A version of this story appears in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday. Don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
The sad passing of actor Bill Paxton at 61 over the weekend led to an outpouring of grief from collaborators and fans alike. For decades, Paxton was a fixture onscreen in every genre imaginable, stealing scenes in gigantic blockbuster films and delivering standout work in artier fare. In 2006, Paxton debuted perhaps his finest showcase: HBO’s Big Love, the family drama about a typical American man and his three wives, one of whom was played by Chloë Sevigny. Below, the actress remembers her costar in a conversation with EW.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you remember the most about Bill?
CHLOË SEVIGNY: Obviously, him smiling. He was so jovial. He was one of the less cynical, jaded people I’ve ever met in the business. Like, how did he keep up this boyish enthusiasm and charm for so long? Of course, he had his ups and downs, as we all do, but he still loved the movies, loved the business, loved people, was just a genuinely good Texan boy. A good ole’ boy in a way. But arty.
It’s interesting to see that in his career, that old-fashioned Texan quality—
Yeah, but he’s also a weird cult film star, do you know what I mean? I posted something on my Instagram, and some kid wrote in, “It was amazing how he could always bring this left field presence to mainstream.” It’s really hard to make an impact in those big movies, with a small part. He was just fearless. He would come in and do a wild character that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to pull off. I think it’s because he was so rooted, such a good person. “Good person” sounds trivial, but he truly was this grounded, rooted family man, who was so loyal to his brother, and his father, and his children. He was really exceptional.
Even just working with him for five years on Big Love. His generosity… when we started, we were on this big lot in Santa Clarita [California], and he bought me and Ginnifer [Goodwin] and Jeanne [Tripplehorn] beach cruisers with our characters’ name on them. He just went above and beyond. And whenever he came to New York, he would invite me on these weird adventures. We went to eat at that fancy place Daniel with some of his friends. He came dancing. One of the last times I saw him here [was] at a charity event at the Kitchen for Kim Gordon. He was always one of those people who would maintain contact, and that’s so rare in the business, even when you’ve worked so intensely with someone. The nature of the business is so sad, you have these intense experiences, and you move on, but he really would write letters and call and text. It shows the strength of his character and how exceptional he was.
The letters he would write, they’re so beautiful. I’m a huge fan of the singer Nico. He was at an exhibition, and there was a photograph of her that was on the cover of one of those records, and he bought it for me. Just above and beyond.
Had you met him before you started working on Big Love?
No, it must have been the first table read. Of course I had known him growing up in the ‘80s, with all those iconic films that he was in. He was already a staple in my mind as this great character actor. What he got to play on Big Love was a leading man, which he had never really done before, and got to root that show and that family, and make it believable for everybody that was tuning in because of his presence, and how rooted the character was. Everybody could take that leap of faith with him. It was pretty extraordinary.
What was he like on set?
He was the real cheerleader — we used to call him the cheerleader of the show — and rally everybody all the time. He worked longer and harder than everybody else. It was a true ensemble, but he was there more than the rest of us and really buoyed everybody. He was just so committed. He would come in with a script marked, every episode. You could barely see the lines, he had done so much work. He worked really hard, put a lot of time into it. He was really professional, positive, would let other people have their moments. Just really understood actors, and of course he was a director, so he also understood storytelling and camera, and always insightful opinions and ideas.
He was always so positive, and really loved the business, and loved creating. That was really refreshing, and inspiring. Especially going on five years on a show, it can drag a little. He helped keep things in perspective, and remember what we were doing was important. But also entertainment. He believed in entertainment being transportive and transformative. He believed in the magic of what we can bring to people. That was really a gift that he gave to me.