1600 PENN's Bill Pullman Visits 'Meet The Press'
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April 29, 2016
In this week's "Meet the Press" PRESS Pass conversation, David Gregory sat down with actor Bill Pullman, who plays the fictional President Dale Gilchrist on NBC's new comedy series, 1600 PENN. Click here to view the appearance!
Pullman described the real president's reaction after a private screening at the White House earlier this week: "President Obama said, 'We like to take the work seriously but we don't take ourselves seriously.' And he's really ready to make a joke about this whole White House life. I think he's glad to have some humor. ... It's far enough away from reality, I think it's a relief because it's really more like 'Dr. Strangelove.' ... I think that having those kind of absurd moments highlighted, I think must be a little bit of a relief."
A full transcript follows:
David Gregory: I'm David Gregory and this is PRESS Pass, your all-access pass to an extra Meet the Press conversation. This week I'm joined by Bill Pullman, the man who's played the president twice on screen now. He's out with the new show, '1600 Penn,' a comedy about life in the White House --and the real first family has already seen it. President Obama hosted a screening this week. Great to have you here.
Bill Pullman: Thank you, David.
GREGORY: So tell me about that. We're suckers for political comedies here at Meet the Press, but what was it like going to the White House and screening the show?
PULLMAN: It was phenomenal. Everybody was very jacked, and, you know, we got in there and I'm surrounded by very bright, verbal people in this TV series, the producers and the writers and everything, and it was great to see them finally tongue-tied.
GREGORY: Right, around the president?
PULLMAN: Yeah, you they were yakking it away until he comes in the room and then they're stumbling around. I myself was stumbling. I'm not beyond that, because it's definitely - kind of the molecules of the air changing a little bit, you know, when he comes in. But he's so comfortable and I think he recognizes that people are losing their tongues, you know, and so he helps them out.
GREGORY: Right, he makes everybody feel comfortable.
GREGORY: Do they find it funny?
PULLMAN: You know, they were I think appreciative. I had the little advantage in that I had seen 'Independence Day' with President Clinton, so I had gone through something of this before -- where right at the end of 'Independence Day' President Clinton didn't say anything to me and I thought, 'Oh my God. He hated it.' Then eventually he went and talked to some people and came back and then -- so I think they were generous. You know, President Obama said, 'We like to take the work seriously but we don't take ourselves seriously.' And he's really ready to make a joke about this whole White House life. I think he's glad to have some humor.
GREGORY: Well that's what's interesting, because unlike the other role you played in 'Independence Day,' here you're playing the president who's dealing with all his personal foibles. It's less about the job and more about this odd family life that you try to have. I think the Obamas certainly appreciate that.
PULLMAN: Yeah, it's far enough away from reality, I think it's a relief because it's really more like 'Dr. Strangelove,' you know, this political show. But I think that having those kind of absurd moments -
PULLMAN: -- highlighted, I think must be a little bit of a relief.
GREGORY: Well, tell our viewers a little bit about President Gilchrist and his family and what the premise of the show is.
PULLMAN: Well, you know I think it's, he's a former governor who made it into the White House, he's a former Marine. His first wife died and he's married the campaign manager, of his governor campaign, so --
GREGORY: A very attractive woman.
PULLMAN: Very, yeah, believe me -- I'm working overtime to make it all work, the show. You know, Jenna Elfman, playing first lady, very, as she says, hot. And then the four children I have, become her step-children. But I think they're all not looking to be just subservient to their station in life. They all have a lot to say for themselves. And Josh Gad plays the oldest son, which I think is the real zeitgeist of the times; he's the one that had the 7-year plan in college, never even finished, comes home -- I bring him home because I want to try to get him on the path -- and that's really something I think a lot of parents have now, where kids come through college and you're trying to get them on the path. He's impossible to get on the path, and he has his own idea of how to make it work.
GREGORY: But this is happening in this fishbowl of the White House, which former first families understand. Whether it's the Obamas, with two girls who are going to high school here, locally, high school and middle school, or the Bush daughters, who were coming of age as well in the White House - it's a very difficult environment, there's a great deal of scrutiny.
PULLMAN: Yeah, I was surprised to hear that, as much as you think they're planning for all that, things happen. Andre Holland, who plays our press secretary, is a New York theater actor, and he was in a production on Broadway and President Obama was saying, 'We tried to go see his play and we realized that was a bad idea because we tied up Broadway and everybody who had come to buy tickets that night were delayed, the show was delayed, while they're doing all this -- we just can't do it.' But they tried, but they just can't do it.
GREGORY: Now you weren't wearing a tie at the White House were you? Did the president rib you at all?
PULLMAN: Yeah, you know I for some reason thought maybe I should not look so competitive. You know, not wearing the tie would say, 'I'm not in this - it's not a horserace here.' So yeah he caught it and I think not having the tie, that was good way to tell us apart.
GREGORY: You're not a defined Democrat or Republican in this show, are you?
PULLMAN: No. Yeah -
PULLMAN: Well, I think, you know, the writers are pretty political and they want to get as big an audience as they can -- they want the popular vote.
GREGORY: Yeah, exactly. But you describe, you got some attributes of both parties in your character. Which are they?
PULLMAN: Yeah, well I think, it's kind of true to life in that I'm a governor from a western state, and I have a place in Montana. Montana, you know, you see a lot of crossover of issues. So you see a Democrat going for energy policy, you'll see a Republican going for healthcare. There's a lot more switch up. So that's kind of the model that I use.
GREGORY: More of an independent streak.
GREGORY: How did you approach it, you've now done it a couple of times: Playing the president is interesting because, unlike a lot of different roles, people pay so close attention to who the president is, all of them, everybody's got an opinion about the president. That's got to be as an actor kind of difficult to step into that role and say, 'Ok, who do I want to be in this role?'
PULLMAN: Yeah, well I think I'm always amazed by people have a deference in some ways, and there's also incredible criticism like, 'Oh, I'd never go into the White House if he were the president.' It's really -- you know, for me the great pleasure about this part is that I'm an inclusive president. You know I'm looking to find The Common ground between people and everything so, and it's true to life. I said to some friends that I was going to the White House and all of sudden people started to bring things that they wanted me to give to the president. You know, scarves, they had specially made because they knew I was going. And you know, I cut that down because I knew the White House would go, 'Thank you very much' (mimes throwing it out).
GREGORY: Do you have any, did you have any presidents in mind when you said 'ok, part of how I approach this role will borrow from certain presidents -- whether it's mannerisms or a way of speaking or the way you hold yourself?
PULLMAN: Well, you know, I think there is a little bit, but I don't think I'm doing an impersonation. But I've always liked a few moments in different candidacies, like 'I'm the decider' you know I think is a natural thing to say. And I was always amazed that a president could say that and it'd be a 'gaffe' or something, because I think, 'hey I'm just calling it what it is.' And that's kind of, there's a lot of Dale Gilchrist that's like that, like, 'hey who's got a beef here? You know, I'm just calling it the way it is.' And then you realize, 'ok you got to tone it down, you got to tone it down, you've got to change it,' or something like that. So I really love the gaffes of all the presidents, you know, the whole thing about, 'Oh that thing with the bar code is pretty cool,' you know.
GREGORY: Right, with the first President Bush --
PULLMAN: Yeah, that was, then to reveal that you are in a bubble --
GREGORY: No question.
PULLMAN: So it seems logical to me, but you can understand that it gets you in trouble.
GREGORY: How closely do you fellow politics? How interested are you in politics and how does this add to it?
PULLMAN: Well, you know, I really do love the data of it all, and I get way too many newspapers, you know, it's hard to get out the door sometimes. But I'm not the wonk that a lot of people are, and I'm involved in different kinds of things. And we had some transmission line issues, these kinds of wind power things. If you're in a rural situation in America now there's a level of grassroots politics you get involved in. I like that level in Montana where there's, you know you can really run into people and talk to them -- representatives and things -- about things, on that level I really like that fact we are in a democracy and to engage in it in a real way is very important. So it's been a really great thing to be in the show and get to talk to a lot of people that didn't have access.
GREGORY: And it's got to be striking too, I mean to be part of a Hollywood community -- as I mentioned I grew up in Los Angeles and understand how liberal that community is -- and you spend a lot of time in Montana which has a totally different view; much more independent, much more conservative about some things, but a much different view about what government ought to be doing.
PULLMAN: Yeah. I went to a fundraiser for a candidate in L.A., a candidate from Montana, Senator Tester, you know, and just suddenly I realized, 'here's the folding of my two worlds' -- you know, you have all of these kind of West-siders in this beautiful, just off San Vicente Boulevard, they're all people who are very, very much like, the politics is like sports for them, they know all of this data and everything. And then the Jon Tester who is one of the only Ag guys in both houses, he's a rancher, and you know he's got a good heft on him and everything, and it's great to see that kind of collide.
GREGORY: Well, Bill Pullman, '1600 Penn' -- we are enjoying the show and we look forward to seeing more of it.
PULLMAN: Thank you very much David.
GREGORY: Thanks for being here. Appreciate it.
PULLMAN: Thanks for having me.