Robert Rodriguez honors Bill Paxton at Texas Film Awards

While the Texas Film Awards Thursday night were about celebrating the many accomplishments of the film industry, organizers paused the celebrations to remember two Texas film industry heavyweights that died in the last year: Debbie Reynolds and Bill Paxton.

Bill Paxton, looking concerned, as Fred Haise in “Apollo 13”

Reynolds, an El Paso native, was honored at the start of the ceremony with a “Singin’ in the Rain” tribute performance by Austin musician Suzanna Choffel, and in the middle of the ceremony, Austin director Robert Rodriguez took the stage to honor his friend, Fort Worth actor Bill Paxton, who died in February. The two worked together on Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (Paxton played Dinky Winks, an eccentric theme park owner). Rodriguez paid tribute to the actor upon hearing of his death, saying working with the Texas actor was a highlight of his career.

PHOTOS: Texas Film Awards red carpet

Rodriguez told a story about Paxton, saying that when they started working together, digital cameras were relatively new and he discovered that he could just “let them run” to catch improvised moments on camera, and Rodriguez thought that would be a perfect scenario for Paxton to improvise funny moments — but when the actor showed up on set, he said, “I’m like an old pony. You gotta walk me around. I need rehearsal.”

Rodriguez was surprised, saying, “You’d think he’s making it up as he goes. He worked very hard at making it look effortless and easy. He was a great man, a great actor, a great friend and a great Texan.”

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Paxton was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Austin Film Society honored him Thursday night by playing his full acceptance speech for the award, followed by clips from two of his co-stars: Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise.

Both actors got teary-eyed as they talked about Paxton. Bacon, who worked on “Apollo 13” with Paxton, told a story about a time Paxton took off his oxygen mask while filming the movie and got giddy with laughter. Cruise, who starred in “Edge of Tomorrow” with Paxton, started his tribute with this: “He entertained me.” That’s something many Texans will remember about Paxton.

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