Bill Paxton not only plays Sam Houston on television, he’s related to him. Paxton takes on the role of the legendary Texan in the History Channel’s epic miniseries Texas Rising. His acting career has included parts in Titanic, Twister and Apollo 13 and he starred with Kevin Costner in Hatfields & McCoys, another award-winning History miniseries. The 59-year-old actor grew up in Fort Worth, Texas.
Did they know you were related to Sam Houston when you got the part?
No, they didn’t know that and I vaguely knew but I didn’t go to the trouble of really verifying it till this job. Sam Houston and I share common grandparents going back six generations. His mother would be a great-aunt of mine. That makes Sam Houston and me second cousins four times removed.
Since you lived in the west, did Westerns have the same impact on you?
You have to remember that Fort Worth in the late 1950s, early 1960s and until the 1970s when I left … I was pretty much a suburban kid. We were watching Batman on TV and listening to all the British bands. I never was a super Texan.
I was always proud to be from there. I got to go to school for a couple of months on a foreign exchange programme when I was 17 to London. One thing I noted when Brits would ask me where I was from and I said, “Texas”, they would kind of light up. It did have this kind of mythic Western thing about it.
Tell me about your horseback riding. You look pretty natural on Texas Rising.
(Laughs) Oh God, I went to a Western camp as a kid in Wyoming with my brother, Bob, called Teton Valley Ranch Camp. I was pretty comfortable on a horse after going there three summers. We did everything on horseback. We had horse races on Sunday. There is nothing like being in a horse race on a quarter-mile track. You come around that final turn and if you are not in the lead, boy you are eating a lot of dirt.
I have to say as an adult I haven’t been around horses that much. On Tombstone, Sam Elliott and I were kind of the townies. You know, we came in on a buckboard. It was really Kurt (Russell) and Val (Kilmer) who had to do all the horseback riding.
Doing Hatfields And McCoys which was supposed to be in Eastern Kentucky hard woods (but filmed in Romania), the horses there were unruly and would try to take you into tree trunks. I got through it but I found that very disconcerting. If it was going to be a big shot where you couldn’t tell it was me, I would let a Romanian stunt cowboy do my riding for me there.
What about Texas Rising?
(Laughs) Roland (Joffe) put me through my paces. I remember Leslie (Greif, executive producer) kept telling me, “You know Ray (Liotta) is riding every day.” I would say, “Leslie, don’t worry. I will be ready.”
I got there 10 days before filming and we started working with the Mexican cowboys and wranglers. They were really good. I was still pretty uncomfortable until about halfway through the shoot. It was a five-and-a-half month shoot. It all kind of came back to me.
So it’s like riding a bike?
(Laughs) It is, but you know the bike doesn’t have a mind of its own! It was fun. Every male actor and probably female actor wants to do a Western. For me, this was quite something.
If you had told me when I was this kid going to visit the Alamo with his dad that I was going to grow up and play Gen Sam Houston, I would have said, “You gotta be kidding me.”
But, like I said, I was never a super Texan. I never wrapped myself in the flag, but I am really proud to have been a part of this thing. – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Tribune News Service