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Q&A – Bill Pullman Is Under Surveillance

It’s a rare movie that lets Bill Pullman be something other than the nice guy. Leave it to Jennifer Lynch to find it. It’s taken Lynch over a decade to get back in the director’s chair since the controversial Boxing Helena — spinal surgeries and single motherhood being the causes of the delay — but with Surveillance, she’s created a twisted movie that will make you look twice, at everything.

Q: It seems like you and Jennifer Lynch have a lot of push and pull — first you were going to do Boxing Helena together, then you didn’t, and first you turned down Surveillance, and now here you are.

A: It’s mostly pull though, because I like her so much. We were going to do Boxing Helena, but that wasn’t me — the financing fell apart, and by the time she could do it, I was doing something else. I really wished I could do it. And this one, when she first showed me the script, I really wanted to do it, but I couldn’t figure out how. I didn’t know what the heck to give to it. She cast someone else [Billy Burke], then he fell through, and she showed me the script again. This time, I understood it, and I wanted to step up to the plate.

Q: What did you understand it to be about?

A: Jennifer sees this incredible zone of living with unconventional morality, where there are no constraints. She sees this as a pure love story: There are two people who meet and ignite each other’s souls. It’s hard to live in the real world when you’re invested in just that, but it’s an amazing place to live as a character. Most of the movie, we have to hide it, and that just makes it more vivid. We were FBI people, and everyone needed to have a professional demeanor, so the secret just makes it more intense.

Like all good games, you can construct a game that lets you see life more clearly, and in this whole structure, my character wants to see the playback of the interrogations and see whether they did as well as they think they did, their genius, whether it was going to come out. Everyone’s gaming each other — the cops are, the druggies are. The only one who isn’t is the kid.

Q: Julia Ormond takes a definite left turn with her character, one that we haven’t seen her do quite like this before. How did you help each other?

A: My character wants to provoke and push buttons, and Julia lovingly kept a lid on me, which I really appreciated. I knew I was not going to lose it, because she kept me focused. And my game got better because she was with me.

We weren’t in that zone more than three days, really. And we didn’t do that many takes. It got to the end of the schedule, and we were shooting two different endings, and in order to do it all, you got to do a couple shots and move on. But Jennifer would say, “Anything you want to do, go for it.” Most of the people who were working on this didn’t really know what was coming — they hadn’t read the entire script — so the crew was pretty shocked.

Q: What was the alternate ending like?

A: I hate to give anything away. I don’t know how to talk about it, but at one point in the script, there’s certain people who die and certain people who don’t, and in order to get financing, the original ending killed off the people who are corrupt. Jennifer proposed an alternate version, where they don’t die, that she would just shoot and keep for the DVD. In the editing process, she realized she couldn’t wimp out at the end, so she cut that version, which is there now, in the theatrical release, and the financiers actually said okay. Originally, they thought it would be hard for people to accept this, but the less disturbing ending is not in there.

Q: Plus, now there could be a sequel. What happens to the little girl? Because being dropped off in the desert the way she is, with no one alive for miles to help her, if their intent is to let her live, she’s still got a tough road ahead.

A: You know, there’s farm people. [Laughs] She could stagger into a farmyard with chickens and get a nice breakfast pretty quick. There was some talk of a sequel, and it would definitely involve her, what will become of her, what she will do. It’s an interesting thought. They let her live because she’s the only one who was conscious, because she was the true seer, the only one seeing the world the way it is. But she couldn’t get anyone’s attention.

Q: Thanks to this and Lost Highway, you’ve now worked with both David and Jennifer Lynch. Are there any familial similarities between them, director-wise — besides their shared penchant for long, lonely roads?

A: I always thought there was something genetically similar, some kind of a midwestern thing, that gives them a sense of who they are and how they look at life. They both have a joy in being able to make art specific to their vision, and they’re very charismatic people, with everybody. And they want you to look cool, too. David always put good outfits on me, so I was looking sharp, and Jennifer, even though it was mostly FBI-standard wear, she’d say, “Oh, you look hot, Pullman,” and I’d go, “You’re damn right.” [Laughs] I was glad to see that she did that with every actor.

To read an interview with director Jennifer Lynch, click here.

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