Against the backdrop of a presidential election campaign that has seen divisive debate over immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border, an epic miniseries about the Texas Revolution seems tailor-made for partisan controversy: an 1830s version of American Sniper.
But the stars of History Channel’s Texas Rising, which depicts the Texan revolution against the Mexican army, are quick to play down a political interpretation of the tale.
“I don’t want to weigh into that; I don’t really see it that way,” said Bill Paxton, who stars as Sam Houston, the general who led the newly created Texas army against Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (played by French star Olivier Martinez). “This isn’t current; it happened a long time ago. I see the Alamo as a master tale of the American frontier. It’s like the famous Greek story of the 300. The siege of the Alamo is one of the greatest tales of all time; it’s a symbol of valor.”
“How you view this story does depend on which side of the border you were born,” admitted Martinez. “The Mexicans view Texas as theirs, they think they were robbed.” But the French actor said that director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) and producer Leslie Greif (Hatfields & McCoys) “were fair with the Mexicans, for once. It’s a balanced portrayal. Yes, you have the Alamo, but you also have scenes where the American slaughtered 600 Mexican people, including civilians. They show both sides.”
Texas Rising, which had its world premiere at the MIPTV television market in Cannes on Monday, April 13, starts with the fall of the Alamo. The story is the aftermath of that legendary defeat, in which Texans, including the newly founded Texas Rangers, rose up against Santa Anna’s army.
“Everyone has heard of the Alamo, but we pick up as the Alamo falls,” said Paxton. “Most people don’t know what happened afterward – the real story came afterward. It’s a sweeping war and peace saga.”
For Paxton, a native Texan, the story had particular resonance. He recalls going to the Alamo with his family and watching re-enactments of the battle. The Apollo 13 star even has a blood connection. He and Houston share a grandparent, five generations back.
The History Channel is hoping Texas Rising will tap into the same mass audience that embracedHatfields & McCoys, which also starred Paxton, alongside Kevin Costner, as patriarchs of America’s most famous feuding families. The 2012 miniseries was History’s scripted debut, and it was an out-of-the-park success, drawing 14.3 million viewers in its final night, at the time the most watched non-sports event ever on basic cable.
Texas Rising, produced by A+E Studios and ITV Studios America in association with Thinkfactory Media, premieres on the History Channel on Memorial Day, May 25.