Veteran character actor Bill Paxton only has a couple of scenes in Edge Of Tomorrow. Fortunately, those scenes make up about a third of the picture, thanks to the movie's gimmick, which finds Tom Cruise's panicked private Groundhog Daying his way through the last 24 hours of his life after he's killed battling aliens in France.
It's the sort of premise that offers a talented actor the chance to play multiple variations on a stereotype - and when the character is a "Jarhead asshole," Bill Paxton is the guy you want to see do that.
How are you doing?
Good, buddy! I'm sitting here by a pool in Durango, Mexico, doing these interviews, so I'm not doin' too bad.
I guess you've earned some pool time after this last year. There was your gig on Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., you were in Million Dollar Arm last month, and now here you are in Edge Of Tomorrow yelling at Tom Cruise and fighting aliens.
I'm doing a lot of supporting work - I've kinda gone back, in a way, to what got me noticed in the first place. It's a lot of fun, supporting work. They're usually more comfortable characters. I had a great experience doing the lead in Big Love for five years, but Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern and Matt Ross - all the guys who got to do the supporting work - I think they actually had more fun than I did. I mean, I loved the part, it was a great role, and it's always an honour to be number one on a call sheet, but I'm really enjoying being the guy supporting the guy.
And this particular supporting role was pretty much perfect for you, I'm thinking.
Sargeant Farell is a dream role. I mean, he's this older warrior guy who believes in the sanctity of battle, and no matter how low a man can fall, if he's willing to test his mettle in combat then he deserves to be redeemed and born again [laughing] It's the kind of stuff you don't get tired of doing. And there's a perversity, a dark vein of humour that runs through this movie that I think makes it not only palatable but a fun ride for the audience.
One of the real pleasures for me was seeing you send up your breakout role in Aliens. Sgt. Farell is sort of a reverse Hudson, all swagger and confidence - and then the gimmick kicks in and Cruise's character can throw him off his game over and over again.
Absolutely. It was a challenge to keep redoing the scene each time, but that's what was fun about the part. The character's this lifer sergeant who runs the show: "This is how it's gonna go, it's okay to be scared, we're going into battle" - and then suddenly this other guy just starts pulling the rug out from under him, so it becomes this reactive part where I'm all, "What the fuck is with this fucking guy" [laughs]?
And you get to let us know you're enjoying it somehow.
It was a ball. I have a great time playing any kind of leadership role; I love military characters. For me, it was a nod to the great platoon sergeants who know that only by drilling and really training their men all the time so they're ever-vigilant, ever-ready they'll come through battle and find their character and become great men and women. It's a lot of fun, yeah. And what's cool is that everything I'm saying - "Tomorrow you'll be born again," "Battle is the great redeemer" - and the idea that [Cruise] is gonna have to keep dying again and again and again wasn't lost on us either. That's why most of that dialogue is in there, and that might help set it up for a second viewing. There are so many clues all through it.
So what are you doing in Durango?
I just started maybe the part of a lifetime, playing Sam Houston in an eight-hour miniseries called Texas Rising. It's the same network and producers as Hatfields & McCoys. Geoffrey Blake's sitting over there, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and most of the other guys are on set now. We started shooting on Monday. We've been down here a couple of weeks, just working on the script. And I'm being directed by not only a great artist but a great gentleman, Roland Joffé. I'm already just really enjoying working for him. And this is a big, big, project. Yeah, I'm having a lot of fun.