To say that Bill Paxton was an obvious choice to play Gen. Sam Houston in the new History miniseries “Texas Rising” is somewhat of an understatement. After all, the 60-year-old star of such Westerns as “Tombstone,” “Frank & Jesse” and “Hatfields & McCoys” shares a state and a bloodline with the 19th century war hero and statesman.
“We share common grandparents six generations back on my father’s side,” the Fort Worth native explains to Zap2it. “His mother would have been a great aunt of mine and he’s my second cousin I think four or five times removed.”
“A very remarkable American … ,” he continues. “President of a country. Probably could have been president of the United States but he abdicated the governorship going into his second term because of the breakup with his first wife, which he never spoke about, took it to his grave. He had great chivalry, a romantic character who loved his dad and loved reading the Homeric tales that his dad had in his library … and was a very game guy.”
The five-night, 10-hour production, which premieres Monday (May 25), stars Paxton as Houston, who against insurmountable odds led his ragtag band of Texas Rangers to victory over the well-armed Mexican armadas of the brutal Gen. Santa Anna (Olivier Martinez) in the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, thus paving the way for Texas’ independence from Mexico.
Others in the large all-star cast include Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Magic City”), Ray Liotta (“GoodFellas”), Thomas Jane (“Hung”), Brendan Fraser (“The Mummy”), Max Thieriot (“Bates Motel”), Chad Michael Murray (“One Tree Hill”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Blade”). The series was shot over five months last summer and fall in the desert of northwest Mexico near Durango.
In creating a historical figure such as Houston, Paxton went with what was on the page.
“You’re trying to get at the essence of a guy,” he says, “and this man had just unbelievable integrity and a great sense to believe in himself even when others around him were doubting him. He learned something from the Indians there and he was a great, great student of human nature and had kind of a very contemporary kind of, I think a little bit of a liberal view about people and how they should be treated.”
“And he was very commanding, that’s for sure. So you know, it’s too tall an order but if you can get an essence or a spirit or a sense of the integrity or the compassion or the empathy that this man had, then you’re doing OK.”
All the actors had to ride horses and use weapons, which Liotta — who plays Lorca, a man whose family was slain in front of him by Mexican soldiers — says was fun.
“They wanted us to look comfortable on a horse but I wanted to do as many — and pretty much did — all the stunts that I could,” he explains. “And then I just became so infatuated with horses. I didn’t know much about it, and this guy Dale Gibson, who’s a stuntman … has such a love for the animal that he just really taught me a lot about horses in general. And you do see they all have different personalities. They’re so gentle and loving, I went all in. I went in for a penny, in for a pound.”