Not a Lone Star in “Texas Ris­ing.”

Bill Pax­ton has been many things to many peo­ple. He’s ex­plored the reaches of space (“Aliens,” “Apollo 13”), the briny depths (“Titanic”), the in­tri­ca­cies of polygamy (“Big Love”) and the stub­born tragedy of a fa­mous feud (“Hat­fields & McCoys”). Most re­cently, he helped cre­ate the great state of Texas in History’s lim­ited se­ries “Texas Ris­ing.” As Sam Hous­ton, Pax­ton led a star- stud­ded ex­plo­ration of the vi­o­lent weeks af­ter the fall of the Alamo. Here is an ex­cerpt from his video con­ver­sa­tion with The En­ve­lope.

I read some­where that you are ac­tu­ally re­lated to Sam Hous­ton.

That is true. Grow­ing up, my dad told us that we were some­how re­lated be­cause his mother’s maiden name was El­iz­a­beth Pax­ton. She was from Rock­bridge County, Va., which is in the Lex­ing­ton area, and that’s where my dad’s fam­ily is from. I didn’t know specif­i­cally what the con­nec­tion was un­til I was re­search­ing the part last year. And I came to find that we share com­mon grand­par­ents on my fa­ther’s side six gen­er­a­tions ago — which makes us sec­ond cousins four times re­moved.

Did you feel like sud­denly …

It felt like des­tiny.

What brought you to the pro­ject?

I was com­ing out of “Big Love,” which had been an in­cred­i­ble show. It was the only steady job I’ve ever had as an adult. But then no­body knew re­ally what to do with me.


They iden­ti­fied me in that role. I don’t even think they thought of it as act­ing be­cause I’m a very straight- look­ing guy, very old- fash­ioned. And then I got this of­fer to be op­po­site Kevin Cost­ner as Ran­dall McCoy, but I thought, “Gee, there’s another guy who’s a very pa­tri­ar­chal char­ac­ter who’s very re­li­gious.” So, I called Kevin, I said, “You know, I’m a lit­tle on the fence about this.” And he said, “We’re go­ing to be shoot­ing guns and wear­ing beards and we’re go­ing to Transylvania.” I’m like, “Well, OK.” I guess it re­minded peo­ple that I could be fairly ver­sa­tile.

How did you pre­pare for play­ing a man from the past?

I traced his life kind of back­wards. I started in Huntsville, where he died, Huntsville, Texas, I ended up near Knoxville and Marysville [ Tenn.], where he taught school for a year. But I mostly fo­cused on, I’ve got to just get the essence of who this guy was. He had such a great sense of honor and a real sense of in­tegrity. And he was able to keep his own coun­cil. Be­cause he’s a guy who’s try­ing to keep his head while ev­ery­one around him is los­ing theirs.


His of­fi­cers are be­tray­ing him, no­body be­lieves him. They call him a cow­ard. He knows that if he’s go­ing to face Santa Ana and his army, he needs to pick the mo­ment. And he’s go­ing to get maybe one shot if he’s lucky. He lost his dad at 14. But his dad had a pretty good li­brary. One of Hous­ton’s fa­vorite books was “The Iliad” by Homer, which had kind of a ro­man­tic no­tion of be­ing a soldier and a code of honor.

He was a very sep­a­rate in­di­vid­ual — ex­cept for the Jeffrey Dean Mor­gan char­ac­ter, Deaf Smith.

I found a beau­ti­ful line about Deaf Smith, who’s kind of con­sid­ered the orig­i­nal Texas Ranger. He was the cap­tain. The Rangers started out as scouts, and they were kind of Hous­ton’s elite guard — the only peo­ple he could re­ally con­fide in, par­tic­u­larly Deaf. But I found a beau­ti­ful thing in a book called “The Sword of San Jac­into.” He was writ­ing a let­ter af­ter Deaf died to some­one and he said, “He was my stay in dark­est hour.” And I thought, “What a beau­ti­ful way to de­scribe some­thing.”

You don’t al­ways get the sense that this is a clas­si­cally ed­u­cated …

I wish we could’ve taken it even fur­ther, it’s just so beau­ti­ful the way they were able to con­vey a thought. And if you didn’t have any­thing in­ter­est­ing to say, you didn’t talk. Deaf Smith is the clas­sic stoic. And Jeffrey Dean Mor­gan does a great job. We have kind of a bro­mance. To me, the real love story is be­tween Sam and Deaf in this thing.

Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

BILL PAX­TON is dis­tantly re­lated to Sam Hous­ton, whom he plays in the History se­ries “Texas Ris­ing.”

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