This last Sunday, we lost a true legend in the sudden passing of Bill Paxton. The man was known for playing an incredibly diverse group of characters. Whether a small part in films like Terminator, Nightcrawler, and Edge of Tomorrow or a headliner in Twister, Big Love, and Apollo 13, Bill Paxton was always, sometimes painfully, memorable. (Looking at you, Dinky Winks) We at The Pop Break have taken a look at Bill’s long and colorful career and picked out some of our personal favorite roles. If you enjoy Bill’s work but don’t recognize some of these, now is a great time to take a second look.
Private Hudson (Aliens)
Bill Paxton was a real deal national treasure, excelling in every role he played and made every film that much better just with his bold presence no matter how crucial or minor his character was. He also achieved a pinnacle movie trifecta by being killed by a Terminator, Xenomorph, and a Predator. That’s how legendary he was.
It’s hard to pin Bill Paxton to just one character, but one of my all time favorites was his role as Private Hudson in the James Cameron masterpiece, Aliens. Paxton immersed himself into the role of the hotheaded, wisecracking colonial marine who stood as a favorite of mine when I first watched it growing up leaving me quoting some of Hudsons best lines up until the next viewing. Besides Ripley, he stood out as the most iconic character of the saga, delivering a hung-ho, cocky trigger finger badass until the crap actually hits the fan, then he becomes frozen and really gives us a three dimensional performance based on his reactions and quotes. I don’t think anyone could have played the Ill-fated Private Hudson to the caliber that Bill Paxton did. And for that alone, his presence will be dearly missed.
That’s it man, game over, man. Game over…..
Randall McCoy (Hatfields and McCoys)
Bill Paxton was always one of those actors who was in everything. That’s how I saw him for a long time at least. He was talented sure, but he was never one that really hit me. He did a great job embodying his characters, but none of them really resonated with me (out of the movies I saw). That is, until he was in a 3-part mini series on the History Channel called Hatfields & McCoys. This is the first time I distinctly remember taking notice of this actor. You may have heard the story of the Hatfield and McCoy feud, maybe you haven’t. But if you’re from WV, a big part of history class was dedicated to this feud. I’m also sure that if you’ve heard of the feud, you’ve been told it started over a pig – which really helps the WV reputation as you can imagine (even though KY was involved, it usually gets pushed toward stereotyping WV). Anyway, the pig was A reason for the feud, but it wasn’t THE reason. So, needless to say, I was super excited for this mini series to happen.
Bill Paxton played Randolph “Randall” McCoy, leader of the McCoys, alongside Kevin Costner as William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield. Both of them blew me away. Bill Paxton nailed his role in my eyes. This wasn’t a silly feud over a pig, this was gritty, this fighting over land, family members getting killed, killing those who killed your family members and then just creating an endless cycle. Paxton was good and evil, at times you were rooting for him and at others you wish you could have punched him in the face. And that, to me, is the truth behind the Hatfield and McCoy feud. That ultimately, no one was right or wrong because each side dissolved into the madness of killing each other. And maybe it seems grim, but that is the role Bill Paxton played that was most important to me. It saddens me that I won’t get to see him that way again. I hope you are resting in piece, Mr. Paxton. Thank you for the gifts you gave us, we will never forget them.
Simon the Used Car Salesman (True Lies)
If you don’t love True Lies, I’ve got nothing for you. It’s a completely self-aware action comedy that is both full of A+ Schwarzeneggeriness and far funnier than it has any business being. But there is so much more to True Lies than just Arnold screaming “THE BRIDGE IS AHHHHHOOOOUUUUTTTT.” Jamie Lee Curtis, Eliza Dushku, Tia Carrere, and Tom Arnold all turn in memorable performances but without a doubt, the scene stealer of James Cameron’s spy thriller was Bill Paxton as Simon; the skeevy used car salesman by day and even skeevier fake secret agent by night.
Simon probably doesn’t have more than 20 minutes of screen time but the time he does have is just amazing. There are basically four scenes. Simon meets with Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and takes credit for the ridiculous horseback motorcycle chase through a hotel. Simon tries to romance Helen in his RV with cheap wine in cheaper glasses. (Seriously, the plastic ‘klink’ when the glasses touch always gets me). Following a raid on the RV, Simon is dangled over a ravine by Harry and company and he spouts the classic “Naval Lint” monologue, during which Simon heroically pees himself. There is no truer art.
But the piece de resistance comes from the original meeting of Harry and Simon at Simon’s used car lot. This is where Paxton really shines and what I will always remember him for. The pure, black tar sleaze that oozes off Simon is both utterly repulsive and completely enthralling. It is impossible to take your eyes off Simon. James Cameron gave Paxton all of the tools to succeed down to the tacky suit and the repugnant moustache, but Bill also brought his own flair to the role.
Bill’s father was a traveling salesman and he brought home lots of colorful slang from his travels. When James Cameron gave Bill some space to improvise, he remembered a particularly folksy phrase from childhood. As Simon and Harry are taking a ride, Simon begins to describe Helen to the man he doesn’t yet know is her husband, and he says that “her breasts make me want to stand up and bawl for buttermilk”. That was all Bill. What a champ.
-Mattew Nando Kelly
John Garrett (Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
I won’t go overboard and say that Bill Paxton singlehandedly saved Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That would be hyperbole. But he played a big role in its survival. In the early days, before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the show it is today, it was in dire need of a good villain. All we had were rumblings of some mastermind called “the Clairvoyant.” Then Captain America: The Winter Soldier flipped everything on its head. HYDRA staged an insurrection within S.H.I.E.L.D. and forced the good guys underground. The show revealed that Bill Paxton’s Agent John Garrett was the Clairvoyant.
The Clairvoyant didn’t actually have psychic powers but high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. clearance. With this access, Garrett posed a major threat, and his mentorship of Grant Ward was a driving force for the rest of the season. The two had a cordial but enigmatic relationship that held our attention, and eventually we learned how Garrett crafted Ward into the perfect killer (i.e. having Ward raise a dog and making him shoot it).
Paxton exuded confidence and energy and it saddens me that he wasn’t on the show longer. Discounting the brief cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, he’s still the biggest star to make an appearance on the show, and given where it would go afterwards, he definitely made a lasting impact.