At the NBC party for the Television Critics Association, we landed a one on one interview with Bill Pullman. Pullman plays the President of the United States in the White House family comedy “1600 Penn.”
Of course it’s his second term in office, after famously playing the president in Independence Day. We got to hang out with Pullman for a few minutes chatting about his new show and his movie career.
CraveOnline: Did you think you’d only get to play one President in your career?
Bill Pullman: Yeah. I thought it’s like Hamlet. You get to do your version of Hamlet, but you don’t get to do Hamlet twice. But then you realize the president can be any age. So I can be the age I was then, I can be the age I am now.
CraveOnline: And in “1600 Penn" we’ll get to see you being President.
Bill Pullman: That’s right, see me being president, but in Independence Day we had scenes in the White House, breakfast scenes and stuff like that.
CraveOnline: Is President Gilchrist a wise old dad or more of a clueless dad?
Bill Pullman: Well, he’s like all of us. We have our moments. We’re a little caught in being somebody that’s a little less than what we want to be, and other times he’s more than that. I think there’s times where you rise to the occasion. I think there’s a side of him that’s used to leading the way. He’s an ex-marine so that leads him to a kind of myopic focus where then he has to suddenly realize where he’s at. It was fun that way.
CraveOnline: Were you looking for a television show?
Bill Pullman: No. No, I was not and it’s not because I think I’m too good for it, I just never watch it and to tell you the truth, I never thought it would be a comedy because I don’t often laugh when I see things on television. I don’t know, the laugh track sends me off so I never thought about comedy. Once I started to look at this and I watched some of the single camera shows like “Modern Family,” I thought it was a better fit for me.
CraveOnline: Was that also a hurdle for you to overcome when you were doing comedy movies?
Bill Pullman: No, that came natural. In a way, when I first started to do movies, they were only comedies. I did Ruthless People and Spaceballs and I had come from New York City theater where I’d only done tortured dramas.
I had people from New York going, “I was so surprised, the first time I see you on film, you’re coming up under the covers with Anita Morris on top of you and a Dustbuster saying, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’” But then I moved away from it. I haven’t seemed to be doing so much of it so this has been fun. For me, it’s been very different, the sense of the writers, the power of the writers so you have to learn a new acceptance of all that.
CraveOnline: Does “1600 Penn” harken back to your rom-com era, where you were often the underdog in a romantic comedy?
Bill Pullman: Oh, well, I think romantic comedies are very good for subtleties and moments. There’s a subtext that leaks out in a romantic comedy that doesn’t happen in an action picture or horror picture or noir picture. I like that feeling that as they go along, the editing finds more and more subtle moments. There’s one thing that’s being projected and another thing that’s being inferred, and I like that about this kind of comedy.
CraveOnline: What sort of crazy shenanigans are coming up in “1600 Penn?”
Bill Pullman: Well, there’s shenanigans, but then there’s these intimate things like Jenna [Elfman]. I’ll tell you the truth, my favorite moments are the quiet at the end of the day scenes with Jenna and I trying to put together what happened as a husband and wife, going to Skip’s room and trying to wrap it up with him about what happened that day. We both are looking for ways to stay comfortable with each other. We love each other a lot, but we’re different beasts.
CraveOnline: But when those quiet moments happen in a set that looks exactly like the White House, is that still kind of crazy?
Bill Pullman: Yeah, yeah. I think because there’s still kind of an amazing sense of it’s not just any bedroom. It’s not just any kitchen. It has heightened stakes.
CraveOnline: We keep hearing Independence Day 2 is out to Will Smith and it’s ready to go if he says yes. Do you think that’s at all likely to happen?
Bill Pullman: Well, yeah. The Will Smith part of it may be ongoing but I think there’s strategies for both.
CraveOnline: I think he’s happy to do it. He’s very gracious about what that film did for him, so he wants to make it work. Are you aware of multiple scripts?
Bill Pullman: Yeah, yeah.
CraveOnline: Do they both involve you?
Bill Pullman: Yeah, yup.
CraveOnline: Are you happy with how they involve you?
Bill Pullman: I like what I have to do in both of them. I’m not in an old age home in a wheelchair being wheeled out for one more moment. It’s a very interesting conception of what happens to Whitmore between then and when it picks back up.
I worried about taking this part because it’s heating up. I thought, “I don’t know if I should do the comedy” and I talked to Dean [Devlin] and Roland [Emmerich] and they said, “No, do it. We’ll work around it. If it goes, we’ll work around it.”
CraveOnline: When you say heating up, could that be in your next hiatus?
Bill Pullman: Well, I don’t know if it needs to be hiatus. I think they’re willing to work around shooting.
CraveOnline: So it could be soon?
Bill Pullman: Yeah, well, within a year, yeah, something like that I guess. Nobody’s holding their breath because it’s been continually plagued.
CraveOnline: In Spaceballs you got to spoof all the great sci-fi movies. Have you paid attention to what’s come since then and thought about the potential spoof? Even Independence Day could have a Spaceballs type spoof.
Bill Pullman: I feel like I’m doing that now. In a way, it’s the yin and the yang. I’m doing the yang of the White House.