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Bill Paxton

Paxton Immersed in Role of Feuding McCoy
by Jim Longworth


Most people call him Bill. Kevin Costner calls him Pax. I call him Billy Blockbuster. That's because Bill Paxton has a talent for appearing in hugely successful and ground breaking  projects. His big screen films include The Terminator, Aliens, Twister, Apollo 13, and Titanic. Meanwhile, on television, Paxton starred as a Mormon with  three wives in the long running "Big Love", and now he's heading up another  kind of controversial clan altogether.

"Hatfields and McCoys" airs in three parts beginning Memorial Day, and it is the History Channel's first  foray into the scripted mini series genre. In it, Paxton plays patriarch Randall McCoy and, oh yes, his nemesis is Anse Hatfield, played by Kevin  Costner.

Though the famous feuding families  sustained hostilities for generations, this TV version hones in on a bloody,  twenty-five year span of fighting over everything from a stolen pig, to a  Romeo and Juliet type romance. Anse and Randall started out as friends and  neighbors who both went off to fight the Yankees during the Civil War. But Hatfield decided to leave the battlefield, and return home to start a lumber business. Later, McCoy returned home to an impoverished family, and resented  his former friend for profiting during war time. Paxton told me what it took  to prepare for his role as the embittered veteran.

"As an actor you can read about the  history and visit the place where the feud took place, but that really doesn't  give you a way in. So I grabbed a book off my library shelf that my Dad had  given me. It was a book of letters written by my great, great grandfather  Elisha Franklin Paxton who was a Confederate general. He led Stonewall  Jackson's brigade, and died at the battle of Chancellorsville at age 35. His letters to my great, great grandmother showed this man's sense of right and  wrong, duty and honor, and religious conviction. In one letter he writes about  the want of Christian charity, 'Wheat has become $6.40 a bushel, people are  profiting off the misery while my men don't even have shoes to wear'. That's what helped me crack the safe, to get a deep conviction of character which I  needed to play this part".

And, like his ancestor before him,  Paxton himself had to muster a lot of personal conviction just to get through  the film project. For one thing, the production took place in Romania where  the History Channel could save money by recycling sets that had been used for  the film "Cold Mountain", and which could double for the backwoods terrain of  West Virginia and Kentucky. For another, Paxton was in most of the scenes in  what turned out to be a grueling 73 day shoot. Then, half way through filming, Bill received word that his Father and best buddy John  Paxton had passed away. On the day before he left for the funeral, Bill was shooting a scene in which Randall  McCoy was lamenting the death of his three murdered sons. "I told the costume  designer that I should be wearing a black arm band for the scene, so that's what we did", said Paxton. It was a symbolic way for Bill to mourn the loss of his dad, while playing a scene about loss.

"Hatfields and McCoys" is a period  piece, of course, but it also has relevance to some of today's problems, ranging from feuds between street gangs, to the partisan bickering by  politicians that often gridlocks our nation from moving forward.  Said Paxton, "If these two men  (Hatfield and McCoy) could have found common ground, and put their differences  aside, and gone on with their lives, we wouldn't be talking about them  today".

But thanks to Billy Blockbuster,  we'll be talking about the Hatfields and McCoys even more than ever, and,  hopefully, learning a thing or two about the futility of incivility along the  way.


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Bill Paxton Interviewed
Bill Paxton
Interviewed

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