Upfronts 2012: Bill Pullman, 'Independence Day' Star, on his Return to the Presidency in '1600 Penn'
The cast of NBC's new White House family comedy spoke to THR about the political and personal story lines of their election-season show.
Bill Pullman is the Grover Cleveland of entertainment presidents.
Just as the 22nd President of the United States became the 24th with a second, non-consecutive term, Pullman is set for his second go-round in the Oval Office; having starred 17 years ago as the fighter jet-flying commander in chief in Independence Day, he is back as president in NBC's new family comedy 1600 Penn, which takes place at the White House.
As it turns out, as iconic as his turn in the Will Smith-led classic would become, this presidential return is much more of what he was expecting in the first place.
"You know, when my agent called about Independence Day, he said, it’s to play the president of the United States," Pullman remembered in a discussion with The Hollywood Reporter. "I said, ‘is it a comedy?’ So I’m finally getting to have that moment be true. So it’s great fun that it’s in this vein, I’ve been doing other kind of work, so I can be surrounded by geniuses at the comedy medium, and I’m really enjoying that."
The show features Pullman as the head of state and head of a semi-dysfunctional family that includes Jenna Elfman as First Lady (and stepmother to his children), Martha MacIsaac as his straight-laced college-graduate daughter and Josh Gad (of The Book of Mormon fame) as his screwball eldest son. The show won't be a farce, however, as it was co-created and will be executive produced by John Lovett, former speechwriter for President Obama.
"He is an amazing resource for what kind of details go on and I think because, also just learning how a speechwriter is, he has a wicked sense of humor, and I can’t imagine why he wasn’t kicked out from that job," Pullman laughed. "Because he’s kind of irreverent and he’s sassy and clever and he seems more like a guy who would write comedy for a movie rather than the speeches."
That isn't to say that he didn't think Lovett was a capable speechwriter; Pullman, in fact, had nothing but praise for his exec producer.
"He was incredibly successful, he has a degree in math, he’s like a brilliant guy that knows policy," he said. "I asked him to send me his three favorite speeches that he wrote, and he sent me the one where Obama signed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell [repeal] and then the one for the health reform and the Correspondent’s Dinner. Big ones! And I was surprised how short they are. And he said, yeah, we started out thinking we needed 20 minute speeches, and then we realized, after five minutes, nobody pays attention anymore... So it’s great to have someone like that behind the show, it’s really a freakish thing, I don’t know how a creature like him could be created, but we have him."
Then again, for all of Lovett's prowess, Gad, who will also write on the show, insisted that it largely leaves politics at the door.
"I think that, you know, what excited us so much about it was that this idea of creating a dysfunctional family like any other, but what does that family look like under the prism of the most powerful family in America, and in the free world?" he explained. "And to us, what’s so fascinating is the Obamas are a family like any other – what happens behind closed doors? Do Michelle and Barack Obama go to parent-teacher conferences for their kids? What does that look like? And so that’s what we wanted to explore. It’s a family show first, and a political show second."
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin