He was so much more than “game over, man!”
As Marine combat technician Private Hudson in James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi blockbuster Aliens, Bill Paxton spun scene-stealing cinematic gold out of comically masculine bravado and wild-eyed panic—the latter captured in his most iconic line: “Game over, man!”
The line took on newer, sadder tones when the beloved character actor passed away suddenly in February from complications following surgery.
Paxton was enormously versatile—he played emotionally complicated leading men in Big Love, One False Move, and A Simple Plan as indelibly as he played goofy sleazeballs (True Lies), comic-book villains (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and bullies with unfortunate buzz cuts (Weird Science).
He proved a gifted, if underrated director (go watch Frailty right now) and the only actor apart from Aliens costar Lance Henriksen to have the honor of being killed onscreen by an Alien, a Predator, and a Terminator—as his fans love to recall.
But it’s Hudson and his endearing, voice-breaking meltdowns most everyone remembers first. (Mostly.) It’s not hard to fathom why: As Paxton himself acknowledged, “He was the most relatable to audiences because he was deathly afraid, as most of us would be. I mean, for every Ripley [Sigourney Weaver] or Hicks [Michael Biehn], there are a million Hudsons.”
April 26 marks the second-ever Alien Day (a date chosen for LV-426, the monster-infested moon where Alien and Aliens take place)—a day as apt as any to pay tribute to the magic of Paxton’s performance.
Michael Biehn (who played level-headed Corporal Hicks), Jenette Goldstein (tough-as-nails Private Vasquez), Carrie Henn (little Rebecca “Newt” Jordan, her colony’s sole survivor), Paul Reiser (corporate slimeball Carter Burke) and super-producer Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, Terminator) offered us their favorite memories of Paxton and Aliens to mark the occasion.
We’ve arranged their tributes below as a mini-oral history of Paxton’s impact on Aliens and his costars. Hurd sums it up best: “He’s irreplaceable.”
“He made going to work fun”
HURD: My memories of Bill go back to when he was a carpenter on Battle Beyond the Stars. I was the assistant production manager for Roger Corman and Jim Cameron was the art director. And Bill was a carpenter. So my first memory of Bill was him pounding nails and cracking everybody up. I mean, we’d be working at three or four in the morning and he would be the one who kept all our spirits up. He was that person on and off set.
BIEHN: We first met on Lords of Discipline [in 1983]. Bill at that time was like a horse that hadn’t been broken yet, as far as acting goes. He was credited as “Wild” Bill Paxton. He had the energy and the fun and the desire and the passion, and I mean in spades. … But I kind of put the reins on him. I didn’t want him stealing all my scenes. (Laughs) He was pretty good at that. He was like a firecracker.
GOLDSTEIN: He was so, so excited to be on this film [Aliens]. I mean, he was like that with every role. We were all young and it was this big American film, the sequel to Alien, which we’d all seen—and we got to be Army men!
HENN: You always knew when Bill was on set. He made going to work fun. He would always stop by my table on set when we were in between takes. I often had coloring, clay or other art activities to keep me occupied. Bill would join us and color, or create something fun with the clay.
From “ultimate badass” to “game over, man!”
GOLDSTEIN: Hudson and Vasquez were like each other’s foils. They were the inverse of each other. Everything that he just blurted out, she felt but kept in.
REISER: Bill had this odd, unique mixture of can-do bravado and a really self-deprecating sense of humor about his perceived limitations. And it’s kind of what came out in the role of Hudson in Aliens. He was this big, macho guy like, “We’re gonna kick their asses!” Then he’s the first guy to go, “Oh man, we’re dead, we’re dead!”
HURD: Jim wrote the role of Hudson specifically for him. And there was no question of just how amazing Bill would be in the role. Things like “game over, man!”—all of that was their collaboration in creating a character who was the voice of the audience. “We’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die!” It was important to have that pressure valve of humor to release the tension so that you could build it up again, which is a secret in horror films. That kind of character can be so larger-than-life and so memorable that you cannot imagine the movie without him. And that’s Bill.
A friend to all—even the slimy corporate guy
REISER: I was in a weird position, ’cause all the [actors playing Marines] had been there for a couple of weeks in a kind of boot camp, then I came in as the knucklehead corporate guy. So I was sort of organically a bit excluded. But he was the bridge. He was the guy who made sure, “Hey man, let’s all have lunch together,” or “let’s all hang out.” There was a lovely Southern hospitality about him. He just got along with everybody. He really liked people.
GOLDSTEIN: This was my very first film. I’d gone to drama school and been trained as a theater actor. I didn’t know what a master shot was or a back-to-one, any of those things. And the first shot was the Marines approaching the atmosphere processing station as they start to walk into that weird hive. I was just terrified. … But Bill said, “Don’t worry about it. Stick with me. You’ll just learn while you earn.” (Laughs)
HENN: My favorite moment on set with Bill was in the Med Lab. The scene was very detailed, and was a little daunting. There were a lot of different elements to remember. I felt relieved that Bill was filming the scene with me. He knew I was a little nervous of everything, and worried I wouldn’t do what I was supposed to do. He quietly told me not to worry, that he would help me. He also kept saying, “Don’t worry Newt, Hudson is to the rescue.”
GOLDSTEIN: You’d think, oh, he’s just a good ol’ boy from Texas. But one of the things that really impressed me, and I asked him like, “God, how do you remember everybody’s name on the set, of the crew?” His dad was this wonderful salesman. And he was like, “That’s what I learned, you learn every single person’s name and you don’t forget it.”
HURD: Everyone he met became an instant friend. There were no strangers in Bill Paxton’s life.
Aliens and the romance of a lifetime
HURD: He was [shooting Aliens] in London when he met his wife, Louise. As I recall, it was on a bus or at a bus stop. And they were together ever since. He was the kind of guy that when he made a commitment, it was for life.
BIEHN: We were hanging out one night off-set and Bill said, “Look at that girl.” And I said, “yeah,” or whatever. There’s lots of beautiful women in London. But he bolted up. And I don’t know what he said to her or what he did, but he got her telephone number. When I look back at friends and people that I know, it’s one of the more romantic stories. You see a girl, you chase her, you jump on the bus, you get her number, and you end up being married to her for 35 years.
“We’re on an express elevator to hell, going down!”
BIEHN: We heard that they were screening Aliens for the press but we couldn’t go over there. We’d only seen it in pieces, Jim hadn’t shown it to us yet. So Bill and I snuck up to the projection booth and watched the movie. And as soon as the credits ended, he stood up and shot his fists in the air like, “Ahh! We’re on a roller coaster to hell, man!” We both knew [the movie would be big], but he really knew.
“How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?”
GOLDSTEIN: Mad magazine did a whole Aliens spread [when the film came out] and Bill was so excited: “Oh my God, I’m gonna finally be in Mad magazine!” So we went down to a newsstand right across from Canter’s Deli in L.A., got a copy and sat down at the counter with our Matzo ball soup or whatever. We were opening it up really fast to see ourselves and I’m drawn with a beard or something, I forget what it was. And he’s drawn with a chicken head. He was like, “I finally make it into Mad magazine and they don’t draw me!” I thought that was so funny.
Keeping the Aliens family together, 30 years later
HENN: Many of us have discussed how nice it’s been to see so much of each other in the last few years. We refer to it as being like a family reunion. We might not see each other for a while, but always pick up right where we left off.
REISER: Three summers ago [at Calgary Comic Expo’s Aliens cast reunion] everybody said, “Oh, let’s get together after this!” Suddenly, Bill goes, “I got a restaurant.” And he called a restaurant and got ’em open and got the kitchen to stay up late and cook for everybody. It comes time to leave and everybody starts putting some money on the table. And Bill goes, “I got it.” And he picks up the check for 30 people. That was sort of him in a nutshell. … He didn’t make a big deal of it. We went to pay and they said, “Oh, Mr. Paxton’s already taken care of the check.”
HENN: Many of the cast members were in Houston for a 30th reunion at Comicpalooza. One evening we all went out to dinner … On the way to that dinner we all took a taxi. The taxi driver was asking us if we were there for a convention [and] if we were there for the sci-fi one or the musician one. Bill didn’t skip a beat and told him we were there for the musician one. The driver asked a few questions [and] told us that most of the cast of Aliens was attending the sci-fi convention. Bill was asking him questions about which actors, and how long had it been since the film had come out. It was hard for us to keep a straight face during the whole conversation.
REISER: Most of us were under 30 [during filming], so it was literally a lifetime ago. Yet we all fell into place and picked up the conversation. We had all gotten married and had kids in the interim so there was a lot to catch up on. … I miss very much the idea that we could spend more time together.
“There’s no one who can replace him”
BIEHN: There’s never gonna be anybody like him again. … I wrote on my little thing [at Paxton’s memorial], “You made me laugh for 35 years and today you make me cry.” I didn’t know that he was going in for any kind of surgery. He didn’t tell me. So it was really, stunningly sad. I always kind of thought of him as my little brother. I just kind of walked in circles around my house that day.
GOLDSTEIN: One of the last conversations I had with him, he was talking about how he had all these projects to direct. He was gonna start doing Training Day. He was going on and on about how he was excited to get these different projects to go. … I had seen him like four months before [his death] and I wasn’t aware that there was this heart problem. I woke up, listened to NPR, and was like, “What?” Just complete disbelief. And shock.
HURD: He made everything that he was in better because of his performance. And inspired everyone around him with not only his talent, but his work ethic, and because of what a wonderful presence he was on and off set. There’s no one who can replace him. He’s irreplaceable.
HENN: We all feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to see so much of Bill the last few years. They are wonderful and fun memories that I will never forget.