The enormity of the talent involved in History’s exhilarating new historical drama, Texas Rising, was more than evident as Bill Paxton, Olivier Martinez, Ray Liotta, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Roland Joffé walked into a hotel cottage in Pasadena earlier this year to talk to us about the 10-hour event series. It’s truly the TV event of the year with an emotionally riveting story and a cast list that extends beyond the aforementioned, which includes Brendan Fraser, Thomas Jane, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Davies, Chad Michael Murray, Max Thieriot, Robert Knepper, Rhys Coiro, Crispin Glover, Jeff Fahey, Rob Morrow, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Trevor Donovan and Kris Kristofferson. Texas Rising on History starts next week airing Monday, May 31 at 9pmET and Tuesday, June 1 at 9pmET.
The miniseries is from the producers of Hatfields & McCoys and tells the brutal and heartbreaking stories of the men who fought for an independent Texas following the Mexican siege of the Alamo in 1836. Directing this cinematic masterpiece in widescreen format is Roland Joffé, best known for his Oscar-nominated work on The Killing Fields and The Mission.
“It’s not dry politicking and dry war,” Joffé tells. “It’s really about people in periods of great tension and struggle, trying to work out who they are and what they do. There’s a lot of emotion and love in the story, as well as violence.”
Paxton is beyond passionate about this project and leads the conversation and the cast playing Sam Houston, the leader of the Texas Revolution and later the first and third president of the Republic of Texas. As a native of Texas and an actual distant relative to Houston, Paxton is a walking encyclopedia on Texas history: “[Sam Houston’s] mother’s name was Elizabeth Paxton. She was my great-great-great-aunt. So he was my second cousin three times removed.”
Paxton discerns Houston as a man looking for reinvention and redemption when he headed off to Texas to eventually lead the crusade against the powerful Mexican general Santa Anna. “At age 35, he was governor of Tennessee. He was Andrew Jackson’s protégé — he looked like he was the heir apparent to the White House throne. He falls out with a marriage to a gal 18 years old from a prominent family. He will never speak of this for the rest of his life. He completely abdicates the governorship,” Paxton explains. “Texas was a new start, a new chance to kind of reinvent himself. It was kind of all or nothing. He was a great student of human nature. He lived with the Indians, but he’s put into a very tough situation because he doesn’t have an army. He’s got these volunteers, they don’t know how to drill or form a battle line, or any of this stuff. … He’s besieged, not just with a very formidable foe, but he has dissension in the ranks.
His foe is Santa Anna, who Olivier Martinez presents in a rich and profound way. “For me, it was an investigation about who was this guy, who was described as a really, really bad guy, and what was his dimension?” Martinez says. “He carried a lot of contradiction, which is why my character was interesting to me. I love to play characters who contradict themselves — it’s so human. He was a bit irrational.
“You don’t have good or bad guys. You have a situation and a war, and obviously the winner takes over the territory,” he says. “He was a national hero. He just kicked out the Spanish from Mexico, among other generals, but they were a young country. They were not prepared for this war.”
Enter the supporting cast and their characters’ complex stories — these were the ragtag team of men who answered the call to arms to fight against Santa Anna.
For Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays Deaf Smith, besides the film being a Western, which he considers the “dream role,” he was immediately pulled toward the fullness of his character.
“The journey we get to go on as an audience with him, he not only was a hardcore soldier who would die for his country, but he was in love with his wife and we get to see that story play out,” Morgan says. “He loved his horse more than he loved almost anything. … He was a guy that was born in New York and lived in every state down South and probably was considered the first Texas Ranger. He died of consumption, so for this movie I went through, like, a physical transformation and lost 40‑some‑odd pounds, which I’m still hurting from.”
For Ray Liotta, who plays the fictional character Lorca, who is hellbent on seeking revenge for his wronged family, Texas Rising has been one of the best experiences he’s had working on a movie. “It’s the ultimate in playing cowboys and Indians except it was Mexicans. Although there are some Indians in there, too. The best thing about it was the experience. It’s a great group of guys, and very, very rarely, probably hardly ever, you stay friends with the people that you work with. And we have and I think we always will. It was just — there’s no ego.”
Liotta added that audiences need not appreciate or know the historical background of the characters to enjoy the film. “I didn’t know anything about it. It’s more about human beings in a certain situation that it just so happens some people know about,” Liotta says. “My character was totally isolated, so my only friend, the only person to talk to or to share anything with, is the horse. They really were a big, important part — just not how you got from one place to another — it’s what that horse represented and what you got from it.”
Joffé concludes by echoing the thoughts on finding these human moments in all of the characters throughout their journeys. “What does Santa Anna think about this woman who’s come into his life, but it’s a woman who he knows or may think is in love with Sam Houston, or maybe not? How is Houston grappling with losing love? How does that affect what we do? I think those things are incredibly important, so my job was to not make it just a movie about scale, but to use scale as a constant lever to be saying to people, ‘Oh my God, it was like that,’ but then they suddenly want to concentrate on the people. That, for me, is always the balance, and it’s a privilege to work with a group of actors as good as this.”
TEXAS RISING will air as follows:
Monday, May 25 at 9PM ET/PT
Tuesday, May 26 at 9PM ET/PT
Monday, June 1 at 9PM ET/PT
Monday, June 8 at 9PM ET/PT
Monday, June 15 at 9PM ET/PT