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Performers Of The Month - November Winner: Outstanding Actor - James Paxton

Dark subject matter can challenge a performer like nothing else, forcing them to dig deep to make traumatic moments seem real. Not every performer has the range to hit moments like this. This fact becomes evident when you see a performer struggle with a scene that is beyond his/her reach. Unfortunately, that happens more than a lot of television viewers and writers would like to admit. On the other hand, there are performers that writers love to write for, knowing that in they are entrusting their written words into the hands of a performer with the acting skill to knock it out of the park.

Eyewitness is a show that requires its cast to run the gamut of emotions, everything from joyous moments to horrific trauma and everything in-between. The writers of this show clearly trust their cast to deliver on the complex scripts they deliver to them. While this show sports a cast of seasoned veterans they do have a fair number of younger performers with limited resumes.

It’s those performers that would make any writer cautious when writing scenes with heavy material for them, except these performers have proven why they landed the parts in the first place. They constantly hit the mark with whatever the writers throw at them. Such is the case with James Paxton, who portrays Lukas Waldenbeck. During the month of November, he commanded attention with an intense story arc. In particular, The Lilies (1x5), proved to be a standout episode for Paxton, allowing him to show extreme emotional range as he took Lukas on a dark journey. This episode, in particular, is the main factor in James Paxton’s victory as best actor of November.

Eyewitness is Paxton’s biggest role to date, and he couldn’t have landed a better role to start building his career. Lukas is a complicated young man with a lot of issues he needs to work through. While it makes things difficult for Lukas, it has given Paxton the opportunity to really delve into some really intense material. Not only has he tackled it with the talent level of a seasoned acting veteran, (not surprising given his family acting pedigree, (his father is actor Bill Paxton, Twister-Aliens-Big Love) but he has done so with incredibly sensitivity to the subject matter. He understands that the he is portraying very real situations that many people experience every single day, from the fear of coming out, to debilitating anxiety, and sadly to suicidal thoughts. Real issues that need to be portrayed with a deft hand which Paxton does. He has been outstanding in showing the long reaching effects that these very real emotional situations have on people.

Among the darkest material covered in The Lilies was Lukas’ slow descent into depression caused by his extreme anxiety around witnessing the murders. Keeping it a secret is taking a toll on him sending him running towards drugs in hopes of finding an escape from it all. He even turns to Philip (Tyler Young) for help finding a way to obtain drugs. Given Philip’s history with having to deal with his mom and drugs he’s in no big hurry to help the man he loves get into the same dark spiral of drug abuse like his mom. Lukas however can’t see past his desperate need to escape the trauma he’s been dealing with.

The desperation in his eyes as he begged for help obtaining drugs to help him cope with his anxiety was downright heartbreaking. He knew what he was asking of Philip, but in that moment Lukas was so desperate Philip was the only one he felt he could turn to. Even though he was dealing with a lot he was still quick to correct Philip regarding Rose (Mercedes Morris), because Philip means the world to him. Lukas often struggles regarding how exactly to convey his feelings yet he is always so sincere when he is talking to Philip.

That’s the thing about Paxton and Young, they are so at ease working together, that no matter the context of the scene viewers can always see just how connected the characters are. They can be having a disagreement and somehow these two actors allow the audience to see that under the anger and deep rooted emotions is a whole world of love. Their path together hasn’t been easy, and after this episode it didn’t get any easier, but these characters need each other.

There is a difference between performers who are cordial to each other in a work setting and those who develop genuine friendships. Watch any television pairing and it’s the pairs who build a friendship off screen that are the most believable on screen. The unique bond between the characters required actors who could go all in for the part. Paxton does outstanding work when he’s alone or working with his other co-stars, but it’s his scenes Young that explode off the screen. These two always elevate each other. Individually they are each phenomenal performers but when they are in scenes together something magical happens. When talking about either of them it’s impossible to not praise the other. Even off screen these two go out of their way to ensure that the other gets the praise rightfully due.

Paxton has a natural knack for working off of the energy of his co-stars. While he does some of his most outstanding work opposite of Young, this particular episode, that garnered his November win, gave him some intense scenes with Aidan Devine who plays Lukas’ father, Bo Waldenbeck. Lukas being confronted by his dad regarding trying to get money for the drugs were deeply emotional scenes. The moment Bo confronted Lukas, you saw Paxton skillfully work on portraying Lukas desperately trying to work his way out of the lies he’d weaved. Throughout this scene, he made about a half dozen small tweaks to his posture as the anxiety from the encounter settled over Lukas. He shifted and fidgeted, struggling to deal with the situation. Ultimately, he ended up blurting out a lie, further complicating things, to get himself out of the situation, but not before Paxton got to deliver an impressive performance. The way he played the moment allowed the audience to see how fast Lukas’ mind was racing in that moment.

While this was a very serious episode for Paxton, there were still some lighter moments like when Lukas showed Philip the Polaroid camera he’d found. That gave Paxton to show off the side of Lukas that only Philip gets to see. This lighter, more at ease version of Lukas only comes out when he’s with Philip, because he’s really the only person Lukas can truly be himself with. For this brief moment, he wasn’t burdened by all that was happening in his life, he was just a guy being a bit flirty with the object of his affection. This scene was a prime example of how natural a moment can seem when the performers have real chemistry. Paxton was able to just be and have fun with this moment. He posed for the camera and hammed it up as he played around with the natural organic nature of the scene. The way this scene was played it’s easy to imagine that Paxton and Young goof around this behind-the-scenes like this. They are so at ease together that it’s evident why fans have fallen in love with this couple given how much effort they’ve both put in to building up this relationship. They are two young actors, and as such one would expect portraying intimate character connections in any capacity would be difficult, but these two were simply meant to work together. When they are in scenes like this together they are making the scene seem like two young men just hanging out. And when they are engaged in intimate scenes they go for it, holding nothing back. That’s refreshing to see from actors involved in any onscreen intimate coupling.

Given the fact that they are portraying a young gay couple all of this is even more important, the LGBT community as a whole is sorely underrepresented but young male gay couples are incredibly lacking in representation. That makes it all the more important that the show explores all the good and bad moments of this couple. These two are so organic together, and while Philip gets a lot of individual screen time to be a little freer and open it was great to see Lukas just get to be a teenager for a bit.

Paxton’s work throughout the episode was noteworthy, but his biggest tour de force moment came as the anxiety began to consume Lukas. It all started at the lake when Lukas was with his dad. The moment he saw that gun, Paxton kicked his acting into high gear by emoting in such a way that even the viewers felt anxious just watching. He understood the importance of getting this right and he fully committed to this performance. Through his performance, the audience could easily imagine Lukas’ heart racing in his chest and his thoughts speeding at a rate so fast that he couldn’t even process what to do. Lukas was barely keeping himself from having a full on freak out, but was desperately fighting to hold himself together because of the implications of what would happen if he gave them away.

He took the audience along for this tumultuous and fearful moment in Lukas’ life. Everything was so heightened for him as he struggled to keep his anxiety in check to avoid giving himself away. The acting here was so spot on and painfully real. Everyone has experienced moments of anxiety, so despite the scenario involving the murders they witnessed, this was a very real moment that Paxton did great justice to.

This all transitioned into the scene where Lukas returned to the spot with Philip. Usually Philip can help to came and center Lukas, but not this time. Being without Philip during the prior anxiety attack sent him on a spiral that, in this moment, not even Philip could pull him out of. In Lukas’ anxious mind the only thing he could imagine helping him was drugs, of which Philip had made sure were not available. That act, in this intense moment, was too much for Lukas to handle, leading him to lash out at the person he loves the most. When he shoved Philip it wasn’t out of spite or even anger, it was out of complete and utter fear. Lukas was afraid of having to deal with the things he’s witnessed and the things that have happened to him. He was in full on panic mode, which was great for Paxton as an actor, because moments like this are where a performer can really shine. These tense and dark moments can make or break a performer, if they get them right what comes across on the screen can be quite poignant. Paxton certainly embraced this part of Lukas and gave it stunning life as he took Lukas on this debilitating journey.

As if this wasn’t already quite an impressive episode for Paxton, he took our collective breaths away with that ending. It began when Lukas sent Philip texts basically telling him that he couldn’t handle the whole situation anymore. When the scene cut to him, Paxton, as Lukas, raised a gun into the frame, striking fear and concern in every viewer who has come to love this character. He intensely looked at it as he contemplated ending his life. It was such a hard scene to watch yet it was so important, and it was a great way to conclude Lukas’ journey in this episode. The episode started with Lukas being a bit flirty with Philip as they tried to go on with life as normal, then the truth began to show through as the anxiety overtook him, and finally it all cascaded into this terrifying moment.

In terms of the series, it was a great place to end the episode, but in terms of the audience it was an awful place for the episode to have ended. It’s a true testament to Paxton and all the hard work he’s put in, that the audience felt so invested in his character as to be frustrated by that ending. He has made the audience fall in love with his character despite all of his flaws, because under it all he’s just a young man in love who is falling apart under the weight of having to deal with several enormous secrets. As Lukas handled the gun, Paxton’s eyes were transfixed on it increasing the intensity tenfold. His acting here was so raw that it was genuinely hard to watch, because so many people have stood exactly where Lukas was and not found a way back from that ledge. Paxton deserves a lot of praise for not only sowing the incredibly dark place Lukas was in, but also for showing that there was still a tiny sliver of hope left in him. His acting really drove this episode and was incredibly poignant throughout.

Paxton was given a lot of extraordinary scenes to portray in November and as such it was impossible to cover even a fraction of them. This article was only able to cover his work in this single episode, but his work throughout the entire month was phenomenal and heartbreaking. Please free to use the comments section to talk about all the scenes that this article couldn’t cover.

James Paxton was your fan pick as the most Outstanding Actor of November 2016. Hit the comments below to tell others why you think he earned this title and what you most enjoyed about his November performances.

PLEASE READ: This is an article to recognize James’ work and to honor his performance in November on Eyewitness. Shipper-related bashing will not be tolerated in the comments, even from James’ fans. Honor the performer and his performance. Have fun and be kind to one another.

Note: This is a generic warning to avoid any issues in the comments section and to help keep this a fun and safe place to gush about the winners. This is geared to no fandom in particular.

Special thanks to Donna Cromeans, freelance editor/proofreader (@DJRiter on Twitter) for editing this article.