Domestic bliss

He may have three wives on screen, but actor and director Bill Paxton prefers the quiet life in Ventura County

By Ivor Davis


ersatile Ventura County actor Bill Paxton, with tongue firmly in cheek, describes the character he plays in HBOís controversial new mini series, Big Love, as ďthe ultimate multitasker.Ē

And heís not kidding. Paxton plays Bill Henrickson, a Salt Lake City businessman trying to expand his chain of home improvement stores, while at the same time keeping a gigantic secret from the rest of the world: He happens to be happily married to not one, not two, but three different women.

And while his character may be living out every manís fantasy, keeping three gorgeous women in a state of bliss is not an easy task, even though the three women (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin) seem happy to share him with each other ó at least most of the time.

Bill Paxton with Jeanne Tripplehorn, one of his co-stars on teh set of the new HBO hit Big Love.

In real life, Paxton is happy to share his life with only one woman ó Louise, his British-born wife of l8 years and their two children James, 12, and Lydia, 8. And despite his new high-profile role, he prefers to live a low-key life on a two-and-a-half-acre property surrounded by citrus and avocado trees.

Paxton moved to Hollywood from his hometown of Fort Worth when he was l8. His first job was as a set designer on Roger Cormanís film, Big Bad Mama, and after a relatively short stint in New York studying acting, he began finding work in movies.

Over the past 25 years, heís worked steadily in diverse roles in a variety of big-budget and independent pictures. He has appeared in blockbusters like Titanic, Aliens, Twister, True Lies and Apollo 13, and has directed smaller films like Frailty and his most recent, The Greatest Game Ever Played. Heís even hosted Saturday Night Live.

The other day, Paxton sat down in Ventura County to talk about polygamy, parenting and the delights of living a rural lifestyle.

Ventana Monthly: You could live anywhere in the world. What brought you to Ventura County?

Bill Paxton: Iíve lived here for 15 years and we love it. Ventura still has the classic Old California feel. Itís kind of what the allure of Los Angeles once had until the sprawl. So we moved out here.

Youíre a Texan ó how did you view California?

I guess growing up in Forth Worth, I had this vision of Southern California ó orange groves, rock walls and a Mediterranean feel: Steinbeck country. But thereís also a Midwest flavor to Ventura. The area has an old vibe to it, Old California charm that unfortunately has been lost in other parts.

A lot of film industry people live in Santa Barbara?

Yes, but Ventura is not as society-conscious as Santa Barbara. Itís not about keeping up with the Joneses. We love our privacy; thatís why we live here. And Ventura County has a quality of life that is hard to find anywhere else.

Big Love is a hit ó has that changed your life at all?

The reaction to the show has been amazing. Iíve been a feature actor all my life, and I was like a whale. Iíd come up for air and then Iíd go down to the lower depths. Now with the series, which is going into its second season, thereís so much more exposure.

Are you kidded about playing a guy with three stunning spouses?

I take some ribbing, of course. At the airport, a woman came up to me and said, ĎYou have the cutest ass on TV.í That made me turn red. And Iíll be dropping my kids off at school and a teacher will say, ĎNudge, nudge wink, wink ó know what I mean.í Or when I enter a room, someone says, ĎHere comes the polygamist.í

Do you envy Bill Henrickson?

Itís kind of the old proverb ó beware of what you wish for; you might get it.

So what was the appeal of the part?

The quality of the writing is tops. Iíve been a feature actor most of my career and never done a series. I always fancied the chance to play a recurring role ó a role that I could grow in as an actor and artist Ö in much the same way that James Gandolfini did in The Sopranos.

Whatís your take on Henrickson?

Heís a 40-something solid guy who is struggling with his business and with his family life. He just happens to have a kind of unorthodox family ó three wives. Heís a physical guy, loves all three and he takes care of them. As you watch the show, you realize these people are just like all of us ó going through the same hopes and dreams.

Does that lifestyle appeal to you?

Personally, I think it would be much too hectic a life to live. Bill Henrickson is the ultimate multitasker. I think he dreams of being on a lake by himself. I covet my privacy, that five or ten minutes a day. Iím married with two children and, God, just balancing that with a career in this business is a pretty full-time job.

How does your wife react to your role?

So far, so good. (laughs) We watch the show together every week. She thinks my work is solid. Iíve been in this business a long time and worked with lots of different leading ladies.

But in this show, thereís plenty of steamy sex?

If youíve been on a movie set when theyíre shooting a love scene, itís probably the most un-sexual thing you care to be involved with ó outside of a medical examination.

With the series, is there time to make more movies?

Yes, it also gives me time to take a vacation with my family.

Sounds like your life is a sweet ride?

Absolutely. Iím loving life. I have two careers that are firing ó acting and directing. Iím a major director now and Iím waiting for an asteroid to fall out of the sky and crush me.

What have you directed recently?

A: The Greatest Game Ever Played, a film that Disney has just put out on DVD. Itís a golf drama based on the true story of the l913 U.S. Open, where 20-year-old Francis Ouimet defeated reigning champion Harry Vardon. Itís got an amazing cast.

And didnít you just finish another movie in Canada?

I had a small role in The Good Life with Harry Dean Stanton, who is in Big Love. Itís set in Lincoln, Neb., and is about a kid, five years out of high school, struggling with a lot of personal things. Itís Cinema Paradiso meets Gilbert Grape. Iím a guy who is a drag queen at night.

Are you serious?

Absolutely. Bill Paxton: polygamist by day and a drag queen at night! And that isnít so hard to play. (laughs) On Big Love the ladies provide me with an endless supply of make up, hair products ó and clothes ó of course.


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