Bill Paxton’s career spanned film and TV, where his many memorable roles included “Big Love,” “Hatfields & McCoys,” “Texas Rising,” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” But it’s CBS’ adaptation of the film “Training Day,” currently on the air, that will now serve as his small-screen swan song.
“Training Day” has aired four episodes so far; 13 episodes in total were shot. Production wrapped at the end of 2016; the show wasn’t expected to be renewed, and Paxton’s death makes a second season even less likely. An adaptation of the 2001 film, CBS’ “Training Day” took place 15 years later and starred Paxton as Det. Frank Roarke, a cop who doesn’t always follow protocol. Justin Cornwell was the rookie cop who became his new partner, but was actually undercover to keep an eye on Roarke.
“It has been a lot of fun to play such a rakish, rogue character, and it kind of plays to all of my strengths,” Paxton told reporters last month at the Television Critics Association press tour. “You know, I like to be entertaining. That’s what I do. I’m an entertainer. And Frank Rourke, if he’s anything, he is at least entertaining.”
Executive producer Will Beall wound up writing the role as a bit of an homage to Paxton. “When I started talking to Will about this whole show, I could see that this guy had a great love of westerns, a great love of Hollywood, and we totally bonded on that,” Paxton said. “There’s a real western ethic involved in this character. Ethos, I should say. He’s a throwback. He’s a gunfighter. He’s almost been pulled out of a time capsule and put in modern times, because he has this old kind of gunslinger code of honor. He’s tough, but he’s fair. And he’s kind of woken up in this digital age, and he doesn’t really know quite what to make of it. I can relate to that as Bill.”
At the press tour, Paxton offered a mix of charm, authority and experience as he talked about how much he related to his role on “Training Day”:
I came to Hollywood when I was 18 from Fort Worth, Texas, and it’s kind of weird that the character has a similar background. It’s a lot of fun for me shooting all over L.A. and going back to places — hell, I lived in Silver Lake. I had my door kicked in twice there…
I’ve been held up at knifepoint in downtown Los Angeles, for God’s sake. Thank God they didn’t look in the bag.
So I’m enjoying it. We have a great multicultural city of the world here, and we have so many great things to explore. And I love the Los Angeles character. But before I quit talking, I got to say I got lucky. You can get saddled with some real bums out there
But I got very lucky. I think for audiences, they’re going to put me on like an old pair of slippers and an old robe. I’m the Robert Osborne of my generation.
I should be doing TCM, for God’s sake.
Maybe that’s the next gig after this.
Later, he also explained why he got involved with the show:
Another reason I got involved with these guys was I enjoyed a very long career in the movies. I still do movies, but I came to really to me, there’s a quality, just an image quality alone in terms of the lighting, the art direction, everything, the camera work that if it’s not there, I don’t really want to do to look, I’m getting old anyway, but I’m kind of a nut about that. I’ve always been really into the high fidelity.
It’s got to look like Warner Bros., or I’m not interested. And I feel like the look of this show, an audience is getting a movie quality show on a network channel, CBS. And I also really am digging the idea that there’s a lot of people out there that they don’t get their Slingbox, or they don’t get their HBO package and all of that stuff. They can’t afford it, number one. And I love the idea of being in a show that is a popular show that’s going into places I would never even imagine. To every walk of life, this show will go to people. It will play on Skid Row. It will play in places we will never know of, but that kind of means something to me. I’ve always felt like a populist.
I want to make something that goes out to everybody, that someone sophisticated can watch it or someone, you know, who isn’t super sophisticated or whatever, and I feel this show does that. I’m really proud to be a part of the CBS family on “Training Day” because we are just going to go everywhere with this thing.
Oh, and he explained at least one of those early run-ins on the streets of Los Angeles:
Another time I was robbed, I had actually picked up a couple, a guy and a gal on Santa Monica Boulevard. I was working on “East My Dust” for Ron Howard. I was in the yard department. I was 20 years old. And these people told me a hard luck story. They had a buddy. Their van had broken down. They had driven out from Philly. I said, “Well, come along. I will pick him up. We’ll go back to my place, and you guys can get something to eat. And I can give you some gas money and put you back on the road.” When I was at work the next day, they came and completely cleared the place out. And the guy next door, I said, “Did you see anybody?” He said he saw this van. It was the same van. And I thought, that’s some bad karma, but I was glad that they didn’t kill me because they were obviously desperate people. Yeah, you have a lot of experiences in this great city. I recommend a doorman building.
Paxton’s death shocked the “Training Day” production team, including Jerry Bruckheimer TV president Jonathan Littman: “It really is just awful. Sudden and tragic,” Littman told IndieWire. “He was truly one of the nicest people I have ever worked with. He loved the show, he always a had the most positive attitude and was a true leader on the set. When we shot the pilot last year he was in terrible pain with a pinched nerve in his neck. If he had not told me I would never have known. He also had an infectious spirit. He loved to tell a great story and entertain the crew. I just feel lucky to have worked with him. It’s a sad day for Hollywood.”