LOS ANGELES (AP) — The success of “Hatfields & McCoys” and “The Bible” inspired the History channel to go Texas-sized big with its new miniseries.
“Texas Rising,” a 10-hour saga about the fight for independence from Mexico, was shot in wide-screen CinemaScope and was directed by Oscar-nominated Roland Joffe; features armies of extras in sprawling battle scenes; and includes songs performed by Kris Kristofferson, George Strait and Jose Feliciano amid a full symphonic score.
But when “Texas Rising” debuts at 9-11 p.m. EDT on Monday, executive producer Leslie Greif and leading men Bill Paxton and Olivier Martinez hope viewers appreciate the story’s nuances as well as its breadth. Subsequent episodes air Tuesday and on the three following Mondays, June 1-15.
“We wanted to try to tell the story from a lot of perspectives, so there are really no villains in our piece,” Greif said. “There are villainous deeds … but we didn’t want to have a paintbrush and say this side is right and this side is wrong.”
“Texas Rising” opens in 1836 with the aftermath of the Alamo Mission battle, a critical Texas Revolution event in which Mexican troops wiped out their opponents known as Texians. The drama tracks a mix of real and fictional characters through the subsequent politics and equally savage battles that led to the creation of the Republic of Texas and ultimately the U.S. state.
The deep-bench cast includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Brendan Fraser, Jeremy Davies, Ray Liotta, Rob Morrow, Thomas Jane and a turn by Kristofferson as Andrew Jackson. The male-dominated story’s key female role went to Cynthia Addai-Robinson as the real-life woman known as the Yellow Rose — although her muddy history is given an imagined twist with a triangle relationship involving Houston and Santa Anna.
Center-stage are military leader and statesman Sam Houston and his nemesis, Mexican Gen. and President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Paxton (“Hatfields & McCoys,” ”Big Love”) has more than acting credentials to qualify him to play Houston: He’s a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and related to the towering figure, with whom he shares a paternal grandparent six generations back.
His state’s backstory is a longtime part of Paxton’s life. He recalled, as a youngster, his dad asking him and his brother where they wanted to go on vacation. “The Alamo,” the boys quickly replied.
“This is a story that fires the imagination of any young person. … If you’d have told me I’d grow up and play Sam Houston, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Paxton said.
He sought to capture Houston’s “essence” on-screen, describing him as a strongly principled man who was charismatic and even a fashion dandy. Houston’s most telling accessory was a ring, a gift from his mother, inscribed with the word “honor,” said Paxton, who chides himself on finding out belatedly that Houston wore it on his pinkie and not the ring finger as shown in the movie.
Equally dashing — but brutal — is Santa Anna as played by Martinez, who notes the Mexican leader is typically depicted as “old and fat.” Martinez, married to Halle Berry, falls well outside that characterization.
“My biggest challenge was to portray him in a fair way and I think we succeeded in that,” said Martinez, who is French-born but of Spanish ancestry, like Santa Anna. “This is a rich character and that’s what matters to me.”
The film was vetted by experts but does take liberties for dramatic purposes, said Greif, who also produced “Hatfields & McCoys.”
“Historically, the battles that occurred were true,” he said, adding that “we didn’t kill anyone who didn’t die and didn’t keep anyone alive who died (among the real-life figures). The rest we used as a jumping-off spot to tell a great story.”
At this point, it’s not nitpicking historians but viewer habits that are of concern.
Greif said hours were spent perfecting each visual and sound element despite the likelihood that many people will watch the sweeping miniseries squeezed onto a laptop or smartphone. The purist in him wants it to be seen in a darkened room and on the biggest screen possible.
“The truth is most people don’t watch TV that way, but I like to pretend they do,” he said.