“The alternate ending that didn’t make the movie,” said Bill Paxton with a smile. “Oh, Jesus.” Only a few weeks before he died on Feb. 25 at the age of 61, Paxton had come to Yahoo Studios in Los Angeles to chat about his new CBS drama, Training Day. While most of our conversation centered on his first starring role in a network television drama, we did briefly touch on one of the many classic films he starred in — Titanic.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Titanic, so we wanted to chat about his contribution to the beloved Academy Award-winning film. Paxton played a memorable supporting role as Brock Lovett, a treasure hunter in search of the Heart of the Ocean, a rare diamond that was lost when the Titanic sank.
While Brock Lovett is prominent at the beginning of the film, he fades away as the movie’s true story is told. Yet it might not have been that way had director James Cameron and company not shifted gears. As many might know, the ending that audiences saw in theaters all the way back in 1997 was not the original that had been planned on.
“It was an ending where Gloria Stuart actually has the diamond,” Paxton said, explaining what the scrapped ending entailed. “I’m on some other part of the ship with Suzy Amis, who plays her granddaughter. And we see her, we think she’s going to jump off the stern of the ship and join her lost lover over the wreck site. So we run up to her and say, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it!’ I forget what the dialogue was.”
“She turns and she’s holding the diamond, and my character’s been all about finding this diamond because he’s a mercenary treasure hunter,” Paxton continued. “And she says something to me about ‘You don’t know what to really value in life’ and throws the diamond in. I just have an epiphany where I look up and I have this crazy laugh. I mean, I would have shot heroin to make the scene work better.”
Paxton was a longtime collaborator and good friend of Cameron, or, as he called him, “Jim.” One of his earliest roles was a minor one in The Terminator. The two would work again on Aliens and True Lies before teaming up again on Titanic. When Paxton made his directorial debut with the 2001 film Frailty, the credits featured a special thanks to the Avatar mastermind. When Cameron embarked on an expedition to obtain more detailed images of the RMS Titanic in his 2003 documentary Ghosts of the Abyss, he invited Paxton along for the ride. This shared experience, perhaps, gave Paxton special insight into why Cameron put the Brock Lovett scenes in Titanic to begin with.
“Jim, when he designed the film, he thought when you make a period movie, he said the first thing you have to address is ‘How does it speak to a contemporary audience? How do they connect to it?'” Paxton said. “You know, the love story is timeless, and they’ll relate to that. But what he thought was, let’s set the table in a way so that we give them a contemporary context, and then we go back.”
Paxton’s final thoughts on the cutting of the alternate ending showcased his trademark humility. Despite decades of starring in movies and television, he was not one to allow ego to get in the way of telling the right story. So the actor had no dismay over his big final scene being let go.
“I always saw the wraparound story that I was involved with, with Suzy Amis and Gloria Stuart, we were like the gantry on the Saturn V rocket,” Paxton said, recalling his memorable role in Apollo 13. “We’re there to hold the rocket up. But once the rocket takes off, the gantry is forgotten and falls away. Coming back to us was a way to wrap it up and kind of tie up the old Rose’s story and all that. But you didn’t really need anything from us. Our job was done by then. So it became very evident in the cutting. If you’re smart and you take the ego and the narcissism out of it, you’ll listen to the film. The film will tell you what it needs and what it does not need. And the baby needs tough love.”
According to a family representative, Paxton died due to complications from surgery. He is survived by his two children, James and Lydia Paxton, and his wife, Louise Newbury.
Bill Paxton Talking to Yahoo Television About Training Day:
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