so i'm in the lobby at the four Seasons for my interview with Bill Paxton, who's just made his directorial debut with Frailty. (see review, page 89) I pick up the house phone and say "Bill Pullman, please... no, wait, Bill Paxton."
I should know better. Bill Paxton played Hudson in Aliens ("But it's a dry heat"), a redneck vampire in Near Dark and a small-town sheriff in One False Move. Bill Pullman was the president in Independence Day and the borther of the guy in a coma in While You Were Sleeping.
Paxton is "one of those faces" who's been in everything over 27 years in the movie business -- Terminator, Tombstone, True Lies, U-571 -- and that's not even considering the other 24 letters.
Frailty is a Southern gothic thriller about murder and religious mania, with Matthew McConaughey as the narrator, Powers Boothe as the FBI agent searching for the "Hand of God" killer and Paxton himself as McConaughey's father in flashbacks, where McConaughey's character is played by Matthew O'Leary, a relative newcomer.
If you think of Paxton's characters as guys with too much nervous energy, it's a reflection of the man -- he's continually out of his chair to act out something, or recreate a moment from production. And he's exhaustingly enthusiastic about Frailty, which is a bit of a mess: strong performances by McConaughey, O'Leary and Boothe, loads of very convincing atmosphere, but one too many twists.
It was easy to cast McConaughey and Boothe, since Paxton had worked with them before, in U-571 and Tombstone, but O'Leary, who's since appeared in Domestic Disturbance, was the key.
"The one thing I knew was that if I didn't have the kid I didn't have a film. I saw kids from L.A., from New York, from Chicago, and what I liked about Matt was that he didn't do that kid actor thing. He had a stoicism, and didn't play for your sympathy. I wasn't worried about the accent -- we got him a coach."
And they surrounded him with Texans (Paxton, Boothe and McConaughey), a neat trick for a film shot in L.A.
To help Paxton in the filmmaking process (check "Paxton" on the Internet Movie Database and you'll see he's credited for everything, including art direction), he surrounded himself with Hollywood veterans. Cinematographer Bill Butler, for example, has a four-decade filmography that includes Jaws and The Conversation. But for the look and the mood of the film, he looked to movie history,
"I was inspired by a bunch of films I've liked since I was a kid. Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. In Cold Blood is absolutely pivotal. I had McConaughey look at Mitchum's performance in Cape Fear.
"But finally, it's a Texas gothic -- they talk low and they talk slow and they're real polite."
FRAILTY directed by Bill Paxton, written by Brent Hanley, produced by David Blocker and David Kirschner, with Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe and Matthew O'Leary. 100 minutes. A Lions Gate release. Opens Friday (April 12). For review, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 89. Rating: NNN