Interviewing an individual with as long and impressive a career as Bill Paxton’s can be a daunting prospect. The geek in you just wants to declare “Game over, man. Game Over!” and run for the hills. But in person, the star of Big Love, Twister and A Simple Plan is a calming presence. His enthusiasm for filmmaking and weather phenomena is infectious, and fitting for an interview about his part in the new IMAX documentary Tornado Alley – for which provides the voice-over narration – and his many ideas for Twister 2.
What’s next for the famed actor and director of such acclaimed films as Frailty and The Greatest Game Ever Played? Find out now in Crave Online’s exclusive interview, which took place immediately following Tornado Alley’s world premiere.
Crave Online: So this is your first time seeing Tornado Alley?
Bill Paxton: Very first time.
Crave Online: You didn’t record…?
Bill Paxton: …to picture? No, no. No, but I’ve been talking to Sean [Casey, Tornado Alley’s director] for a couple of years about this. […] And to tell you the truth I hadn’t heard from him in about two years, but I had seen him on the Discovery Channel, so I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what it ended up being…’ Then he called and he said, ‘No, we got the footage. And I am still interested.’ […] Originally he approached me to go out with him! And I thought, ‘Well that’s cool.’ I mean I became fascinated with the whole subject when I did the movie. I mean I always was…
Crave Online: When you did Twister?
Bill Paxton: Yeah, and I grew up in Tornado Alley. And I thought, ‘Well that would be fun to do,’ but I just didn’t have the time five years ago. But I’ve always wanted to do maybe a sequel to the original film.
Crave Online: We heard you’d been pitching a sequel around last year…
Bill Paxton: Well, there’s been a lot of talk because obviously it was a very successful, commercially viable entertainment. But right now that’s just kind of in a nebulous…
Crave Online: I’d seen in an interview that you’d wanted to make it a darker and ‘get more into the lore.’
Bill Paxton: Absolutely.
Crave Online: You didn’t get into what that meant. I was kind of fascinated by it.
Bill Paxton: When I was researching this originally, and I started reading about the Tri-State Tornado of March 18th, 1925, which still holds all the records – a tornado that stayed on the ground for 3 1/2 hours, two miles wide and traveled through three states: Missouri, Illinois and Indiana – a couple years ago I tracked with a buddy of mine, Scott Thomson, who played Preacher in [Twister], we went and we tracked the trail. We went to all these historical societies in towns like Murphysboro [in Illinois], that looked like Hiroshima when this thing went through, and we talked to old timers and… You know, it doesn’t make any difference how many of these warning systems they have. There’s a significant event like that, that’s almost a biblical event, and the old timers, you now what they say down there: ‘If it happened once…’
We had a great trip, and it was just very exciting, and I guess ever since I grew up near Ft. Worth, Texas and you know, seeing The Wizard of Oz, I’ve been… there’s a primordial fascination with tornados. You don’t have to be from the Midwest. It’s just something that’s in our DNA. It goes way back. I noticed watching [Tornado Alley] it wasn’t just the emotional moments of seeing the aftermath of a neighborhood struck by tornados, seeing people coming out, kind of dazed and shocked – which is very emotional – but I found that some of the imagery of the tornados themselves hit me on a very emotional level. It’s something so awe-inspiring, and when you see it on the giant screen format you really get it. You know, everything’s been so downsized. You can watch a film like this on your iPhone but you just…
Crave Online: That doesn’t count, as far as I’m concerned.
Bill Paxton: You know, I got goosebumps a couple times watching this [Tornado Alley].
Crave Online: Oh, absolutely.
Bill Paxton: So [Sean Casey] got in touch with me about six months ago and said, ‘We’re cutting the film, we really are interested in you doing narration for it.’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ I had only seen on the internet, the preview they had put out, and that looked pretty cool. So I recorded this just about ten days ago. It’s a very fresh recording. I’m amazed how fast they were able mix things…
Crave Online: That’s incredible.
Bill Paxton: That print must still be dripping.
Top Photo by James Hyder. (c) 2011 by Cinergetics, LLC.
Crave Online: When Sean Casey initially approached you did he already know you?
Bill Paxton: No.
Crave Online: Were they coy about the fact that you had been in Twister? Were they like, ‘We loved you in Traveller. Oh… You were in Twister…?’
Bill Paxton: No, no…
Crave Online: They were very up front about it?
Bill Paxton: Oh yeah, absolutely. I had been very up front talking about, since I did [Twister], about how much I loved this and felt like the first movie was a nice primer. But I’ve always felt because of all the research I did, talking about the lore, and not just the lore but the other kinds of weather phenomena associated with tornados: things like ball lightning, fish falls, blood rains and…
Crave Online: That would make a pretty badass movie.
Bill Paxton: Yeah. And I think we kind of did the Pepsi Light version with Twister.
Crave Online: You know, I was a kid when it came out – sorry – but I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t understand how you can make a movie that was just people chasing tornados. I thought, ‘Are they evil tornados…?’
Bill Paxton: Well, there is something anthropomorphic about a tornado because it’s this rogue colossus. It’ll kill everybody on one side of the street and not even harm a hair of anything on the other side. How do you reconcile that? It almost feels at times like it does have some kind of weird… It takes on some kind of anthropomorphic life. And I always felt like the lore… we missed a lot of that. I thought it would be great to generate some period footage of stuff like that.
Crave Online: Would you have wanted to direct that?
Bill Paxton: I’d love to direct it, be in it. I’d love to be involved in its genesis. But it’s not my property.
Crave Online: Fair enough.
Bill Paxton: It belongs to Steven Spielberg and Kathy Kennedy and all those guys. But I have hope that we might have a meeting of the minds at some point and maybe start strategizing, because it’s something that people will always have an eternal fascination with. And I feel like again that there’s a Jaws-like version, like a PG-13, that has real consequences. See, I didn’t feel like we had really consequences [in the first Twister]…
Crave Online: It was very light.
Bill Paxton: Yeah.
Crave Online: Cary Elwes dies, but he was a dick. There wasn’t a lot at stake a lot of the time.
Bill Paxton: Yeah, no, I feel like you could do more with it.
Crave Online: Do you have anything else that you’re working on as a director?
Bill Paxton: Many things, many things. I’ve just gotten out of a six year contract [with HBO’s Big Love], which was wonderful, it was a great show, but it was keeping me from really pursuing more directing opportunities because as you know, even a small feature film is an 18 month commitment, which I think Frailty was. The Greatest Game Ever Played was two years. I’m kind of two-for-two, I’m very proud of The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Crave Online: You should be. I remember thinking, “Ugh, Shia LaBoeuf and golf,” but it was so classy…
Bill Paxton: Yeah, I felt like I really went and made that movie for Walt Disney himself. Those flourishes… I grew up seeing a lot of great Disney films.
Crave Online: Is there anything you think is close, that you’re comfortable talking about?
Bill Paxton: You know, I’m always a little superstitious about talking about things that aren’t done. But I’ve got a couple great things in the hopper. One thing I can tell you about is written by John McLaughlin. It’s called Seven Holes for Air. He was one of the writers on Black Swan, a writer I’ve known forever, he wrote a great script [that] I’m turning, with him, into a graphic novel [with] an artist named Mick Reinman, he did all my storyboards for The Greatest Game. And that’s about halfway done now. We’re hoping to make Comic Con, but I don’t think we’re going to make it. (Thinks) – I know we’re not going to make it. But maybe the following.
You know what I learned from Jim Cameron? I’ve known Jim since I worked for him as a set dresser back in 1980, on a movie called Galaxy of Terror. What I learned from Jim is: big ideas, big enterprises, you have to be willing to lay siege to them. You start planning now for a tree you might not harvest fruit off of for ten years. And I’ve seen that commitment through him and I realized these things take a long time to percolate, and look at [Tornado Alley], what a testament. He’s got a whole career out of this, but at the same time it’s quite a dedication to put eight years…
Crave Online: You know, people have been revisiting a lot of movies. There have been a lot of remakes and reboots and sequels… Fish Heads?
Bill Paxton: Fish Heads… The Movie.
Crave Online: Any chance?
Bill Paxton: Oh Gosh! (Laughs)
Crave Online: Fish Heads 2: The Choppening.
Bill Paxton: No, I don’t think so. That was really Billy Mumy and Robert Haimer. You know Billy was a pretty famous actor growing up, and they have a whole bunch of great songs besides Fish Heads that I always wanted to make videos of. We did about four: we did one called Soak It Up, and we did another one called Ah A and we did one more… There were four Barnes and Barnes films. Oh, Love Tap. The trouble’s when you see those on YouTube the quality is just so horrible.
Crave Online: You should release them somehow.
Bill Paxton: I guess… You know, I’ve always kind of been trying to get on to the next thing. It gets a little scary when you start going into a retrospection. It’s kind of a backward thinking in a way. I like to keep moving forward. Although revisiting Twister is kind of like going back. At the same time I just felt like we left so much on the table.
Crave Online: There’s so much more to do with it.
Bill Paxton: Exactly, yes! I guess it would have to be our kid now or something, you know. But there’s great possibilities…