By Leah Rozen
Updated April 29, 2002 12:00 PM

First things first: Bill Paxton is not Bill Pullman. At a party last year, Paxton recalls, “I said to Bill, ‘I’m flattered when they think I’m you.’ Bill replied ‘Oh, get the hell out of here’ just as this girl came up and thought he was me. And I was standing right there.” Mixing up the Everyman actors is understandable, Paxton, 46, figures: “We’re both RBI guys. They bring us in to bat in the runner.”

Now Paxton is stepping up as a director with the thriller Frailty, in which he also plays a serial killer. “I knew they liked me,” he says of his costars, “but I thought, Can I actually direct?” He had done it before. As a 10th grader in Fort Worth, he first picked up a Super 8mm camera to make “pretty bizarre” short films in lieu of writing essays. He hasn’t shied from risk since. When he spotted his future wife, British painter Louise Newbury, on a London street in 1982, he followed her onto a bus to chat her up. “All the housewives with their shopping bags watched this thing go down,” says Paxton, who lives near L.A. with Louise, 36, and their kids James, 8, and Lydia, 4. “I like to throw myself in the river of fate.”