TORONTO - HBO's "Big Love" kicks off its third season Sunday with a subplot that could have been ripped from the headlines of a Canadian newspaper.
A storyline chronicling the arrest and trial of Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), a Mormon prophet who has had several wives, unfolds on TV just weeks after two religious leaders in the real-life community of Bountiful, B.C., were charged with practising polygamy.
While the Roman Grant plot was hatched well before the Bountiful arrests were made, the show's star, Bill Paxton, says "Big Love" writers often look to real-life stories for inspiration.
"These guys have done a lot of research," Paxton, who hails from Forth Worth, Tex., said in an interview that took place before the Bountiful arrests were made.
"In one of my favourite episodes… we go on a family road trip a la the Griswolds… and we're retracing the Mormon trail from Salt Lake all the way back to New York where Joseph Smith (founder of the Latter Day Saint movement) dug up the golden (plates) on hill Cumorah."
Paxton stars as entrepreneur Bill Henrickson who, on the surface, seems to lead a typical suburban life with one wife and two children - one of them played by Canadian actor Douglas Smith - in Salt Lake City.
What his neighbours don't know is that Bill is a polygamist and has two other wives and five other children who live in adjacent houses.
Bill and his wives - played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin - are more progressive than the typical polygamous family.
The women were not forced to marry Bill and are free to dress the way they want, pursue the careers they want and have the hobbies they want. Bill also genuinely loves his partners, said Paxton.
"It's a love story times three," said the 53-year-old actor, noting more women than men tend to be fans of the show.
"Mostly women come up to me and they say things like: 'How are the sister wives?' or, 'Where are the wives?' is the first thing that comes out, or 'Are you looking for a fourth?' and it's a funny thing," said Paxton, who played the caustic older brother in the 1985 comedy "Weird Science," and has also appeared in such films as "Aliens," "Twister," "Apollo 13″ and "Titanic."
"They've accepted Bill Henrickson into their lexicon of characters that they can relate to. It's so strange. "
Paxton said the Henricksons' modern take on polygamy is what drew him to the Emmy-nominated show that debuted in 2004.
"When my agent called me up… here was my image: I pictured some arid, desert, hard-bitten, dry, dusty place way away out of the city limits with barbed wire and some kind of zealot fanaticism and these women, they're kind of uneducated and they're barefoot and they're wearing these prairie dresses and there's chickens on the ground.
"This is the kind of stuff I conjured up. I thought it would be like something out of 'Deliverance,"' said Paxton, who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his role in the series.
"I thought they were coming at me to play some backwards guy but then when I read it, and this guy was just this kind of urbanite who was trying to live under the radar and I realized the show was just a clever metaphor for modern society in a clever way to view it through this weird prism of polygamy and I thought, 'God, there's endless possibilities here."'
"Big Love" airs on HBO Canada.