Pullman and Shakespeare on Poker Jim Butte: Part One

All quotes: Bill Pullman

On Monday June 3, 2002 I drove to Princeton, New Jersey with my husband to hear Bill talk about his summer work, while he was a student, with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.  Bill was the speaker at the Spring Social for the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival.  They give free performances of Shakespeare’s plays outdoors during the summer, something Bill says he has a particular affection for.

The social was held at The Barn on a beautiful, winding, tree-lined street.  The Barn was part of the dairy farm for the Pyne estate and has been restored and remodeled as a home.   Ironically, one of the owners is an architect—more about that later.  On arriving, we were warmly welcomed by Lisa Fischetti, one of The Barn’s owners, and ushered in a door in the brick wall to a small room.   When I gave our names, Anne Reiss, executive producer for the Princeton Rep, came over and gave us a great welcome.  Anne had arranged for us to attend the benefit.  We then went out to a huge, courtyard surrounded by the red-brick buildings that comprise this structure. We were going to the Press session with Bill and while we nervously waited for our cue from Anne Reiss, I tried to enjoy this beautiful courtyard on a very lovely spring evening. Once, I looked around and saw Tamara and Bill standing in the doorway to the courtyard.  Tamara looked very beautiful in a lovely dress in a wonderful shimmering green-blue material and had her hair pulled back.   Bill was wearing a black suit and a deep-rust colored shirt.  A few minutes later Anne Reiss came and told us Bill wanted to get the lay of the land and the press session would start in awhile. We waited.  Suddenly, Anne Reiss came through the crowd again and motioned to us to follow.  We went into the house—a vast, converted barn—through glass doors to an area where there was a glass-topped dining table. We were directed to the corner where there was a long, scroll-armed, dark rose velvet sofa against the wall with some modern chairs grouped around it in a rectangle.

We heard voices and saw Bill & Tamara with the owners on an upper level. I guess the Pullmans were given a tour of the house.  They all came down a circular wooden staircase and then I saw Bill reach up to touch the staircase as he asked some questions about it. I  couldn’t hear what he said but I guess, with his interest in wood-working and building, he wanted to know something about the construction or type of wood used.   Then Bill and Tamara came over to the press group.

Bill was directed to the corner with the dark rose sofa.   He declared this “a swanky little spot” and sat in a corner facing us

I think the sofa was a bit uncomfortable for someone as tall as him but he looked great sitting there. His hair was at its best, rich and full with that lock falling forward.

 This was his first time in Princeton.  He had only seen pictures taken as part of research by the costume designer for “The Goat”.  June 3 was graduation day for Princeton University and while driving through the town Bill was struck by the sight of all the graduates in black and orange gowns with their parents, the trees in bloom and the great houses.  When Albee wrote “The Goat”, he didn’t specify the location of its setting except that it was urban/suburban.  The costume designer thought Princeton would work so a lot of random photographs of people in Princeton were taken to get the costumes right: lots of pictures of teen-age boys in layered clothes and hooded sweatshirts and pictures of women who could be an architect’s wife with “enough money to be obsessed with shad roe.”

Bill said he was doing the benefit to talk about his experience with Shakespeare in the Parks in Montana which had been “instrumental in forging his whole idea of theater.”  He heard about Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival because Anne Reiss was the person who helped him get settled in New York when he arrived to do 'The Goat".                                      

Bill spent 7 summers with Shakespeare in the Parks, first as an actor and later as actor and director.  His first part was Proteus in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”.  He said he only really became interested in Shakespeare as an undergraduate while he was studying in England.  During that time he saw some great directors and developed a “sense of adventurism about directing.”  

I asked Bill if he will be extending his run in “The Goat” with the Tony win. He said he will not be extending his run.  His contract is up in September and he will be leaving the production then.  At present, he is looking at scripts of movies that start shooting in September or October.

Because he is so happy with the experience of doing this particular play since “you don’t find them that good” and “they don’t come along that easily” he doesn’t anticipate returning to the stage any time soon.    It’s difficult for him to work in New York right now because, with his family, it’s a big commitment to work there.

I congratulated Bill on “The Goat’s” Tony award and he said it was all so exciting he almost “lost it, watching” and would have found it easier to go to the awards show if he knew the outcome beforehand.

On the subject of performing on stage versus doing movies, he said: “There’s a lot of empowerment for an actor on stage.  You really are almost like an editor and director and actor at the same time because your story-telling is so critical to the audience’s following the emotions and logic of the story  . . .This is the longest I’ve ever played in a play and I’m thinking about acting in a play differently than I ever have, thinking about things that I maybe never had a chance to . . .”  He said he sees new things in his role as Martin even now.

“Igby Goes Down” in September will be his next film release. Bill once again complimented the web-site as the most accurate, up-to-date source about his work.

Bill said that he doesn’t think of himself as a Shakespearean actor. With Shakespeare in the Parks, he was in comedies, not tragedies.

For his Master of Fine Arts degree, he specialized in Jacobean drama and did a lot of directing. When the press session was over, I gave Bill a Congratulations messaage from our group for “The Goat’s” Tony.  The text was:  Bill, Congratulations to you, Mr. Albee, and the company on the Best Play Tony for “The Goat”.   With our best wishes, The billpullman.org web-site creators and the bpullman@yahoo.com members.

Bill agreed very readily to let me tape his talk on Shakespeare so that I can make a transcript for the web-site.

Bill was very friendly, funny, and gracious during the press session. As always, when he spoke to me, he looked me straight in the eye and gave me his full attention-- a very intense experience that a good number of our group have had. 

He is very excited and pleased over “The Goat’s” Tony.  He is extremely proud, honored and even a little awed to have created a part in an Edward Albee play. We talked a little bit about how we both think of Albee as an icon.  Bill said he would see us at the reception after the talk and he did come over to us and we talked for a few minutes. They served dessert at the reception later and Bill had a piece of the chocolate cake.

So there you have it, Part One, just like a Shakespeare history play.  To read Part Two, click on the Shakespeare in the Parks page.    That’s where we read about Bill's adventures in tights and doublets in his own words.                                

© 2002 Mary Cochrane McIvor

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Montana Shakespeare in the Parks