Bill Pullman Reveals His Methods Behind Complex 'The Sinner' Character
“It became a very personal discussion about my own past,” the actor tells The Hollywood Reporter of how he crafted his character’s journey on the USA drama.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter In Studio, Bill Pullman opened up on his role in the series The Sinner, as well as his overall journey as an actor which has now spanned over 30 years.
After studying theater in New York state and subsequently teaching at Montana State University, Pullman got his first big break in the film industry at the age of 33 in the Bette Midler-Danny DeVito comedy Ruthless People. “I guess that would count as a late bloomer,” Pullman said with a smile.
The actor has performed in his fair share of genres, including family films (Casper), romantic comedies (While You Were Sleeping) and summer blockbusters (Independence Day). In addition to the many likable characters Pullman has played over the years, he made a point to note that he has also played “a lot of different, objectionable characters.” He continued, “I’ve always really liked noir movies. I find that there’s a level of humor in them sometimes and finding those kinds of scripts were really intriguing to me.”
In the first season of The Sinner, which was just announced for a third season, Pullman’s Detective Ambrose investigates a murder that takes place at a public beach by an unassuming woman played by Jessica Biel. While unraveling the real story, Ambrose also fights his own personal demons.
“When we started the first season [showrunner Derek Simonds] was eager to have me in the writer’s room,” Pullman said. “I think because the character of the detective was not that well charted in the German novel — he wasn’t as fleshed out as what Derek wanted to do — so I could talk to the writers about a lot of things. It became a very personal discussion about my own past; what could be tracking similarly and what it is to have certain kinds of trauma early on in life that maybe forms behavior that can be manifested later. So I used a lot of my own life.”
Pullman continued: “I ended up describing a lot of my upbringing. I think life is always an unpeeling of the onion about who you are and to get a better grip on your identity, and I had a bit of unpacking to do and talked a lot about it in the writers’ room.”
As the viewership numbers came in during the first season, it became clear to the network that a second season would make sense. With the story arc from the source material being completely wrapped up in the first season, the show creators looked to Detective Ambrose as the most logical throughline for the next season.
“[Derek Simonds] said, ‘I wonder if you’re okay with this as a premise for the second season because we’re going to take Ambrose into the belly of the beast. We’re going to bring him back to where he had his early upbringing and is the last place he wants to go back to,'” Pullman said. “I’ve never done a repeating series before, so I had never gone through this. It takes a certain amount of trust to know that the character isn’t going to be suddenly distorted in some way to fit some writer’s conceit of where the character goes.”
Pullman will reprise his role as Detective Harry Ambrose in the third season of The Sinner. He is currently the host of the four-part docuseries Epic Yellowstone, which is now airing on Smithsonian Channel.