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How Bill Paxton’s Son James Took Late Dad’s Role in New Film (Exclusive)

July 10, 20243 Mins Read

More than seven years after Bill Paxton‘s death, his son James Paxton is stepping into a role his father originally meant to star in.

Malcolm McDowell tells PEOPLE that his upcoming movie Last Train to Fortune, expected to debut this fall, costars James, 30, in a role that Bill would have originally portrayed — and a film that McDowell, 81, has been waiting decades to make.

“I said, ‘I’ve always loved that script. It’s such a beautiful script, really. Why don’t we get James Paxton to do it?’ He’d be the same age as his dad was, almost. A little bit younger, but even better,” McDowell recalls, after noting that he originally intended to make Last Train to Fortune with late director Lindsay Anderson in the early 1990s.

Anderson died in 1994 before production could start; Bill Paxton, who died in February 2017 at 61, was originally slated to star opposite McDowell.

“So we did a read-through at my house and I think everybody went ‘Wow.’ It’s pretty good when you hear it aloud for the first time,” McDowell says.

“I must say that he’s pretty levelheaded,” he adds of working with James, who has been acting since 2003. “Of course, [there is] the weight of his dad, but that’s every day in life he’s had that, and he’s a very fine young actor.”

James Paxton and Bill Paxton.

Steve Granitz/FilmMagic, Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty 

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Last Train to Fortune stars McDowell as a schoolteacher traveling across the Old West in the early 1870s to take on a new teaching job in a new town. He misses a train and teams up with an outlaw (Paxton) to travel together and eventually introduces the outlaw to his collection of literary classics, with the film emphasizing an importance on reading in education.

James Paxton and Malcolm McDowell in Last Train to Fortune.

Greg Gorman

“I do think he’s a very dedicated, wonderful actor and we had so much fun. I mean, he says it’s like a father-son thing. I thought it was two mates having a go, you know? I thought their relationship turned out to be really delicious,” McDowell says.

“You never know what chemistry is going to be, you just never know,” he adds. “But I really felt very comfortable with James and I know he did with me. We just bonded really well.”

Last Train to Fortune, directed by Adam Rifkin and written by his mother Michele Rifkin, is expected to debut this fall.

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