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'1600 Penn': Bill Pullman on Playing the President - Again - and What He Learned From the Election (Q&A)

1600 Penn Set Visit Speech - H 2012
NBCUniversal

The star, who previously portrayed the leader of the free world in "Independence Day," talks to THR about his new NBC comedy and his character's similarities with George W. Bush.

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.

PHOTOS: '1600 Penn' Set Visit: Hollywood's Version of the White House

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.

TV REVIEW: '1600 Penn'

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.