'1600 Penn': Bill Pullman on Playing the President - Again - and What He Learned From the Election (Q&A)
This story first appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Hollywood Reporter: How reluctant were you to reprise this role, and in your first-ever stab as a TV series regular?
Bill Pullman: It’s funny: When I first heard they were thinking of me for the president in Independence Day, I just assumed it was a comedy — I didn’t exactly think of myself as leader-of-the-free-world material. So when I got the script for 1600 Penn, I dreaded reading it a bit because I wasn’t interested in signing up for anything long-term in television, especially for a part I’d already played. But the writing was so good, I started rationalizing, "Of course I’m the perfect person for Dale Gilchrist!" I could finally do my comedic version of the president.
THR: Creators Jason Winer and Jon Lovett don’t reveal the president’s party affiliation. Did they clue you in to his possible leanings?
Pullman: Yes, that’s so political of them, isn’t it? We definitely don’t want to exclude a piece of the viewership. But I’d say, according to stereotypes, he’s a Republican in his forthright strong sense of what has to be done, and then he’s a Democrat in his kinder moments. So, he’s swinging, and probably thinks he’s the best parts of both parties. But he makes a lot of mistakes.
THR: Another possible clue is President Gilchrist has a ranch. Will we see him clearing brush, like George W. Bush during his presidency?
Pullman: (Laughs.) It’s possible! That image of Bush has always stuck in my mind. It’s also secretly one of my secret passions, cutting brush. It’s a weird thing, I know. People say, ‘Can’t you be doing crossword puzzles or fly-fishing?’ There’s just something about clearing paths that’s physical stupid work, but it’s fun. I bet there were pretty darn clean trails on Bush’s property.
THR: Did you pick up any nuances from the recent presidential election?
Pullman: During the campaign, we certainly saw a lot of gaffes, a lot of people slinging dirt. It gave me a great context that what we’re doing on the show isn’t as absurd or contrived as I originally thought. The weird duplicity of those moments where the candidate smiles, shakes hands and then yells at somebody — it’s strange they offer the same ingredients for political success as they do comedy.