Interview with Bill Pullman
Excellence Award Moët & Chandon
Locarno is celebrating you with an award dedicated to your acting skills, but it is also a way to cover your career. Which criteria characterised your choice to act (or not to act) in a movie?
I was a late-bloomer, I did various theater acting-directing jobs before dedicating myself to acting in movies in 1985. I was cast in several studio movies before I was able to chose to participate in the independent movie world. I have always been aware that working with directors of independent movies was connected to my participation in successful studio movies. A balance between the two has always been the most ideal to me. And I have been lucky to work in both systems, though the independent movies I’ve done are the most similar to those movies I like to go to see for the last bunch of years. In 1971 I saw Zabriskie Point: for me watching the last scenes meant discovering the power of directors and actors who have a unique vision. I have been lucky to work with many authors with unique perspectives, focusing on stories that challenge our conception of normal. But I also continue to enjoy acting in wide-release movies of various genres because they remind me of the ones I saw in my youth, movies that sparked my first impulses to act.
In addition to big Hollywood productions your artistic career has crossed the path of some great directors. Is there one with whom you feel to have established a significant relationship?
I feel very fortunate to have worked with compelling directors and then to work with their offspring. These times have felt very significant. I did Lost Highway with David Lynch and then I did Surveillance with his daughter Jennifer Lynch and David produced it. I did The Accidental Tourist and Wyatt Earp with Larry Kasdan and then I did Zero Effect with his son Jake Kasdan. The richness of those experiences brought a unique ‘lens’ to the work that helped me to develop some characters that otherwise I might not have discovered inside myself.
Talking about great authors, to honor your presence in Locarno the Festival is going to screen a masterpiece like Lost Highway. What do you remember of that film and which kind of experience was to join (as protagonist) that great universe of visions and mystery which distinguishes David Lynch’s works?
I met David for the first time when he was considering me for Fred Madison and I felt a strong sensation that I was ‘home’. He used seductively opaque language to describe to actors the moments where the characters were living. The words he used reminded me of how my siblings would frame perspectives on moments in life that would make me always want more of it. I have continued to appreciate David’s bemusement with aspects of irony and paradox in our lives. He can put a character into a jeopardy with himself, immerse him into a pool of fear and never allow him to have any normal psychological revelations. The revelations emerge and still can’t be comfortably boxed up in an explanation.
Let’s broaden our point of view on things that change over time. How has comedy changed from Nineties to now? Which differences have you noticed at the level of characters and scripts?
I occasionally have been happily stealing some attitudes toward comedy from the younger actors I have been working with. There seems to me a subtler level of awkwardness, greater pain of embarrassment, and fuller stubborn contentment with personal choices that are out of whack with the norm. The permission actors can have to improve in a repetition of short takes is common now. I think it has come with the rise of comedy web series, short-form social media and digital filmmaking. That approach can yield some moments that are rapid-fire surprising yet real and can push the boundaries that a character might live within. The director of a commercial I did recently with Martin Sheen used this style and it gave the spots a welcome edge. There is a risk in some of the ideas of comedy now. Maybe it can become a bit self-conscious, or be funny to only the creators, but that has always happened through the decades. Except maybe to people like Mel Brooks.Lorenzo Buccella