Sure, having three wives is a lot to handle, but four is unmanageable, right? Not so, according to Bill Paxton, who plays Bill Henrickson, a man juggling a trio of wives (soon, possibly, to be a quartet) on HBO’s polygamy-fest, Big Love, premiering its third season this Sunday at 9 p.m. Paxton, whose long movie career includes highlights like Apollo 13, Titanic, and a genius turn as the evil older brother in Weird Science, is optimistic about his regular gig. “I think Big Love could go six, seven seasons. It just keeps getting bigger,” he says. He spoke to Vulture about the show’s upcoming season, his faith in his character, and the assassination of JFK.
What can audiences expect from the third season of Big Love?
The tone is definitely darker this season. Bill’s tested in every way imaginable; as a father, a husband, a businessman. He even starts to question his own faith. And he has to form some dangerous alliances, with Alby, for example, and there are always the Greens lurking in the background. But, whew, they put me through the ringer this year. I don’t bring my work home with me, thankfully, but it was just take after take of this intense stuff. And everyone knows this now, but Bill’s looking to take on a fourth wife, the Serbian waitress from last season. This creates complications and drama, to say the least.
Do you have an episode you particularly liked?
One of my favorites is one in which the Henricksons take a road trip together. They’re following the Mormon trail, and it’s like something out of National Lampoon’s family vacation — like they’re the Griswolds. They’re in three cars, speaking to each other on those radio phones. It’s really pretty great.
Do you think Bill is a redeemable guy?
Oh, I think he’s a good man; he treats his wives with respect, and family is the most important thing to him. This year he toes the line, though, I’ll say. Why, do you think he’s horrible?
No, I didn’t say that.
It’s interesting to hear how women view him. I think the show has sparked conversation – women saying, ‘you know, maybe there are benefits to being one of three wives.’ Though I’m pretty sure it’s theoretical. But, for instance, when that compound in Texas was raided recently, and those children were taken from their mothers, many people had it in their minds [because of the show] that these people aren’t monsters, and so had some sympathy for them. It’s humanizing a group of people that are pretty secretive.
What else are you working on?
Oh, I’m pretty lucky to have this gig. There’s so little work for feature actors right now; I feel like I jumped ship at just the right time. But I’m always looking for new projects. I’m in development right now with Tom Hanks’s production company, I just sold him my idea for a ten-part miniseries on the Kennedy assassination, which is coming up on its 50th anniversary. It’s such an interesting story. Do you know that more than 80 percent of the country still thinks that it’s a conspiracy theory?
I didn’t know that. What other TV shows do you watch?
My daughter and I like to watch House together. Hugh Laurie’s great. And the true-crime shows, you know, the real-life ones, not the CSI-types.
How would your wife feel if you brought in another wife?
I don’t think that’s going to happen. Obviously, Bill’s life is a male fantasy.