IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bill Pullman Talks 'Lola Versus,' '1600 Penn,' and A Possible 'Independence Day' Sequel

Thursday, 07 June 2012 16:41 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bill Pullman Talks 'Lola Versus,' '1600 Penn,' and A Possible 'Independence Day' Sequel

Veteran actor Bill Pullman has had a very long and extremely distinguished career in Hollywood collaborating with some of the most accomplished directors of all-time including Mel Brooks, Wes Craven, Lawrence Kasdan, David Lynch, Cameron Crowe, Curtis Hanson, Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron, and Roland Emmerich.

Pullman first gained attention for his lead role in the now classic spoof comedy Spaceballs, and went on to appear in such beloved films and television projects as The Serpent and the Rainbow, Newsies, A League of Their Own, Singles, Sommersby, Sleepless in Seattle, Malice, Wyatt Earp, While You Were Sleeping, Lost Highway, last year’s HBO film Too Big to Fail, and the fan-favorite BBC series Torchwood: Miracle Day. But it was his role as President Thomas J. Whitmore in the blockbuster hit Independence Day that made him a household name. The accomplished actor will soon be seen once again playing a United States President (this time on the small screen) with his new sit-com 1600 Penn, which is scheduled to debut on NBC this fall. But before that, he’ll be seen on the big screen playing actress Greta Gerwig’s (Damsels in Distress) father in director Daryl Wein’s (Breaking Upwards) new comedy Lola Versus, which opens in theaters on June 8th.

In the new film, Pullman plays Lenny, the free-spirited father of Greta Gerwig’s Lola, and husband to Robin played by acclaimed veteran actress Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment). On the eve of Lola’s 30th birthday and her impending marriage, her fiancé (The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman) breaks-up with her sending Lola on a downward spiral of alcohol and casual sex. Fearing for his daughter’s unhappiness, Lenny tries to impart the best wisdom he can on her, while at the same time allowing Lola to make her own choices, and ultimately her own mistakes, with her life.

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with veteran actor and all-around cool guy Bill Pullman about Lola Versus, his upcoming projects, and his overall career. The actor discussed his new film, his free-spirited character, the father/daughter bond he created with actress Greta Gerwig, filming on New York’s High Line, meeting Debra Winger, collaborating with director Daryl Wein, his new TV series, rumors of a Independence Day sequel, Presidential trivia, and which of his impressive film and TV projects he is most proud of to have been associated with.

Here is what the incredibly talented actor had to say:

IAR: To begin with, your character is portrayed in the film as a very free spirited father, was Lenny originally written that way in the script, or did you add that to the role yourself?

Bill Pullman: Well you know, I think there was a sense in the script that he was a little outside the dots and that is definitely what attracted it me to it. It felt like it wasn't the usual set up for a parent as kind of being a blocking character, or some kind of creepy parent that has to learn a lesson from the younger child. It seemed like he had something to say and he's very accepting. I thought, oh, that's a little outside the dots. But I did have the good fortune of having had my hair long for Torchwood: Miracle Day. I realized by the end of Torchwood that I was going to be doing Lola Versus next so I kept growing it longer. So when I finally saw Lola I had totally forgotten how long it was. That was just a happy accident that I was lined up for this after Torchwood.

You are a father yourself, so were there any moments in the film where you were able to draw inspiration from you relationship with your own children?

Pullman: Yeah, I think in the way that you do end up being in few critical moments where you can unloosen the log jam and, I guess, I've always been intrigued by that, you know as a parent. When your kids get into a situation where they're insisting they've got everything under control, but you see they're getting overwhelmed, or starting to get a little jammed up from it. A little humor from time to time in a well-placed holistic strike can actually loosen them up and help a little bit.

I understand that you really enjoy working with Greta Gerwig and that you created a father and daughter bond working together on the set. Can you talk about acting with her and creating that relationship for the film?

Pullman: Yeah, you really never know if you haven’t met them before how it’s going to go or anything, but I felt like there was a unique alliance that we just took up pretty quickly based on respectful, but rye commentaries of what’s going on around us. We started to develop a little vocabulary of talking to each other off camera and then it was pretty easy to bring it into the scene. She’s very knowledgeable about music. We had a lot of good discussions about music. She’s inquisitive, which I think is good in another actor. It gets busy if they’re in every scene and you never know what’s going to happen. I was coming in for kind of a fun time so I didn’t know what to expect, but we really had a good engagement. She was asking about what family life is for me and I was really curious about her various pursuits. You know, various pursuits outside of the movies. So we were lucky that we got to do that.

The two of you have a great scene together that takes place on The High Line in New York City, could you talk about shooting that scene?

Pullman: Yeah, it was kind of wild. I think we were the first movie to shoot on The High Line, or at least somehow got official permission to it and yet it wasn’t a real lock down situation. We were allowed to shoot up there, but you had to keep letting the traffic pass you. So we had to shoot without blocking it entirely, I think that was the chore. So we had to accept whatever was going on around us as background. That was pretty wild and somewhat of a chance circumstance whether somebody would look at camera or stop and be conscious that we’re filming. So she and I had a lot of time in between just feeling like we were doing our guerilla filmmaking up there.

Was this your first time working with Debra Winger and if so, what was the experience like for you playing husband and wife together?

Pullman: Oh, I never worked with her before, but it was very satisfying to do. She’s really bright, well minded and really engaged with not only just the movie, but other things in the world as well. I had been intrigued by the movie Gasland. We were talking about some stuff that I was doing in Montana regarding power issues and I didn’t even realize it until after I looked closely at the producing credits, that she produced that movie! She was one of the producers on it. Her interests are strong and run in different directions.

Could you talk about collaborating with director Daryl Wein and how he communicated with you his vision for the film?

Pullman: He had a lot of time to set things up and pre-plan. The High Line was different just because we couldn’t set it up. He had a plan for how to shoot that High Line stuff but once we were up there it wasn’t working. It just was too chopped up and was too dictated by light and cinematography considerations. I’ve got to give Daryl credit, he kind of rebooted it all and then we reconstructed it so we could get some good rehearsals in and masters. I think it is good for a director to have a plan, but then to be able to change the plan when things aren’t going as you hoped. You hate to be wrong! This studio (Fox Searchlight) is a mini-major but it feels like real studio involvement so he’s circling a lot of things. But it was a sign of the health of the whole thing that they could make some adjustments.

Congratulations on 1600 Penn getting picked up for the fall season. It’s exciting that you’ll be playing the President of the United States again for a second time. What can your fans expect from the new show? It’s a sit-com, correct?

Pullman: Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s a comedy so it’s a half hour and I’ve never done an open-ended thing like this before. So I really was just holding my breath and jumping into the pool, but the pilot was a good experience. It had a lot of great focus and we got some good people who understand about how the best idea lives. But I really feel like we’re lined up to get as good a whack at doing the job as we can. I know these things are hard to hold but I feel like between Jason Winer (Modern Family), who is directing it and Jon Lovett, who was the speech writer for Obama and who’s the lead writer on it, and the show’s creator Josh Gad (Back to You), who has a really great energy, we have a good shot. And having Jenna Elfman (Dharma and Greg) around and the kids, who are very accomplished actors, can’t hurt! I think it’s pretty darn … you know, without jinxing anything I feel like we’ve got all the armies to wage the nice war.

Speaking of playing the President, there have been rumors for years that Roland Emmerich wants to do a sequel to Independence Day. Is that something you would be interested in doing, playing the President again in that type of a project, or do you think that at this point a sequel to that film is not very likely to ever happen?

Pullman: Well I think the opportunity to play the President for a third term would be unprecedented. It would be kind of cool if it happens that way because I think only Grover Cleveland had two terms that were separated by some length of time.

I’m very impressed by your Presidential trivia knowledge Mr. Pullman.

Pullman: But do you know of anybody Jami that’s done a third term? No! That’s illegal, right?

I believe only Franklin D. Roosevelt served three terms, if my memory serves me correctly.

Pullman: I think you’re correct. Well if I could only get Roland to go for that brass ring then we’d be in business. Maybe that’s all that’s holding him back. I think he always dabbles with it. Every once in a while when he’s doing a junket for another movie, he’ll say something that seems to get a little gas on the fire, but I haven’t heard anything about it lately.

Finally, you have had such a long and accomplished acting career, when you look back on all your film and television projects, is there one in particular that stands out to you personally as something that you are really proud to have been a part of?

Pullman: I’m really lucky to have been a part of some movies that seemed small and then have become classic in their own ways. I was thinking it was something like While You Were Sleeping, which seems to have entered into some kind of classic romantic comedy thing. Then Spaceballs is a classic parody spoof, and Independence Day is kind of a classic action film. I kind of hit some good, solid, gold genres with good entries. I think that’s good and Lost Highway definitely for me was great. But then you love them all so much. I also like early films of good directors like Jake Kasdan with Zero Effect, which was a great, good, lucky thing to land into. It seems like I got to work with some really talented directors and other actors that I enjoyed.

To watch our exclusive video interview with actress Greta Gerwig about Lola Versus, please click here

To watch our exclusive video interview with actress/co-writer Zoe Lister Jones about Lola Versus, please click here

Lola Versus opens in theaters on June 8th.

1600 Penn premieres on NBC this fall. 

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