On his home turf in LA,
is very calm and mellow sitting back fielding my opening questions. When I ask him to name his favorite tree, he is electrified and tells me that growing up in western
gave him a “fixation” on apple trees. But the southern
climate does not favor apple trees, at least not the usual varieties. The ones that grow here are the
apple and the Mutsu apple. Fruit trees,
tells me, are classified according to the number of chill hours they require in winter. Chill hours are the number of hour the temperature goes below 40 degrees F. A fruit tree that requires 400 chill hours will usually bear fruit yearly in Southern
, but one that requires 700 chill hours probably won't. He has recently had to “change out some plums” that were advertised as requiring only 500 chill hours but didn’t work out. He is starting a second orchard at his ranch in
where he will be able to grow the usual apple trees because of the difference in climate. Right now, he is working on building a deer fence around that orchard. Suddenly, I am talking to a fruit farmer, not an international movie star.
And you have to wonder why the down-to-earth
chooses to live in crazy
where your value is based on the take of your last movie and everyone from the girl who sells you donuts to the kid sitting next to you on the plane to LA has a screenplay to sell. As
sees it: the “vicissitudes of fame” can make
a place “that doesn’t feel like a community or a culturally life-enhancing place, but I find it to be so. There’s a certain kind of artistic pursuit here that’s my primary reason to be here, that is not just industry related or driven or dictated. There’s quite a bit that can be done because it has the freedom of the West. I get stimulated by seeing hybridized events like dance/theater and visual art/chamber poetry pieces which feel more natural here than say in New York City."
And then there’s that orchard to “wipe away all the chaos.”
says that “it forces me to do simple tasks with my hands which I find very relaxing.” Washing the just-picked pomegranates “forces me to do something simple and not always be multi-tasking.”
Projects on the infrastructure of his
ranch give him a different focus between films and plays. He finds that his collaboration with the workmen allows him to get a different perspective on life. Working closely with them, he does drawings or makes plans for the project. And he can always look back with satisfaction at projects like a recently built bridge at his
Our discussion of bridge building reminds me of a long-standing question I have for
. In While You Were Sleeping
’s character Jack Callaghan is a furniture-maker. Extensive re-writes were done on the script of While You Were Sleeping while it was being shot to give Jack’s character more depth.
describes the re-writes as a good collaboration between himself and director Jon Turteltaub. I have always wondered if the idea of Jack as a furniture-maker was inspired by
’s real-life brother-in-law Michael Hurwitz, a furniture-maker in
. And that is indeed the case.
Pullman wanted to use one of his brother-in-law’s signature pieces, a bentwood rocking chaise lounge, which he describes as “made out of incredibly thin slats of maple wood so it looks a little bit like a bird’s nest”, as the piece of his work that Jack shows Lucy in his truck. A very generic rocking chair was ultimately used in the scene. Pullman remains understandably disappointed about this. The following link reveals one of the versions of Michael Hurwitz's bentwood rocking chaise lounge--a breath-takingly beautiful piece made by the man who inspired the character, Jack Callaghan, furniture-maker.
In a recent review of Bottle Shock, a critic described
as quickly becoming “the most versatile actor in
” and he has also been called “one of the greatest living interpreters of [Edward] Albee.”
smiles but seems almost embarrassed when I mention this high praise and quickly chalks up the most “versatile” comment to the fact that the critic had also seen Surveillance. The fact is that
has the lead in wildly different films that are on the festival circuit, released, or about to be released. They are: Bottle Shock: Pullman is the passionate, driven wine-maker Jim Barrett; Surveillance: he plays Sam Hallaway, a tough, cool-headed FBI agent investigating a chilling
Pullman next to the "Your Name Here" poster.
murder case; and Your Name Here: he plays William K. Dick, a brilliant science-fiction writer trapped in his fertile, bizarre imagination.
won an award for this performance at the CineVegas Film Festival. Nobel Son arrived in theaters in December. Pullman plays detective Max Mariner. He is also the male lead in Phoebe in Wonderland which is being released in March 2009.
Just how does he accomplish his onscreen transformation into those 5 hugely disparate men? Because of his training and experience in the theater, he says: “My body teaches me as much about my characters as my brain . IN the movies, with their
Felicity Huffman, Elle Fanning, Bill Pullman in 'Phoebe in Wonderland'
restrained close-ups and turns, the physical life of the character is easy to dismiss as a full dimension. For me it is probably most often the way that I'm learning about the character.” Early in his career, he recalls an older actor advising him to: "Get out of the way of your body that’s going to teach you about this character.” Pullman’s onscreen characters all have an added physical dimension and expression that are rare and supremely done.
agreed to teach an Acting Master Class for 15 students at the Palm Springs International Short Film Fest. As the day for the class got closer, it was revealed to him that there would be an audience of 400 watching him teach the class! The situation struck him as “totally designed not to work”. When
mentioned the class to Bottle Shock co-star Alan Rickman, he refused to entertain the idea that you could do anything in that situation.
Faced with his 415 students, Pullman says: “I started with something I’d never done and asked 400 people to do an exercise from their chairs . . . .they wouldn’t have come if they thought they had to do anything so I had to take them to that place . . .they most feared . .being involved in something where they had to interact with somebody next to them.”
Because “people think there’s tricks to acting”
wanted to focus on “the most simple elements”. He started with the idea that an actor should work at being neutral to the fact of being watched. As he explains it: “It’s not a denial that you’re being observed; it’s just being free from the knowledge that you’re being observed.” To that end, he asked his students “to not think of themselves as actors, but more like behaviorists looking and studying what’s happening to other people’s behavior and their own” rather than being self-consciously wrapped up in their own performance. He went on to observe that cognitive behavior is disrupted by the act of observation. Allowing oneself to be watched and not seek control over it is very freeing.
The 15 actors on stage were asked to walk around as though they were not being watched.
stopped them and said: “The person closest to you is your new partner”. Next, he told them to not look at their partner but stand next to them. The actors all turned to face the audience----it’s hard to behave as though you are free of observation. ( The Movement for Actor’s Blog, Master Class with Bill Pullman, Paul Cuneo,
As a background for
set of exercises, Pullman
also threw out a controversial idea that there are only 3 types of good dialogue:
--dialogue in which someone is lying
--dialogue in which someone is fishing for something without revealing
her or his intentions
--dialogue in which someone briefly speaks poetically (i.e. using a metaphor)
Click photo for larger version.
When I first mentioned this class to
, he lamented the fact that he can’t focus on teaching the way he used to. (He taught and was department head in the theater department at the
and teaches the occasional Master Class.) If he could focus on teaching, I wonder what the man who just taught an engaging, imaginative, involving class to 415 people would do?
Surveillance has been mentioned already. Pullman came to work with a surprize for director Jennifer Chambers Lynch: "I arrived on set with a buzz-cut, and got a lot of responses. Some saw it as a choice common to FBI agents and others said it looked like Timothy McVeigh--I liked the contradictions in the look."
describes Surveillance as a “challenging” film that works on many levels and is “disturbing to watch”. His FBI agent character is investigating a series of murders along a desolate stretch of highway. There is conflict between his character and “the local law enforcement agencythen they’re testing each other with a tension that threatens to erupt into something else.”
Although he can make strong choices for his characters, some areas of his opinions remain fluid for him. It took
until he had a family of his own to decide what his favorite color is. His kids wanted to know. His favorite is brick-red.
And there is a quality to
that remains restless and searching and open to new ideas and observations and details and experiences. And then there is the sharp, clear, single-minded creative focus he brings as an actor to each distinct character he creates on film and the stage. Finally, there is the calm of the hands-on fruit farmer washing pomegranates and building bridges and deer fences. Altogether Bill Pullman.
Bottle Shock DVD release 2-3-09
Phoebe in Wonderland March 2009
Surveillance June 2009
Peacock ~ Gringos in Rio ~ The Killer Inside Me
Your Name Here
Click photo for larger version.
Interview and Photos Copyright 2008 Mary Cochrane McIvor. All rights reserved.