Best Picture—it was beaten out by Braveheart—Ron Howard was not even nominated as a director. Braveheart's a great movie but, I mean, the accomplishment of Apollo 13, all the stuff he did, all the research and the eye for detail to tell that story, to really bring it to life. I still think Ron Howard is a very underrated director."
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Jan de Bont (Speed) directed this action movie about storm chasers, which saw Paxton's character driving through a tempest of ice. "In front of us is an 18-wheel flatbed truck with 400-pound blocks of ice being fed into a chipper, and it's shooting onto this red pickup I'm driving," recalls Paxton. "I hand over the wheel, and I climb up through the back, and I'm getting hit with all these pieces of ice. I look over at the camera car, and Jan pulls off his helmet and he says, 'You do it, I do it!'"
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Cameron once again cast the actor, this time as a modern-day deep-sea treasure hunter in best picture winner Titanic. "I had shot my scenes and I went down to visit Jim in Mexico," he says. "There he was on a construction crane, and there were 600 extras scrambling toward the stern. I'm just going, 'Oh my God!' I knew this was going to be huge."
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A Simple Plan (1998)
Things go horribly wrong for two brothers, played by Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, in this underrated snowbound thriller from director Sam Raimi. "We were shooting a scene and it was getting dark and it came to my close-up and I sounded a little like Sylvester Stallone," says Paxton. "My face was that cold."
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The actor's directorial debut is a remarkably accomplished, one-of-a-kind religious horror movie starring Paxton, Powers Boothe, and one Matthew McConaughey. "Everybody's seen me in the bigger films like Twister," says the actor. "I like to shine a light on the films like A Simple Plan, and Frailty, and One False Move that most people haven’t seen. I've got a great script called The Bottoms, by (Frailty writer) Brent Hanley, it’s adapted from a book by Joe Lansdale. It’s about the best script I've ever had my hands on. I'm trying to get my male lead right now—I can’t get arrested with it."
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Big Love (2006-2011)
Appropriately enough, the actor received three Golden Globe noms for playing a polygamist businessman with three wives (Chloë Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Ginnifer Goodwin) on the HBO drama. "Ginnifer's audition, she came in and she sat right on my lap and just—God—she just gave me this kiss. [Laughs] It made me blush! And I thought, 'That gal's got moxie!'"
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Hatfields & McCoys (2012)
Texas Rising is Paxton's second History miniseries. This one tells the tale of the two famously warring clans. And it was filmed in Transylvania. Transylvania? Did Paxton see any creatures of the night? "Oh, yeah," he says. "I didn't sleep with my window open, because I had a bat fly into my room."
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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
As a platoon sergeant, Paxton gets to repeatedly torment Tom Cruise's highly reluctant soldier in director Doug Liman's alien invasion-with-a-time-travel-twist sci-fi epic. "Tom was super supportive," says the actor. "I remember him saying, 'You’re killing this part!' I said, 'I haven't done anything yet.' He goes, 'You’re killing it!'"
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Texas Rising (2015)
Director Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields) actually shot Texas Rising in Mexico to achieve maximum bang for History's buck. "This is a big Western," says Paxton. "This is a much bigger saga than Hatfields. My only reservation was, Is it going to look like that? Or are we going to get down there and it’s going to be five horses and a mule, you know? And I was really blown away. The production values that we got down in Mexico, with the Mexican crew and the artisans and craftsmen down there creating the whole world of 1836 Texas, is truly amazing."