With the news breaking of his death this morning, it only seemed appropriate to talk about the roles that made the man, Bill Paxton. He could play any role given to him, and even though he was known for the more serious roles, he really could do anything.
Let’s dive into some of his iconic roles that made him a household name.
Brock Lovett, Titanic
Brock was the guy who started the whole search for the heart of the ocean. And you can’t really ignore Bill Paxton’s presence in one of the biggest culture-altering movies of all time. He did an excellent job in this role, serving as a bookend for the main action, and a sort of surrogate for James Cameron himself. It’s a role that made him more recognizable to the masses, no doubt.
Bill Hendrickson, Big Love
Probably the role that was most recognizable to a certain group of fans, the HBO series lasted from 2006-2011. He played a polygamist. The story followed around Bill and his three wives as he tried to navigate big business in Utah and keep his illegal home life under wraps. While it never grabbed hold of audiences the way some HBO shows did (and still do), Big Love succeeded under the steady guidance of Paxton’s busy patriarch.
Joe Loder, Nightcrawler
Joe Loder had the game sewn up. The one and only guy that would show up to crime scenes putting a camera in the middle of the action; that is, until the sociopath Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gylennhal) gets involved. One of Bills best roles of the late 2000s, it was a great showcase for Paxton’s uncanny ability to ham it up, bro it down, and still convince us of his character.
Bill Harding, Twister
One of the most popular roles of his expansive career, Paxton played Bill Harding the tornado chaser, a man trying to get away from the storm chasing life and start a new one with his milquetoast new fiancee, Melissa (Jamie Gertz). He ends up back in the game of course, chasing those twisters with his not-so-ex ex-wife, Helen Hunt. Twister was a massive hit back in 1996, and it showed Paxton as much more than a character actor. Makes you love the man (and maybe hate him for how he treated Melissa).
Private Hudson, Aliens
William Hudson, a combat technician in the Marine Corps, deployed to Archeron. He fought the aliens, but sadly died in the process. Paxton had a helluva good time (maybe not on set, who knows) playing this obnoxious jock-turned-crazy coward in James Cameron’s blowout sequel. “Game Over, man!” Is still one of the most iconic quotes in all of sci-fi cinema.
Simon, True Lies
What a delight it is to see Bill Paxton in action as Simon, the used car salesman douchebag pretending to be a secret agent to try and sleep with women. It’s the sort of seedy asshole role Paxton absolutely owned all throughout his career. ‘Nuff said.
Dale Dixon, One False Move
Carl Franklin’s quiet little gem of a thriller, 1992’s One False Move, absolutely needed a kind, open face like Paxton in the midst of all it’s nihilistic madness. Paxton plays a down-home sheriff who so eagerly wants to be a big time cop. He gets his chance when he is tasked with helping the LAPD hunt down a trio of killers. Paxton’s role is wonderfully nuanced, wonderfully kind, and a little more complicated than you might think.
Fred Haise, Apollo 13
With so much prestigious magic at work in Ron Howard’s seminal space film, it’s easy to overlook Paxton’s magnificent, understated work here. The fact that it’s so understated is a testament to Paxton’s subtle range he rarely got to show off in his career.
Severen, Near Dark
Kathryn Bigelow’s quiet little vampire Western, a rarity in genre mashups alone, would not be the delightfully unhinged bit of madness it is without Bill Paxton’s over-the-top turn as Severen, the craziest of a band of bloodsuckers. It is Severen who breathes life and danger into this film, and his showdown at the bar is still one of the genres all timers.
The Dad, Frailty
Back in 2001, Bill Paxton not only starred in, but directed one of the most low key brilliant horror films of the 21st century. Frailty is a quietly stunning piece of work, an absolutely chilling horror film about religion and possession. Paxton’s role as the patriarch, a man who thinks he can see the worst in people and therein must murder them on God’s behalf, is such a hypnotic performance. The way he so fully commits to the role showed just how far Paxton could go in the right film.
Let’s all have a Bill Paxton marathon today.
Our thoughts are with his family during this time.