How Weird Science Helped Bill Paxton Land His Role In Aliens

Bill Paxton was an incredibly nice man who excelled at playing world-class jerks. He popped in small roles in Franc Roddam's "The Lords of Discipline" and Walter Hill's "Streets of Fire" before getting to strut his smug stuff as Chet, the world's worst big brother, in John Hughes' "Weird Science." From there, Paxton was off and running. Hudson in "Aliens" and Severen in "Near Dark" are two of the most quotable heels of the 1980s. Then he segued to hugely sympathetic leading man roles in films as diverse as Carl Franklin's southern fried neo-noir "One False Move" and Jan De Bont's mega-blockbuster "Twister."

Whether he was playing a swaggeringly vicious vampire or a naive, eager-to-please police chief, Paxton drew us in. He made bold choices, which gave every scene a charge because we never knew how he'd play any given moment. He was a mischief-maker in this regard. And while he was destined for some kind of stardom, his trajectory might've been much different had he not slayed as Chet in "Weird Science."

How Chet begat Hudson

Kelly LeBrock is the blindingly hot sun around which "Weird Science" orbits, but Hughes' sporadically funny film is never more alive than when Paxton's Chet is on screen. He's a gun-toting, cigar-chomping menace who tortures his meek brother Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) because he can. When LeBrock's Lisa asks Chet "Why do you have to be such a wanker," he replies, with nary a hint of irony, "Because I get off on it."

Paxton's performance in "Weird Science" proved important when James Cameron began casting "Aliens." Paxton had become friends with Cameron, who gave him a small role in 1984's "The Terminator," but, as Paxton told Den of Geek, "A lot of times your friends are the last people to hire you." When the actor first auditioned for the part of panicky Marine William Hudson in 1985, he didn't think he'd nailed it. But as the weeks passed, "Weird Science" opened in the United States. Though the film received mixed reviews, critics lauded Paxton's obnoxious performance.

Bill Paxton is dearly missed

Cameron, who was still several years away from becoming the kind of director who gets everything he wants, lobbied 20th Century Fox casting honcho Scott Rudin for his friend over 11 other candidates. According to Paxton:

"Jim [Cameron] and Scott were doing an overseas call, they were going through the list and who the studio would support, and my name came up and Jim said, 'Well I know Bill, would the studio be okay with him?' and [Scott said] 'Well he's getting some very good notices for a John Hughes comedy called Weird Science,' and so Jim said, 'Well gosh I'd love to cast Bill,' and Scott at Fox said 'Well, we'll back that.'"

Paxton's Hudson captures how Chet would behave in a serious combat situation. He's brimming with bravado in the early scenes, but once things go sideways on LV-426, he melts down in spectacular fashion. 

It's not a star-making performance per se, but it reinforced Paxton's character-actor bona fides. He was a natural-born scene stealer. If you didn't see his star potential in "Weird Science" and "Aliens," it's only because he did his job too well. He always did.

Bill Paxton made everything better, and the movies are a little less fun without him.