The conversation took place in the rear of the studio theater on the Walt Disney Studio lot. The woman I was speaking with inquired how long I had worked for Disney and I replied, I began working in 1956. Suddenly, I was being mocked by a guy in the seat behind me. The voice was brash and gleefully irreverent as he said, “Man! You must be really, really old!” I tried to continue my conversation, but the wise guy in the seat behind me refused to give up as he continued to razz me. Who was this jerk, I wondered, and why did he seemed determined to pick on me? He was like a character in a movie. You know the type I mean. The kind of smart ass character usually played by actor, Bill Paxton. Finally, I’d had enough. Fed up with the wise guy behind me I turned in my seat to find myself face to face with - you guessed it. Bill Paxton.
First of all, you gotta know I love Bill Paxton and he’s one of my Hollywood heroes. I doubt I’ll ever forget his role as Private Hudson in James Cameron’s “Aliens.” Boastful and full of bluster, Hudson remains likable in spite of his obnoxiousness. In an early battle, Hudson loses all hope when the aliens kick the asses of the space marines and the once brash Private Hudson practically whimpers as he shouts his iconic line - “Game over, man! Game over!” Bill Paxton always managed to allow the audience to connect to his characters. Hardly stellar role models, Paxton often played men who were shady, calculating and weak. My wife still loves his portrayal of “Simon,” the bogus spy who was really a sleazy used car salesman in “True Lies.” However, Bill Paxton could work his magic on the small screen as well. The television show, “Big Love” was made watchable by Paxton’s portrayal of a religious patriarch. Yet, even in this role Bill Paxton managed to give his character a degree of warmth and depth that kept you coming back for more. Finally, in James Cameron’s epic film, “Titanic,” I’ll never forget Paxton’s unctuous smile as he notes that the elderly Rose is his, “new best friend.”
In recent years, Bill Paxton had spent more time behind the camera than in front of it. He was now directing and was getting pretty darn good at it. He was working on a project for Disney but he confided there was another more exciting project he really wanted to do. I could hardly contain myself. “What is it,” I asked eagerly? “I’d love to do a remake of “Swiss Family Robinson,” Paxton smiled. “I think it would make a great film.”As we spoke, I couldn’t help but think of this unique but odd situation. Here I was at the Walt Disney Studios trading ideas with one of my favorite actors. Each of us sharing the same enthusiasm for a Walt Disney movie we saw as kids decades ago. It appears in La La Land anything is possible.
After the studio screening, we stepped out into the chilly, December evening and I reached for my top coat. I appeared to have difficulty putting on my coat, so Bill Paxton immediately stepped in to help. “Look at this,” I said. “I’ve got one of Hollywoods top movie stars helping me put on my coat.” As we headed out into the cool evening I reminded Bill to keep me informed on his proposed remake of Swiss Family Robinson. Much like his character in “Aliens,” Paxton smiled and said, “I’m on it!” It’s still difficult to deal with the suddenly loss of Bill Paxton. The plain, simple guy from Fort Worth, Texas who arrived in tinsel town and made good. Like most good actors, you never saw the work that went into Bill Paxton’s performances. He made it all look spontaneous and effortless. It was as though he suddenly showed up on the set and became the character with no preparation. A good actor always makes it look easy. Sadly, we received the news of Bill Paxton’s passing as we prepared to head for the Oscars. Later, that afternoon, Jennifer Anniston took the stage of the Dolby Theater to speak about the loss of a wonderful actor and director, and his impressive career. It’s still difficult to believe Bill Paxton is gone. If you’re a guy you can’t help but relate to Bill Paxton’s incredible career and the colorful, flawed characters he played. Men who were charming, brash and vulnerable. How can you not? He was everyone of us.