Bill Paxton, as fans love to point out, is one of the few actors who has been killed by a Terminator, an alien, and a Predator. And with his latest, Edge of Tomorrow, “add a Mimic to the list,” the actor suggested. “I think the Mimic would take its place in there, too.” The Mimics, of course, are the alien beings that Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Paxton try to battle in the film’s Normandy-like invasion. While on set, Cruise, who in the movie is made to relive that day over and over again, tried to get Paxton to relive some moments, too — those caught on film. “We were quoting stuff back and for the entire time,” Cruise told Vulture at the film’s New York premiere. “We would quote the lines for him, we’d get him to do it … from all of Bill Paxton’s movies! Aliens, Weird Science … his characters are classic! Chet! Classic character! And he loved it. He loved it!” So Vulture tested that out with Paxton, who called from Mexico to talk about Cruise’s quote requests, his mustache, and the time James Cameron flipped him off.
Sorry I missed you at the premiere. Or should I say premieres, since there were three in one day?
Yeah, I was really bummed I couldn’t make the trip, because it would have been fun to get on Tom’s jet and fly around and run around. [Laughs] It would be a lot of fun. But this came up and I couldn’t get out of it. So I was filming while they were flying. I got some nice emails from Tom and [director] Doug Liman, so it was a drag to get these emails … I haven’t seen it yet. Out here, it’s called Al filo del mañana. Sounds like, “I’ll feel you up tomorrow,” right? [Laughs.]
You’re in Mexico at the moment?
Yeah. I’m doing this eight-part miniseries called Texas Rising, same producers who did Hatfields & McCoys, and it’s for the History Channel. It’s about the birth of the Republic of Texas, and the Texas Rangers, and I’m getting to play the role of a lifetime as the father of the Republic, Sam Houston. Roland Joffé is directing. We’re actually down in the old movie town, Durango, one of the oldest Spanish Mexican towns in Mexico. The show is with a huge-ass cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser, Thomas Jane. The list just goes on and on. We just started shooting, and we’ve been done here for about two weeks. [Chuckles] I shot Club Dread down here, but that was more than ten years ago. That was over in El Tamarindo, at a resort, and a completely different vibe. Completely! It was kind of a different world. [Laughs.]
When I talked to Tom Cruise at the premiere, he said he kept you busy on set quoting lines from your classic films and classic characters, such as Weird Science. He couldn’t stop laughing, thinking of Chet.
Uff! Always! I don’t need much prompting, not from Tom. I had him doing stuff, too. I was having him do stuff from Magnolia. Actors always know the credit the other actor is most proud of, so we had a lot of fun with that. We’ve known each other in passing forever, and he’s always been a personable guy. So when I got over there to do the movie, he was like, “Okay! Finally! God damn! Where have you been hiding, man? Let’s do this thing!” And from the get-go, he was saying, “God, you’re killing this thing.” And I’d go, “Um, I haven’t even shot anything yet?” “Well, you’re going to kill it.” So he really was supportive. I told him, “You know, the first time I saw you in a film, in that moment I knew. I said to myself, ‘Who is that guy?’”
Which film? Which moment?
That great moment in Taps, when all Hell is breaking loose, and the National Guard is fighting the students, and Tim Hutton goes upstairs, and there’s Tom Cruise, and he’s got a 50-caliber machine gun, and he’s shooting out the window. And he just turns and goes, “It’s beautiful, man! Beautiful!” That’s when I was like, “Who is that guy?” And I told him that, and he laughed. We’ve both been kind of journeymen in Hollywood, for a long time. And we felt like we knew each other, because we had this kind of background, the same film and cultural references, so we just got right to it. I think we think the same way, in terms of how we eat, drink, and sleep film when we’re working on a project. I found all kinds of military books, so I was reading him crazy stories about these guys who had survived insurmountable odds.
Tom also told me that Christopher McQuarrie wrote Master Sergeant Farrell with you in mind.
Yeah, Chris came in, and me and Doug [Liman] and Chris kind of worked that out. There was a thing where we were going to make him from Texas, but then we kind of made him this Kentucky guy. I think one of the best lines is when Tom says, “Oh, you’re American,” and I say, “No, sir, I’m from Kentucky!” And Tom loved that, because he’s originally from Louisville. A lot of people don’t know that. His mother is total Louisville, and she came out to visit, and she’s a Kentucky lady, for sure. So I just played him like Randall McCoy from Kentucky.
If there’s a recurring theme through your body of work, it’s your friendship and collaborations with another director — James Cameron, which started when you were part of his night crew in the art department? You two bonded, and he eventually recruited you for one of his films?
Yep, that’s right. Something happened with the guy they were going to hire for Terminator for the part of the punk guy, something, I don’t know, but I was in Kansas City with my dad, that’s his hometown, and I got a call from Jim, and he said, “Can you be on the set tomorrow night in Griffith Park Observatory?” And I said, “Shit, yeah.” I didn’t tell him I was in Kansas. So I flew home, I think that day, and we went out to the set that night — to see Arnold [Schwarzenegger] naked! [Laughs] Oh, God.
You know, I think I got asked to do this one [Edge of Tomorrow] because of Aliens. I think there was a little nod to that, where you kind of learn the rules of a movie and it adds to the entertainment, because we kind of go back and he knows a little more each time. So I’d go from the sergeant who really thinks that he’s in control of his men to a guy who just can’t figure out Tom’s character, like, What the hell? Like, this guy is such a weird enigma! How does he know all this stuff? How can he anticipate what I’m going to say? And it was kind of an Aliens setup, in terms of this J-Squad is a lot like the Colonial Marines, with Jenette Goldstein and all the guys we had in the platoon. So it definitely had some Aliens DNA. [Chuckles.]
Did working with Jim Cameron on Aliens lead to Near Dark for you? Because it feels like a natural outgrowth, given how close Kathryn Bigelow and Jim were, and how it’s a reunion with Jenette Goldstein and Lance Henriksen for you …
Near Dark — so many people ask me to quote from that one, too! Oh, gosh. I read that script, and I was crazy about it. And then I called Lance up and told him about it. And he was like, “Aww, we just did Aliens, and now you want me to do a vampire movie?” And I was like, “Just read the script.” And then he did, and he was like, “Man, this is good!” I remember, we all went in, me and him and Jenette, the three of us had read separately for Kathryn. And I know she actually called Jim — and this is before they really knew each other very well — and she said, “Jim, so I’ve got these three actors who were in Aliens. Would it bother you if I cast them?” And I think Jim said, “Well, if they want to do the movie, by all means.”
I got Jim to come down to the set one night, and we were shooting out on the highway, kind of on the way up to Palmdale, doing those vignettes where Jenny Wright’s character is tailing Adrian Pasdar’s character, kind of a series of scenes, building a montage about how we operate, how we move around, how we pick our victims. And there’s a shot of me — I’m in a white shirt, black leather pants, my hair is kind of greased back — I’m all dandified. I’m hitchhiking, and I get picked up by two cowgirls, they pull up in their pickup truck. So Jim was on the set, and we needed somebody to drive by in a car and just, you know, flip me off when I’m hitchhiking. So that’s actually Jim Cameron driving by and flipping me off at the beginning of that! People don’t know that.
I love that. I’ll have to look for that.
That was in the fall. And in the summer, I was in an art band called Martini Ranch with a guy named Andy Rosenthal, and he wrote a song called “Reach” that we made a video for, and I got Jim to direct the video. We cast everybody from Aliens and Near Dark, and Jim kind of wrote it as a post-apocalyptic Western where there’s a gender role-reversal where women are riding herd on the men. So we talked Kathryn into being our Clint Eastwood character. She’s got a Magnificent Seven of all these tough gals — Jenette’s in there — and all our friends. And I got a bunch of guys from Aliens, Lance, Paul Reiser, and people like Bud Cort, Judge Reinhold, all these people. That was another place where we all started to get to know each other again. And then I guess Jim and Kathryn’s romance bloomed. Willem Dafoe and I stood in for Kathryn and Jim when they got married, at an old captain’s house in Martha’s Vineyard. It was just Jim’s mom and dad, I think his two siblings, and Kathryn’s parents, and me and my wife Louise and Willem Dafoe and his [then-]wife Liz. It was a midday ceremony, a very private ceremony, and we all went swimming afterwards, in the Sound. It was really cold! [Laughs] But it was a really nice week we all spent together in Martha’s Vineyard, when they got married.
Do you remember any of the specific lines Tom asked you to quote from either film? I would imagine “Game over, man” was a recurring one on set, given the film’s video-game qualities …
Big time. Let’s see … “Maybe you haven’t been keeping up with current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” You know, I get these lines quoted to me almost daily, if I’m out in public. Yeah. I get a lot of different things. I get Apollo 13. Titanic. Twister. Tombstone. Frailty. A Simple Plan. Club Dread. It just depends on who the person is. People love to quote my lines. They really do. I’m really proud of the comedies that I got to do, but there are movies like A Simple Plan that I’m really proud of. And then there are the ones that just really hit the Zeitgeist that you don’t really anticipate. People like to pin the tail on the donkey with me on Weird Science. It’s fine. It’s flattering. I’m proud to have played a character that people still know the name of 25 years later. It might even be more than that.
Almost 30 years since Weird Science, 28 years since Aliens …
And we just had an Aliens reunion, in Calgary. That was the first time we had all been together since we made the movie, so that was kind of cool. I got to see Sigourney [Weaver], Paul Reiser, Michael Biehn, Jenette, and Lance. It was just a lot of fun to get together, and God, I gotta tell ya, it’s amazing to be a part of a movie that whole other generations have discovered. In a hundred years, they’ll probably be wheeling us out, our cryogenic heads in jars, to do another Q&A about Aliens! It’s okay. The only critic you want to satisfy at the end of the day is time, and time’s been kind to me.