Bill Pullman is the kind of actor who feels right at home no matter what project he’s in. He’s as likely to star in a sci-fi satire as he is a psychosexual fever dream. He can play the president in a crisis as well as an adorably befuddled dad.
His latest juicy part comes by way of USA Network's new limited series The Sinner alongside Jessica Biel and Christopher Abbott. As Harry Ambrose, Pullman plays the detective trying to understand why a seemingly normal woman, Cora Tannetti (Biel), suddenly snaps one day, horrifically murdering another person in broad daylight. Even though everyone knows Cora did the crime, Ambrose is determined to uncover her motivation.
But The Sinner is just the most recent stellar turn in Pullman’s illustrious and diverse acting career. Below, we break down five of our favorites from his 30 years onscreen.
If you’re going to make an entrance into Hollywood, doing it arm-in-arm with comedy legend Mel Brooks is one heck of a way to do it. This 1987 Brooks comedy classic, a broad spoof on all things Star Wars, features Pullman as Lone Star (a riff on Han Solo, get it?), the comically cocksure, pretty-boy space pilot who also happens to be Dark Helmut’s (see: Darth Vader’s) father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate. You’ll laugh yourself silly.
While You Were Sleeping
While this ’90s rom-com is largely cited as being an early career breakout for Sandra Bullock, Pullman meets her endless charm with smarm (and eventual charm!) as Jack, brother to Peter (Peter Gallagher). When Peter winds up in a coma and Lucy (Bullock) is incidentally mistaken for his fiancé, his family takes her in as their own. Pullman’s Jack is the only one who’s not buying her ruse, but is it because he’s onto something or because he wants her affections for himself? A whip-smart script and swoony opposites-attract chemistry between Pullman and Bullock make this film effortlessly watchable over and again.
Casper the Friendly Ghost’s first live-action feature holds up today as an excellent kids film with enough laughs -- and scares! -- to keep the whole family engaged. Pullman grounds the film as the widowed father to Kat (a young Christina Ricci). After moving into an old house in hopes of starting anew, they together begin having encounters with the paranormal -- both in friendly Casper form and in the form of his bully ghost brothers. Pullman is as quick to provide comic relief as the bewildered dad figure and heart as he is gravitas as a father and husband who’s learning to live in the present and let his past’s ghosts go.
And just when you thought you had Pullman pegged as a reliably charismatic fixture on the big screen, he comes along with David Lynch’s Lost Highway, a mind-bending psychological thriller following the unraveling of Fred Madison (Pullman), a saxophonist who after a particularly unnerving encounter with a pale stranger, is framed for his wife’s murder and sent to death row. And that’s just the beginning. The film is hardly an easy watch, going down more as an acid trip and less like a narratively cohesive 130 minutes, but it and its filmmaker have garnered such a dedicated cult following that anyone with an affinity for a thinking person’s flick (and a love of Pullman himself) owe it to themselves to give this one a watch.
When you first think of Bill Pullman’s screen career, you’re likely to think of his President Thomas J. Whitmore, who in Roland Emmerich’s genre-redefining Independence Day is faced with the impossible task of leading a country on the brink of destruction. In hindsight, few other actors could pull off the film’s now-iconic July 4th speech meant to rally the nation against their alien attackers. Watching it today still makes us feel all patriotic and warm: “Should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not finish without a fight!’ We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.”
Be sure to see Bill Pullman in The Sinner, a new eight-part limited series, premiering on USA Network Wednesday, Aug. 2 at 10/9c!