Seeing Bill Pullman step into the shoes of convicted murderer Oswald Danes in “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” you can’t help but think of John Lithgow‘s Emmy-winning turn as the “Trinity Killer” on “Dexter.” The familiar, comforting actor you’ve watched for decades has been hijacked by someone else.
Being on the other end of the camera, Pullman has a hard time seeing it that way.
“I don’t think of myself as scary,” he told Zap2it when we met with him on the set of the Starz and BBC co-production. “You’re seeing a guy who has lived in a dark place, unrepentantly, expecting to die — and he lives. And then it’s a new journey that may or may not bring all that baggage with him.”
Said baggage includes being the face of “Miracle Day,” the premise for the new season which kicks off the moment people on earth stop dying. Pullman gives an identity to the phenomenon when his characters’ scheduled execution doesn’t go according to plan, and he’s quickly released from jail for, theoretically, fulfilling his sentence.
“It’s a volatile thing to add into the situation that’s as chaotic and filled with stress as the world becomes after ‘Miracle Day,'” he says.
The way Danes digests his evil past and uncertain future is one of the more complex elements to the latest “Torchwood” arc, and though Pullman admits he’s played dark characters before (think of “Lost Highway” and “Surveillance”), he was a bit confused when they approached him.
“I remember asking [executive producer] Julie [Gardner], how did you guys choose me?” Pullman recalls. “She said, ‘Well, we just thought it’s like you’re America’s sweetheart — and it wouldn’t it be fun to see him in this part?'”
Pullman has a friend who’d evangelized “Torchwood,” but he’d never seen it before he got the call. “It didn’t take long reading into the scripts before seeing that this is rich turf,” he says. “And I thought I got the best part.”
He admits his character’s storyline plays “more like a thriller,” but Pullman, a veteran of the genre, does love the science fiction aspect.
“When it’s at it’s best, it’s really a genre for our times,” he says of sci-fi. “Those big things we’re facing as a culture… global warming, population explosion, things we’ve never faced before. Sometimes you solve problems best in your dreams. Science fiction is a lot like dreams.”
Dreams can be rather amusing, too. The day we caught up with Pullman, he was working in front of a three-story green screen — something he first encountered when filmmakers weren’t as technologically savvy.
“When we did ‘Spaceballs,’ they had this idea that we had to wear sunglasses in between the takes because it was going to hurt our eyes,” he says of the “Star Wars” spoof. “Doesn’t it make it sound like it was ancient? That was 1986. They’d call cut and Mel Brooks and John Candy put on their sunglasses and we’d talk about the scene. Then we’d take off the sunglasses. It was like a routine on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or something. I think they had some idea that there was a vibration that was unnerving to your psyche like marijuana in those ’50s movies.”
Watch Bill Pullman be lot less funny when “Torchwood: Miracle Day” premieres on Starz, Friday, July 8, at 10:00 p.m. ET.