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‘Texas Rising’ Star Bill Paxton Recalls Early Indie ‘Taking Tiger Mountain’

Bill Paxton’s acting resume includes a host of fearless characters, including his multi-Golden Globe-nominated turn as a polygamous Mormon patriarch in HBO’s “Big Love,” astronaut Fred Haise in “Apollo 13” and Texas hero Sam Houston in the upcoming History Channel miniseries “Texas Rising.” His first time in Variety also involved some daring — a fearless trek to Morocco in 1974 when he was the teenaged star of a very indie film, “Taking Tiger Mountain.”

“Taking Tiger Mountain” doesn’t sound like a movie as much as it does a rite of passage.

I was 19, and the writer-director Kent Smith was 31. We had the idea to make a kind of Albert Camus-inspired film in Tangiers. So we leased a bunch of Arriflex Techniscope equipment. First, it was all lost at de Gaulle Airport. Then we drove to the bottom of Spain, and all the roads were clogged with tourists. We took the ferry across. We got to Tangiers around midnight, and all of our equipment was impounded because we hadn’t paid the baksheesh. We got out in about 48 hours, and my attitude was “What the f–k?” I remembered I knew someone in South Wales when I was a foreign exchange student, so we drove there, and that’s where we shot the film.

How would you describe it?

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The original idea was kind of like “The Stranger” set on the beach. But the story of making the film gets crazier when we get to Wales. We had purchased black-and-white short ends (film stock) from the film “Lenny,” and we sort of shot things as we came across them. One guy had a Kenyan vulture, so we used that for a scene of eating my entrails. We met some girls and talked them into doing some nude scenes with us. Basically it was a bunch of hippies running around naked. It was all silent, black-and-white footage.

Was the film ever released?

Years later (1983), director Tom Huckabee got the rights to some writings of William Burroughs, added an audio track and shot some new footage. So miraculously, he made something out of this, and it did get released. Kind of.

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