After playing pretty much everyone, Bill Pullman comes full circle with 'The Sinner'

Bill Pullman has been it all -- the lover, the pilot, the wrong-doer, and the president, and now his new role sees him trying to fathom why anybody commits a murder at all.


                            After playing pretty much everyone, Bill Pullman comes full circle with 'The Sinner'

Detective Harry Ambrose is not just a detective who is trying to unveil the reason behind the murder of a man by a middle-aged young mother in broad daylight, but he is a man who conceals a dark truth about himself and is trying to cope with a failing marriage.

Ambrose in 'The Sinner' leads the kind of life which Bill Pullman calls "a patchwork quilt of bizarre, disparate obsessions." As an actor who arrived in Los Angeles to be a part of a newly established theatre, and who has eventually acted in over 50 films, Pullman's interest however chiefly lies in vaudeville, trombones, and everything agricultural including cattle, barns, tractors, and his orchard. Probably that is why Pullman is often said to be a man born out of his time. 

The actor who was nominated for his role as Detective Ambrose in 'The Sinner' at Critics' Choice Awards for Best Actor in a Movie made for TV or Limited Series, Pullman's ride to fame began with a hair dye. Yes, that is true! When Pullman arrived in LA to start his career as an actor in theatre, he had to dye his hair blonde for a particular play where he was supposed to enact the role of a tank commander. However, he was taken off-guard when the directors began laughing in parts of the play where Pullman wasn't trying to make them laugh. He later received a call from the same directors and was given to read out a different part of the play. 

Pullman as President in 'Independence Day' and '1600 Penn'. (IMDb)
Pullman as President in 'Independence Day' and '1600 Penn'. (IMDb)

Later recalling the incident, Pullman said, "This is the worst of signs of how things are going...or else...something else. And they called telling me that they want me to read some other part and keep my hair the same way. And I had never dyed my hair before, and I realized there's a period where it grows out and shows the roots. They thought the roots were funny."

Nevertheless, Pullman did land a role in what would become his debut in 'Ruthless People,' which was loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, according to writer Dale Launer. 

Before receiving his all-time classic roles in 'Sleepless in Seattle', 'Independence Day', and 'Spaceballs', Pullman had earlier decided that he would pursue a career in construction. Born in 1953, his dream to pursue that career led him to enroll at the technology-oriented State University of New York at Delhi. However, he soon realized his thespian vocation after he joined theatre in the University, and immediately switched schools to finally graduate in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre arts from SUNY Oneonta. His education did not stop there as he later earned his master's degree in directing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

Bill Pullman as Meg Ryan's husband in 'Sleepless in Seattle'. (IMDb)
Bill Pullman as Meg Ryan's husband in 'Sleepless in Seattle'. (IMDb)

But his acting career was still far down the road. He initially started off as a professor at Montana State University's School of Film and Photography, where he was persuaded by his students to try his hand at films. Probably that was the last blow before he would drop down everything to move to Los Angeles and begin his career as an actor, making his debut as a wrongdoer in the 1986 comedy 'Ruthless People' which also starred Bette Midler and Danny DeVito. There has been no turning back since. Pullman's career sky-rocketed as he played the space pilot Lone Starr in the 1987 Mel Brook's spoof of 'Star Wars', 'Spaceballs'. 

The 80s saw him becoming a prolific actor with his roles in Wes Craven's 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' (1988) where he played the role of a researcher who ventured to Haiti, and wrapped up the decade with films like 'The Accidental Tourist' (1988) and 'Cold Feet' (1989). As the decade turned and fell into the last bit of the twentieth century, Pullman's golden years in acting took over. He began working in more comedies like 'Sibling Rivalry' (1990), 'Going Under' (1991), along with the thriller 'Liebestraum' (1991) and the 1992 musical 'Newsies'. 

Bill Pullman in Mel Brooks' 'Star Wars' spoof 'Spaceballs'. (IMDb)
Bill Pullman in Mel Brooks' 'Star Wars' spoof 'Spaceballs'. (IMDb)

He came to the audience's attention when he played the role of the lovable Walter in Nora Ephron's movie 'Sleepless in Seattle' starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. He received further recognition as Nicole Kidman's husband who was college dean in 'Malice', and soon went for his even bigger break as the co-lead in 'While You Were Sleeping' (1995) starring Sandra Bullock. Both Bullock and Pullman were critically praised for their roles in the movie, and Bullock went on to receive the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for her role as Lucy. 

However, Pullman's most noted role was yet to hit the screen. In what would be become the biggest blockbuster hit of the decade internationally, director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin gave the American audience just the reason why they should be proud of America in the 1996 movie 'Independence Day'.

While the movie helped fix Will Smith's space as one of the most inventive action stars of the decade, it made Pullman America's favorite President. In the most well-received scene of the movie which is based in Area 51, Pullman who played the role of President Thomas J. Whitmore gave the speech which probably everyone wants to hear from their President. Clad in a jacket, with a mic in his hand, and the other hand resting on his waist, Pullman was the precise embodiment of what a true leader would look like. In fact, his delivery of the speech was so appropriate for the role that he played, that former President Bill Clinton's speechwriting director Michael Waldman exclaimed during a roundtable discussion in 2016, "I wrote a book that was a collection of great presidential speeches, and if in fact the world had been invaded by aliens, this speech would have made the collection." 

Apparently, the speech was written in just five minutes and was not supposed to make it to the final cut. Thankfully, it did. After all, an entire generation felt the goosebumps and probably even stood up in honor when the President exclaimed, "Today we celebrate our Independence Day!" The credit certainly goes to Pullman whose face never had a mark of overenthusiasm while delivering the speech. As the decade turned once again, the new millennium saw Pullman experimenting with his acting skills as he matched and mixed his roles in several arthouse comedies like 'Igby Goes Down' (2002). He further pushed himself to try out his luck in the horror movie 'The Curse' (2004), and the drama 'Phoebe in Wonderland' (2009). He was also mistaken for another veteran actor Bill Paxton with who he had worked in a movie in 1990 called 'Brain Dead'. 

Pullman, however, kept his ties with the stage and the theatre intact. He married dancer Tamara Hurwitz in 1987 with whom he had three children, and was also seen in the Broadway production 'Oleanna', the 2009 drama on sexual harassment directed by David Mamet. As admirable as his acting has always been, Pullman's role in the 2017 thriller series 'The Sinner' is something to watch out for. As his role has been innovated on screen, it was majorly in Pullman's hands to deliver the character who has been projected as a rather drab man in the novel. 

His squinting eye and a twisted smile never give away the actual failure of Harry Ambrose's life, but it certainly holds him up as a genius detective who does not take his cases for granted. Pullman will be returning to carry out his role as the detective in 'The Sinner' Season 2. It will be interesting to find how the detective who actually empathizies with the criminal mind digs deeper into a young boy's mind who killed his parents in cold blood. 

Bill Pullman as Harry Ambrose in 'The Sinner'. (IMDb)
Bill Pullman as Harry Ambrose in 'The Sinner'. (IMDb)

 

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