Bill Paxton ate a Caesar salad for lunch on Monday. I don't know why in the world you'd want to know that, but I often read what an actor orders during this type of interview.
To be fair, it was supposed to be oysters. I met Paxton at a midtown Manhattan oyster bar, but the actor quickly called an audible on locations: "I'm looking to actually eat," he said, "do you mind if we go somewhere else?" Considering that I had not picked the oyster bar in the first place, I certainly didn't mind.
Honest truth: I've never met with an actor who is this excited about a role. Hopeful about future Oscar chances, or whatever? Sure. But never this ridiculously giddy. Paxton plays the heavy in "2 Guns" opposite Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, a role that allows him to chew scenery as if it were Hubba Bubba and gamely recite dialogue aimed to glorify Washington's character's penis.
"I know this is only suppose to be 20 minutes, but I've got nowhere else to be if you want to hang out longer," Paxton asked. I had nowhere else to be, either. As we spoke, my prepared questions never left my messenger bag. Talking to Bill Paxton is like talking to a 20-year-old kid just breaking into the business -- he's very hyper, and it's as if he still has something to prove. Which, to be honest, is refreshing.
We covered a lot of ground -- movies such as "Aliens," "Weird Science" and his non-appearance in "Stripes" are all discussed. But, if there's one thing that the 58-year-old star doesn't trust, it's the Internet. (He's extremely gun-shy after a story got around that he made a glib remark at the 2010 Golden Globes about losing to Michael C. Hall. It's a story Paxton vehemently denies.) The Internet also gave him the middle name "Archibald" (Paxton does not have a middle name), and the nickname "Knuckles," supposedly coined by James Cameron after Paxton used a pair of brass knuckles during a fight. (Paxton says Cameron has never called him "Knuckles" and claims this event never happened, though why he'd want to deny this is beyond me).
I haven't seen you chew scenery like this in quite some time.
You know, you work and you look for jobs and you try to find interesting scripts with interesting directors -- but it's become a bit of a meager offering of what's out there.
And I haven't seen you have this much fun on screen since Simon in "True Lies."
Yeah, that makes sense. What got me on board in the first place was kind of playing heightened characters. They're grounded in reality, but they've been pumped up a little bit. Funny enough, that was like "Aliens," "Weird Science," "True Lies" and I had come up as a character actor doing supporting roles.
Like in "Stripes"?
Well, I was actually never in "Stripes."
I always thought you were supposedly in the background of the unit while they did the graduation choreography?
No, I was hired to do it, but they never shot the bit. I had a bit where I take a bet with Bill Murray when John Candy jumps into the mud wrestling ring. I was on the set for several days -- for about three days I think.
As a young actor, was that disappointing?
Well, God, can you imagine?
Do you feel people have forgotten that you can play over-the-top characters because you were on "Big Love" for so long?
The thing was, when I came out of that, I was theorizing that I think casting directors had kind of forgotten that I had a little versatility. And I think people equated me with that role in a way because it was a straight, stalwart guy. That was the way that I had to ground that show because it was so unorthodox ... but I kind of got away from what I was known for. So, when I came out of that, I wasn't getting any calls for any interesting stuff.
In "2 Guns" you get to say lines like, "I'm in awe of your cock."
What a great speech. My guy is talking about pride, "Is this about pride? Well, your cock is huge. It's enormous. I'm in awe of your cock! So what? You're still a drug dealer." They almost took that speech out ... the way the dialogue was written, the guy spoke in a poetic way. In a kind of philosophical way and he obviously liked the sound of his own voice. And I thought Who is this guy? I had rediscovered a great book of essays of Tennessee Williams about a year before -- I have the book with me, I keep it with me all the time. I was up in Toronto, I did this B-movie called "The Colony" -- what we call a "January job." I like the director, Jeff Renfroe ...
What does "January job" mean?
It's for the tax man. When you need work, you've got to work, you know? Eh, it's a January job.
I've never heard that term before.
I heard that term from John Hurt years ago, so maybe it's a Brit term.
I still want to refer to your next movie as "All You Need Is Kill."
That's a great title. It's now called "Edge of Tomorrow."
I hate it when great titles are changed.
Trust me, we lived with that title. We made the movie under that title. We used to be marching with Tom Cruise in those exo-suits, something about "Row, row, row your boat ... merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, all you need is kill." It was a real kind of military march thing.
Between that and "2 Guns," these seem to be nice roles.
I keep thinking Bryan Cranston must not have been available, because I just wasn't getting calls for this kind of work. People had completely forgotten where I had come from. It happens. It happens ... but I wanted the guy to be a little sexually ambiguous.
That makes sense now that you say that.
Jack Nicholson, the first thing he does -- I read this somewhere a long time ago; he's my favorite actor -- is that he always figures out the sexuality of the character. Not just what his preference is, but how calibrated he is. Is he a seder or is he from the asexual to the fucking goat man -- because that comes into your play.
Why is Jack Nicholson your favorite actor?
Because he was someone who not only would play a part to the hilt, he always, more often than not, played it with a relish that gave the audience just that little extra. That little extra enjoyment, no matter what he was doing.
Is that how you feel about this character?
Yes. I'm hoping. That's why I hired my publicist back on because I thought I need to get out and beat the drums for this and let people know I'm still available for parties, bar mitzvahs and bowling alley openings. Although I've been trying to get more into directing, I need to make a living. On my last day of shooting in Albuquerque, I ended up doing a Skype -- I'm kind of a Luddite. I email and text and all that, but I don't do any of the social media. To me, it's tiresome. I'm not that kind of guy, "Oh, my fans," you know? "Look how many likes I've got!" I don't give a shit. I'd rather have dislikes. "Look how many dislikes I've got." Yeah, now I'm really making an impression.
Are you worried that "Edge of Tomorrow" might get lost in the shuffle after the name change? It's an interesting story.
Apparently for a PG-13 movie to have "kill" in the title, they say it's tough marketing. A few of the interviewers were bringing up the idea of gun violence and the movie is called "2 Guns." And I said, "It's a Western" -- "2 Guns!"
What is your opinion of that topic?
Well, they always try to sound smart, you know? I'm an entertainer. I'm an actor. The movie is a modern day Western fable.
Did people ask you about gun violence when you promoted "Tombstone"?
Oh, I can't remember.
I understand the reasons, but this seems like a more recent thing that people ask actors about.
Well, obviously, I mean, it's so silly that people can buy assault weapons. It just doesn't make any sense. And pulling a trigger of a gun is too easy -- now, if somebody wanted to go stab a bunch of people, I'd have a little more respect for them.
There's how you get those "dislikes."
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah.
You'd be tweeting that if you had Twitter.
No, I stay off of that. And I try not to be controversial. Although, yesterday -- with the whole idea of the movie -- I was talking about the drug war and I said, "The drug war is bullshit." Drugs are here to stay. The absurdity of consensual crimes in a free society. Yeah, OK, do you legalize pot? You legalize all of it, tax it, give people jobs, start social programs ... I just feel like enough is enough. Screw it.
When is the last time that you had this much fun in a role?
I was not expecting that answer.
Because it was a real character part. And I had to really commit to it -- I play Coconut Pete. There are a couple great scenes in that. Unfortunately, Fox Searchlight, in their infinite wisdom, decided to try to make it more of a horror thing. The horror was just there like a "Ten Little Indians" plot so we could do our comedy riff. And they cut out scenes of me in that that they should be fucking hung for ... and then they put stupid shit in there to make it like it was scary. Dude, it's a fucking comedy. I'll tell you, the movie I just saw that I can't say enough superlatives about is "The World's End." Have you seen it?
I've seen it.
Wasn't that awesome?
Would you like to do a movie like that?
Oh! I sat with Simon Pegg and those guys at the screening at Comic-Con. There's an homage to "Aliens" in the knife scene -- Simon kind of gave me one in the ribs when that came up and I laughed.
Are you surprised of the longevity of popular culture references when it comes to your role in "Aliens"?
Well, I knew Jim Cameron was a monumental filmmaker. But, no, I didn't.
At Comic-Con, Tom Cruise pulled you onstage for the "Edge of Tomorrow" panel. He seemed infatuated with "Aliens" and Chet from "Weird Science."
I got up there and the first thing I said was, "Game over, man. Game over." And 6500 people roared back their approval. I felt like I was in the ancient coliseum in Rome and somebody had just said, "Let loose the lions on the Christians!"
Do you like doing press? You mentioned you had to do a lot of short interviews yesterday.
I don't mind that at all. I just hadn't done it in a while. Some of the questions are a little bit banal. But, it's OK. I like to talk, I just don't want to say something that could be misconstrued. I am a little paranoid about the Internet and Twitter and Facebook -- but that's not why I'm not on it. At the same time, I worry that things can be taken out of context.
I had a terrible thing happen to me a few years ago -- or, I took it really personally. I was at the Golden Globes with my daughter ... and I was up for the award and Michael C. Hall was up for "Dexter." And the day before he had announced that he was dealing with Hodgkins lymphoma. And I only knew Michael in passing. And when they called his name, I remember -- my daughter is like 7 -- I turned to the table and I remember saying, "We'll get 'em next year." It's the Golden Globes -- look, it's an honor, sure. It's good for the show and what's good for the goose is good for the gander. But, I don't take those things personally. "Oh, goddammit!" Comparing acting performances? What?
Michael is a phenomenal actor. He was great in "Six Feet Under." He's great in "Dexter." So, I turned to the table and said that we'd get them next year ... the next morning, there's all of this stuff on the Internet that said somebody watching the broadcast read my lips and that I said to the table, "They played the cancer card." And now people are blogging on there saying, "I hope Bill Paxton gets testicular cancer. What a fucking asshole. He's not that good of an actor." I was appalled that it would get back to Michael. Even if he thought, What is this?, it's horrible.
[Paxton takes a phone call.]
That was Franc Roddam ... he gave my my first small supporting role in my first studio film, "The Lords of Discipline." He's the one who nicknamed me "Wild Bill." I was credited with that on the movie.
You should start being credited as Wild Bill again.
[Laughs] Well, I don't know.
What if I wanted to do something serious?
Pick a movie that would fit and be Wild Bill Paxton again.
On the Internet, on IMDB, they've got that my middle name as Archibald. I don't have a middle name! My father doesn't like middle names.
How does that happen?
Somebody put it on there! They have another thing on there that Jim Cameron's nickname for me is "Knuckles."
I'm sorry that I'm laughing.
Oh, no, it's hilarious. But he never called me "Knuckles" in my life! It's some stupid story that we were in a bar and I threatened some guy with brass knuckles. That's like a fantasy world!
Isn't it better if people think that story is true? Wild Bill Paxton with his brass knuckles is a cool story. I think that's your next movie.
I like where you're coming from. I'd like to come up with a reality show where each week a celebrity tracks down the hater that gives them shit and just rings their fucking doorbell and then there's a confrontation.
I feel that person would back down, especially if you showed up with your brass knuckles.
If you can't get the Wild Bill Paxton with brass knuckles movie off the ground, you should make a movie about Simon from "True Lies." I'd pay money to see that.
God, that was a great character. I have to say, I've had a lot of help and I owe my success as an actor to a man named Vincent Chase.
The guy from "Entourage." He's been my acting coach since 1982.
Oh, so Adrian Grenier's character was named after your acting coach?
Because Mark Walhberg and I did this movie, "Traveller," together. I cast Vince as the gypsy bad guy in that movie and we've always been friends. In "Frailty," Vince plays the pedophiliac demonic demon that I have to dispatch.
I didn't know that.
Nobody does ... I still work with Vince. He helped me crack this character, he helped me crack Chet, he helped me crack Simon, he helped me crack Hudson -- all of them. And Mark and I go way back, he's a super loyal guy.
I've heard that.
I nicknamed him Kid Millions years ago. I called him The Kid.
There's your movie, "Wild Bill and the Kid."
That's it! I like it. That's the heading of this article. Though, I told him recently I would have to rename him Kid Billions.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.