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Column: The late film star Paxton did his first directing work on the links at Red Wing Lake in Virginia Beach

The late actor and director Bill Paxton. [Smallz & Raskind/Warner Bros. Entertainment]

BY WILL HARRIS

The actor Bill Paxton, who died on Saturday, Feb. 25, at age 61 due to complications from surgery, made a lot of great movies in his time. Navy SEALs – partially filmed in Virginia Beach – is not generally considered to be one of them. 

For Paxton, however, it proved to be a pretty big deal. It provided the actor with his first real opportunity to step behind the camera and play director on a feature film.

Paxton’s only official credit on the film is for his acting work. I interviewed him in 2010 for the website Bullz-Eye.com. When I told him where I was calling from, it didn’t take him long to tell the tale.

It all started because of a touch-football scene in the script. Paxton felt it was such an egregious rip-off the volleyball scene in Top Gun that it needed to be switched to something else. His suggestion: have the guys play a round of golf instead.

“I went to the producers and the director, and I said, ‘Let’s do a golf sequence, it offers us a lot more opportunity to do some fun stuff, too,’” Paxton told me. “So I was asked to write up a sequence, which was going to be kind of a montage sequence of the guys letting off some steam after a mission, and they’re playing golf.”

The golfing was filmed over the course of a couple of days at Red Wing Lake Golf Course in Virginia Beach. Paxton described it as “a beautiful course.”

“The fairways were really heavily lined with woods, so we went out and shot a couple days of it, and we had a blast doing it,” Paxton said. “And then about a week later, the producer comes up to me and says, ‘You know, the editor just can’t really make heads or tails out of this stuff. He needs more shots to really build a montage. But, you know, I’ve got to go up and shoot a scene up in DC.’ I guess they were going to shoot a scene with Joanne Whalley-Kilmer and somebody else, so there was a free day. And he said, ‘Would you take the boys out and just do some second unit shots?’” 

Paxton didn’t have to be asked twice. He immediately started putting together his shot list.

A few years later, I talked to Paxton again, this time for The A.V. Club, and he went into more detail about the material he filmed. 

“I shot most of the shots in that sequence,” he said. “We had some crazy shots that they just thought the Navy wouldn’t appreciate.”

One shot featured the actor Cyril O’Reilly standing waist-deep in water and a golf cart halfway sunk in the same pond.

For all the fun he had while directing the golf scenes, Paxton still had a very specific regret when he reflected on the experience. 

“I‘m sorry they didn’t let us make it a little more ribald,” he said. “I think the Navy would’ve appreciated it. After all, these are some guys that are letting off some steam after some crazy life-and-death mission they’ve been on.”

As for his time in Virginia Beach, Paxton had nothing but fond memories. 

“We had a good time down there,” he said. “We really, really did.”

Paxton also indicated amusement about having begun his big-screen directing work with a golf sequence. 

“Fifteen years later, I would be directing The Greatest Game Ever Played,” he said, referring to the 2005 film starring Shia LaBeouf as Francis Ouimet, the first amateur golfer to win the U.S. Open.


Norfolk native Will Harris received his journalism degree from Averett University in Danville, and he now lives in Chesapeake. A full-time pop culture writer, Harris is a longtime contributor to The Virginian-Pilot and The Onion A.V. Club, among many others.


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