This Sunday morning, Hollywood was rocked by the news of the sudden passing of Bill Paxton at the age of 61. In a statement, the Twister actor's family revealed Paxton died suddenly due to complications from surgery. The talented actor worked in Hollywood for more than four decades, and he was starring in CBS' Training Day at the time of his death. While Paxton gave his all to every role he took on, the one Paxton role no one appreciates enough is his turn as polygamist Bill Henrickson in Big Love.
For five seasons, Paxton sat at the head of the Henrickson family table on the divisive series Big Love. During its time on air, the majority of the show's praise was devoted to its amazing female cast, which included Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin. Despite being at the center of the show's extensive family, it was all too easy to overlook the complex performance Paxton delivered each week.
Bill was by no means always a likeable character, but Paxton delved deep into Bill's complicated heart to give him a sense of depth that resonated with viewers. Whether Bill was balancing his duties as a husband to three vastly different wives, or grappling with the questionable conditions at the United Effort Brotherhood compound, Paxton brought an outstanding level of empathy a role that could have easily been one note.
That in itself was a feat. Make no mistake, Bill could be cruel, deceptive, and deeply self-centered. Often, he would make calculated movies in the name of family that were self-serving and harmful to the women he claimed to love. At the same time, he could be a caring father, and a genuinely funny man. Only an actor with Paxton's gift could balance such a challenging dichotomy.
It was Paxton's ability to capture the many shades of Bill Henrickson that made his performance so underrated. While he nabbed three Golden Globe nominations for the role, he never took home a trophy for the character that — for TV fans at least — defines his career. Big Love is an iconic series, and love it or hate it, you have to admire how much heart and soul Paxton poured into a character the audience could not help but feel conflicted over.
While I will always admire Paxton's big screen work in Twister, Titanic, and Aliens, when I think of him, Bill Henrickson will always be the first character that comes to mind. On Big Love, Paxton dared audiences to invest in a man whose moral ambiguity ran deep. For fans of Paxton and riveting performances, that investment paid off.