Paxton recalls role in ‘Titanic’

Bill Paxton and wife Louise Newburyattend the world premiere of “Titanic” in 3D in London.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bill Paxton is 56, awaiting the late spring History Channel premiere of “Hatfields & McCoys,” which he co-stars in with Kevin Costner. And he’s still basking in the glow of his last series, “Big Love,” a show that had critics swooning over him.

But 15-16 years ago, Paxton had “an incredible front row seat” to the making of an epic, a film that became the biggest blockbuster ever at the time. It was “Titanic,” now back in theaters in 3-D for the 100th anniversary of the great ship’s sinking. And Paxton, longtime pal of director James Cameron, was one of its stars.

“I saw all the trials and tribulations Jim had to face to make his dream come true,” Paxton recalls. “The memory that sticks with me is watching this friend and colleague of mine take on this monumental challenge of bringing this story to the screen.”

The budget was huge. The reviews weren’t all raves. But the box office? People kept coming and coming. The final take was $1.84 billion, enough to make it the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron made “Avatar.”

Paxton plays the deep-sea treasure hunter who sets the story in motion, searching for a diamond that one of the last Titanic survivors, Rose (played as an old woman by Gloria Stuart), once wore.

“One of the first things I realized about Jim when he hired me to be on his night crew for Roger Corman’s ‘Galaxy of Terror’ back 30 years ago was that we both have a love of all things underwater. ... I went on several dive trips with Jim, and we kept that in common over the years. One day he came out to lunch at my house and told me he was getting serious enough to start an outline to write and then make this movie about the Titanic.”

The outline led to a script, then a $200-million, spare-no-expense movie.