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Bill Pullman Discusses 'Phoebe in Wonderland', Looks Back At 'Independence Day' And 'Spaceballs'

March 5th, 2009 10:23am EST
Bill PullmanSometimes what is brutally obvious to an outsider can, and does, leave the closest to a situation heartbreakingly oblivious. Phoebe in Wonderland dives head-first into this very scenario and the conflicting choices of treating a disorder by over-medicating, under-medicating or the act of self-medicating. By enshrouding oneself in a project that they love so dearly, even the symptoms of that disorder get lost in the axis of that passion.

Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Patricia Clarkson and Campbell Scott steer this story down to the basic human elements of a parent's love for a child and the fear of admitting to one self that something might be wrong with the child. One of the stars, Bill Pullman, was nice enough to take a break from filming a new movie in the Nevada desert to discuss this film and take a look back on some of his other famous roles, including Independence Day and Spaceballs.


Mike: Phoebe in Wonderland is a great film, great cast. What attracted you to this movie to begin with?

Bill: I happened to be in New York at that time and I was getting ready to leave. [Director] Daniel Barnz and [producer] Ben Barnz were there ... so we met in a restaurant on a very windy, blowy day -- I remember it was cold -- but we hit it off, I was signed up and it was very good people to work with.

Mike: Elle Fanning is really great in this film, you almost forget she's only ten because her acting is so good. What's funny, watching the movie, I was wondering if in the scenes with you if she was thinking, "Hey, this is President Whitmore from Independence Day I'm working with." Then it hit me: she might not even know what that is since she was born two years after that movie came out.



Bill: Right. She, as you may expect, is a very mature girl in a lot of ways beyond her years. Kind of like Dakota, where they have some soul in them. So that kind of thing doesn't even cross her mind, I think (laughs). I think she's just glad to be in the present moment, enjoying each others company and not a lot of baggage brought along in any direction.

Mike: In the movie, Elle's character, Phoebe, has symptoms that are almost painfully obvious to the viewer but not as much to the parents, especially Felicity [Huffman's] character. I think there is a lot of accuracy to that. In real life parents are sometimes the last ones to notice something is wrong, like Tourette's.

Bill: It definitely is a different definition of Tourette's then it was probably even five or ten years ago. And it's a spectrum of behavior acknowledged now that could be ... you could have Tourette's with a stutter. And according to their diagnosis, to have someone say, "she has Tourette's," sounds ridiculous because that's those swearing, spitting people that walk down sidewalks.

But then there's also ... we're living in a time in which a lot of behavior is being diagnosed in ways that hadn't been before, especially in kids. I think that that can be a good thing and can be a bad thing. I think that Felicity's character definitely senses that what used to pass as a vivid imagination in a child is now something that is going to scar them for life unless you do preventative medications. And she makes clear in the movie she has another reason, too, just out of real strong denial. Out of fear of what it would mean ... is it something she did that caused it?

Phoebe in Wonderland

Bill Pullman & Elle Fanning in 'Phoebe in Wonderland'




Mike: When I was in elementary school I had a friend with similar symptoms as Phoebe. And, like Phoebe, when she acted in school plays, really focused on something, those symptoms disappeared. I think that's why this movie really resonated with me because I felt like I had seen it before.

Bill: Wow. That would be an interesting follow-up article, just to see what her future became. In these times when it's very hard to release movies ... that this is actually going to get seen by some people and hopefully more, in different environments ... I think there's a lot of people out there that I think could feel like they weren't alone.

Mike: What's your favorite role and/or your favorite movie you're in?

Bill: Oh, I love them all. You know, Mike, I've been very lucky to be part of a lot of movies with interesting directors; like Lost Highway and Spaceballs. I've always felt it's great when there's some humor involved. And I've done a lot of noir, I like those kind of predicaments like Lost Highway and The Last Seduction. John Dahl is another director I've enjoyed working with; we had some good times on The Last Seduction. Then, I did You Kill Me recently.

I have a fondness for certain movies that were successful and some that weren't so successful. Like Mr. Wrong, I really enjoyed working with Ellen [DeGeneres] and I still enjoy that movie.

Mike: And bridging the difference between comedy and sci-fi, you had a dream role. You mentioned Spaceballs; not only is it a Mel Brooks movie but you got to play a hybrid of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo with Lonestar.

Bill: Yeah. I got to do the real thing with Independence Day
and the goofball takeoff with Spaceballs.

Mike: Your speech from Independence day is iconic now. When I was in college that movie was still in theaters and my friend, Steve, and I snuck a tape recorder into the theater so we could tape that speech and use it in a college skit we were doing. So, I feel we were the first people to rip that scene off.

Bill: Beautiful! You know, somebody just emailed me an excerpt from Obama's speech to congress (last week) and in his language about, "We will survive this, we will be able to move on," it's amazing how some scriptwriter or somewhere down through ...

Mike: Yeah, when he did that, that wasn't President Obama talking ... that was vintage President Whitmore talking.

Bill: Yeah, Yeah.

Mike: You're in the desert right now, right? What are you filming?

Bill: It's called Kerosene Cowboys and I'm in Nevada. Then, in a couple of weeks, I go to Oklahoma and start The Killer Inside Me.

Phoebe in Wonderland opens Friday, March 6 in limited theatres.


Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
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