Born in Hornell, New York, on December 17, 1953, Bill Pullman pursued stage work before making his big-screen debut in Ruthless People. Other comedies followed like Spaceballs and Clerks before the actor hit it big with roles in Sleepless in Seattle and While You Were Sleeping, then playing the U.S. president in the global blockbuster Independence Day. He later returned to a presidential role in sitcom 1600 Penn.
Background and Education
Actor Bill Pullman was born William James Pullman on December 17, 1953, in Hornell, New York. At one point he decided that he would pursue a construction career, enrolling at the technology-oriented State University of New York at Delhi. Yet he opted instead for a life as a thespian after being inspired by a drama club. He switched schools and graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater arts from SUNY Oneonta, and later earned his master's degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, focusing on directing.
Pullman worked as a professor at Montana State University before relocating and doing stage work on the East Coast. He eventually moved to Los Angeles and began to appear in film, making his big-screen debut as a wrongdoer in the comedy Ruthless People (1986), with Bette Midler and Danny DeVito.
Rich Film Career
Over the following decades, Pullman went on to establish a prolific, rich film career with supporting and lead roles spanning many genres. He played space pilot Lone Starr in Spaceballs, the 1987 Mel Brooks spoof of Star Wars, before portraying a researcher who ventures to Haiti in Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). He rounded out the decade with roles in The Accidental Tourist (1988) and Cold Feet (1989).
Entering the '90s, Pullman took on more work in comedies like Sibling Rivalry (1990), Going Under (1991) and Clerks (1992) as well as the thriller Liebestraum (1991) and the musical Newsies (1992). (The latter film later became an award-winning Broadway show.) With 1993 roles as Meg Ryan's fiancé in Sleepless in Seattle, directed by Nora Ephron, and as a college dean husband opposite Nicole Kidman in Malice, he then got a bigger break as co-lead in the 1995 Sandra Bullock romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping, an international hit.
'Independence Day' and Later Roles
Yet Sleeping's success would be dwarfed the following year by the massive global blockbuster Independence Day; the movie featured an invading alien armada and Pullman as U.S. President Thomas J. Whitmore, along with a supporting cast that included Will Smith, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch, Jeff Goldblum and Mary McDonnell as the first lady.
In the new millennium, Pullman continued mixing type with roles in the arthouse comedy Igby Goes Down (2002), the horror flick The Curse (2004) and the drama Phoebe in Wonderland (2009). He has also found himself sometimes being compared and confused with fellow actor Bill Paxton.
Having already been featured on The Tracey Ullman Show, Pullman further developed his TV resume with the 2005 miniseries Revelations. Years later, he starred in the 2011 Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood, playing the villainous Oswald Danes, for which he was nominated for a Saturn Award. Then in 2012, Pullman returned to playing a U.S. president—this time in the NBC sitcom 1600 Penn, co-created by Josh Gad.
Pullman has continued his stage work with roles in the Broadway productions Oleanna, a 2009 drama on sexual harassment helmed by David Mamet, and The Other Place (2013). A playwright as well, Pullman wed dancer Tamara Hurwitz in 1987, with the couple having three children.
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