01 Mar Bill Paxton (1955 – 2017): The Greatest Hits
On the 25th February 2017, Hollywood lost one of its all-time greats, the absolute king of cult roles, Bill Paxton, who sadly passed away due to complications from surgery.
The only man to boast falling victim to an Alien, a Predator and a Terminator will be lauded forever more for career highlights such as Apollo 13 and Frailty, One False Move and A Simple Plan, but in this retrospective tribute, I’d like to spotlight my personal favourite characters Paxton has portrayed over the years.
Chet (Weird Science) (1985)
As the mean older brother of lead, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Paxton isn’t given much screen time, but what he gets he uses to full effect, stealing every scene he’s in, whether it’s jamming a double-barrel shotgun up his brother Wyatt’s nose, or grovelling as a giant, bubbling turd.
In Chet, Paxton created a detestable tool, at times militant, at times bemused, but often hilarious (that laugh!). Weird Science by definition – a tale of two teens who create the perfect woman in a bid to be cool – is a bizarre and entertaining yarn, but it was in support characters such as Chet where it earned its charm; not in the leads who have since faded into obscurity.
Private Hudson (Aliens) (1986)
The quintessential Paxton role and infinitely quotable, Private William Hudson will no doubt go down as one of the greatest ever movie characters. In part down to James Cameron’s excellent script, but in greater part owed to Paxton’s amazing portrayal of the Colonial Marines’ paper tiger.
It could be argued that Hudson had just as rounded a story arc as Ripley herself, kicking things off as one of a number of antagonistic, ultimate bad-asses, regressing quickly into the aforementioned paper tiger when the xenomorphs present themselves, only to redeem himself in a blaze of glory in the aliens’ final assault. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Easily the most memorable character on the cast, Paxton owned the part, making Hudson every bit as memorable as all of the action, set pieces and suspense.
Severen (Near Dark) (1987)
But what would Hudson have been like had he been more tiger and less paper? ‘Asked no one ever’, would be the correct answer to that question, you would think, however someone clearly gave it some thought in the 80’s, because that’s exactly who Paxton portrayed in his very next role. Playing the psychotic Severen, the volatile, blood-hungry member of a roaming family of vampires in this underrated, Tangerine Dream-drenched western horror, Paxton took the wired cockiness of Hudson and dialled the bloodlust up to 100.
The result was a very likeable, very terrifying, unstoppable creature of the night with a sick, sick sense of humour. A must watch for any Paxton fan.
Jerry “Lone Ranger” Lambert (Predator 2) (1990)
In an era where the comic relief was a much subtler animal, Paxton played the part to a tee. Both the original Predator movies were testosterone heavy with the lightest peppering of humour, and it was the part of Jerry Lambert, aka. the Lone Ranger, who landed the laughs in the urban-set sequel that saw the titular alien relocate his hunt to downtown L.A.
Paxton lightens the otherwise sombre mood, perpetuated by Danny Glover’s over-serious lead in an alternative near-future that has seen the city transformed into a gangland warzone, brilliantly. His wry wit and upbeat attitude contrasts the overall tone to great effect, ensuring the movie does not take itself too seriously. Again his journey from class-clown to sacrificial hero is made all the better because… well… it’s Bill Paxton!
Vince (Trespass) (1992)
For a while there (the 90’s mostly), Paxton was the king of portraying the everyman (don’t be sad it’s over, Bill – that accolade belongs to Nicholas Cage now, so…). And while some might argue his best embodiment of this archetype might have been reserved for Twister’s Bill Harding, for me it was unassuming fireman, Vince, in the littler-known Trespass that rang truer. This tale of two firemen (Paxton and William Sadler) who chase a cache of stolen gold, only to witness a gangland execution on a barren industrial ground, is a hidden gem of the 90’s.
Paxton portrays everyman Vince with relative ease, charging the character with a real adrenalin and fear as he and partner, Dom’s situation begins to unravel beyond their management. He really manages to create a convincing sense of a very normal man thrown into a very abnormal situation and is just one of many reasons why Trespass is worth checking out.
Morgan Earp (Tombstone) (1993)
There’s no denying that this epic western shines a spotlight squarely on Kurt Russell’s Earp and Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, but it is littered – utterly littered – with some of the best supporting actor work from one of the most diverse ensemble casts ever assembled in the genre, of which Paxton’s turn as youngest Earp brother, Morgan, is no exception. The ill-fated Morgan is conveyed as jovial and sincere in equal doses and Paxton juggles the fraying promise his young optimist exudes with aplomb.
The latter scenes, where Morgan’s conscience and loyalty sees him develop into a more austere lawman, are well executed, but it is in the character’s early arc where he truly delivers, showing us an enthusiastic, enterprising young man who is high on life and doesn’t care who knows it.
In Paxton, Hollywood was graced with a supporting actor who wasn’t satisfied to settle for two dimensions, who often made a supporting role as well-rounded as the lead. With so many miles still left in the tank, it is a true shame to see his star wink out so early in the day. Legend.