Bill Paxton: Running with the Pax

"I CAN BE BLAND!" Bill Paxton pleads. "I CAN BE BLAND!"


I'm the one who suggested to Paxton that he simply doesn't possess the necessary blandness for a leading man in the '90s, a la Costner, Cruise, Ford, Douglas, Gere, etc. Remember the belching Jim Morrison vampire from Near Dark? The adrenally-challenged jarhead in Aliens? The necrophiliac garbageman from The Dark Backward? Can Bill Paxton truly be bland?

Let's hope not. Those of us who consider Texas-born Paxton the best thing that's happened to American movies since Jack Nicholson was young and crazy, like him the way he is: a grinning Tasmanian devil who never holds back from the camera, but rather lunges for it, taking meaty, man-sized bites. Even when he does tone down for a lead, as in last year's One False Move, you can still smell the gunpowder burnt behind his eyes. And if recent releases have proved anything, it's that Paxton makes any film worth the seven smackers. Besides the terrific Trespass, Paxton's seen the insides of Indian Summer, The Vagrant and, spectacularly, Boxing Helena, the year's most uproarious bomb.

For Helena Paxton did the latest of his Lizard King riffs, tight leather pants and all. It's as if he knew it was a turkey. "Exactly!" he cries, then turns sheepish. "Personally, I like the movie, I had a lot of fun making it. I can't really dish the movie--you either ride for the brand or get the hell out." On the set of Tombstone, in which Paxton plays whippersnapper Morgan Earp ("Everyone goes for their guns and goddamn if he just about shits his pants!"), publicity stills of Paxton in full Helena regalia kept appearing in co-star Val Kilmer's trailer. Had Paxton tried for the role of Jim Morrison in The Doors that Kilmer won? "Sure, I read my ass off. At the time I was doing Navy SEALS and I flew up with short hair and a mustache to read for the lead. Stone's response was, 'Well, I just don't see it.' Hey, that makes it a horse race."

Paxton's a long way from his first roles in cheapies like Mortuary, where he played a mortician's son intent on embalming the girl of his dreams. "I went down to the Salvation Army and got a suit and sweaters I thought my character would wear, and I got scabies from these clothes. The first time I get real flight time in a movie and there I am itching like crazy, and I'm embalming these people... It was a crazy fucking scene."

How serious is Paxton about shedding the outlaw character-actor mantle? "Listen, you want to do everything as an actor. You want to play Othello, lago, and hell, even Desdemona. We'll see what happens--I may be more bland than you realize." Following Tombstone will be James Cameron's True Lies, which is top secret. "Jim would kill me," Paxton insists. "We literally had to sign affidavits just to receive the script. I can only say I play a real character!"