Wednesday, March 1, 2017

RIP Bill Paxton, 1955-2017

Justin Cornwell and Bill Paxton
in CBS' small-screen adaptation
of the 2001 film Training Day.
It's hard to believe that the vibrant, talented and from all accounts good-hearted actor Bill Paxton passed away this past weekend at the age of 61, after complications from surgery.  Paxton rose to fame in film: he had a notable run with director James Cameron, in Aliens, True Lies and Titanic; he chased tornadoes with Helen Hunt in Twister;the native Texan was a gunslinger in Tombstone and Frank & Jesse; he was the piece-of-shit older brother (literally) in Weird Science.  And of course, Paxton found big success on the small screen, with his lead roles in HBO's Big Love, The History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys, and his current role as dirtyish cop Frank Rourke on CBS' recent debut, Training Day.

Training Day wrapped production of its first -- and especially now, probably its only -- season back in December, meaning that there are still episodes about to unspool, keeping Paxton's talent that much more alive through the end of this TV season.  The show debuted to only so-so ratings, and slipped thereafter, meaning it was probably a long-shot for renewal anyway.  There's been no word from CBS as to the show's fate -- contrast that, of course, to the cancellation of the network's other big midseason drama entry, Doubt, which was cancelled after just two episodes aired -- but here's hoping that, at the very least in tribute to Bill, we get to see all thirteen.  (Later this year, audiences will get to see Paxton's final film role, with the release of the sci-fi thriller The Circle, in which he co-stars with Tom Hanks.)

Last May 18 -- just a day after Paxton's 61st birthday -- I had the pleasure of interviewing him and his Training Day co-star Justin Cornwell about the upcoming show, and about how the Rourke character fit into the collection of characters in Paxton's career.  You've played a lot of bad guys, I remarked to him -- well, make that bad-ish guys.  Do you think these guys are what you'd call "justifiably bad?"

"Justifiably bad?  You bet.  To me, the characters I’ve played -- and I’ve played a few antagonistic characters – usually have more justification than the protagonist.  They have a real reason to be the way they are.  And certainly my character Frank Rourke in this, he’s been in this business a long time.  He’s a 30-year veteran.  He’s seen everything.  He’s seen stuff that would appall most normal people, who wouldn’t be able to go back to the job.  But it’s in his blood.  He’s a hunter.  I start off [Training Day] with a narration, talking about how LA has always been a hunting ground, going back to the Pleistocene days, ten thousand years ago.  The La Brea tarpits for God’s sakes!  And is hasn’t really changed.  [In playing a morally grey character in that setting], you have to have a reason for doing what you’re doing.  You’re not just the 'bad cop.'”

Having grown up in the '60s, Paxton later added, he was happy for today's emergence of "antihero" shows, and was happy to take on such a character in Training Day.  It's just one of the latest examples of a career's worth of characters, made memorable by a talented actor.

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