Magazine article The New Yorker

Almost Famous

Magazine article The New Yorker

Almost Famous

Article excerpt

ALMOST FAMOUS

Bill Paxton keeps seeking a better vantage point. As he raced through the Museum of the City of New York--"C'mon!"--the actor grabbed his companion's arm to point out curiosities, mimicked Alan Arkin's put-upon growl and Richard Burton's mellifluous boom, and discussed his ambivalence about psychotherapy. He's prone to nightmares "where I'm clutching the spire of the Empire State Building and I don't have the strength to hold on, and then I'm falling." But: "If you cure the patient, do you kill the passion?" At the end of one therapy session in Beverly Hills, he said, he'd wept and said, "I just want to be Bob Cratchit!""O.K., you. Break's over. Time to resume summer vacation."

By birth Texan and by choice Californian, Paxton is by nature Dickensian. He came to New York in 1976 to study acting at N.Y.U. and "bombed around on a motorcycle meeting gals"; sneaked up to shoot photos from the roof of the Flatiron Building--"one of my city forts, where I could go and calm down"; and "lived with two gals in a Tribeca loft, where I had to keep an acetylene torch and go up and down the pipes with it to keep the toilet from freezing. It was like living in an Edward Hopper painting."

At a graffiti exhibit, "City as Canvas," Paxton grasped an aerosol can that was part of a wall display and gave it a gentle tug. "I'd love to have a wall like that in my house," he said. He swept his camera phone around at the work of Sharp and DAZE, who'd tagged the subway cars of his youth, saying, "I'll just hose the place down with my iPhone and then in a calmer moment I can enjoy the whole exhibit." He collects everything from Henry Taylor paintings to wooden foundry molds to satyr busts from the old Vanderbilt Hotel. He asks for ten per cent off and buys on layaway.

At fifty-nine, he said, "I love actors more than being an actor, because you have to get it up every time." Still, he works as much as anyone. In "Edge of Tomorrow," which opened a few weeks ago, he plays Tom Cruise's zealous Master Sergeant. "Remember, there is no courage without fear," he said, dipping into character, his blue eyes fierce. Then he cracked up. Paxton is often cast in military roles or as part of a doughty crew--"Aliens," "Apollo 13"--because of his air of decency and self-restraint. …

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