Bill Pullman Shares Surprising Songs He Listened to While Playing Alex Murdaugh, Compares Son Lewis’ ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ to ‘While You Were Sleeping’

Bill Pullman is a liar.

The star of “Murdaugh Murders: The Movie” doesn’t mean to be, but confesses he is one during our interview.

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The two-part Lifetime movie in which Pullman portrays convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh wasn’t, by any means, a light-hearted project. And while focusing on heavier topics, some actors turn to “comfort” TV or movies.

One of mine, I tell him, is “While You Were Sleeping,” his 1995 rom-com with Sandra Bullock. But he doesn’t have one. And that might come as a surprise if you’ve watched recent FYC press he’s done. In fact, he was asked about it on a panel three days before our conversation.

“They asked a similar question, and I lied,” he whispers. “I just told my publicist today, I feel so bad! Something about that question, I couldn’t think of anything that was accurate. The only thing I could think of was that it’s comforting to watch actors you know. Bessie Carter, I’ve worked with, and I know she’s in ‘Bridgerton’ and that I want to watch ‘Bridgerton,’ so I said ‘Bridgerton.’”

He continues his whisper, “But I’ve never watched ‘Bridgerton.’ I thought, ‘Why did I do this?’ So, you’re giving me a chance to
be honest.”

Now speaking at normal volume, he admits he doesn’t really have a feel-good show he puts on in the background, mostly because he gets so engrossed in stories that he can’t look away or multi-task.

Bill Pullman
Bill Pullman

So, while filming “Murdaugh Murders,” Pullman turned to distracting himself with audio instead of visuals. Though he doesn’t enjoy diving into his process, Pullman’s team prepared him for our conversation — and he spent the time to really look back at filming.

“I do use music a lot. I remember I had some great inspiration, but it had left me. There was one song that I had used a lot and, for some reason, I remembered it this morning,” he says. “It’s ‘Defying Gravity,’ but not from ‘Glee.’ It’s written by Jesse Winchester, who was a kind of folk singer-songwriter of ’70s and ’80s. It’s a very sweet lullaby song.”

After reciting the lyrics — “I live on a big blue ball, I never do dream I may fall. But even the day that I do, I’ll jump off and smile back at you” — Pullman explains that those “dreamy” words always reminded him that even if things don’t work out, to remember “it’s not going to be a catastrophe.”

Though it may sound like a unique choice, his other musical interest is even more random: The score from the 1999 John Travolta movie “The General’s Daughter.”

“It was after Moby had started sampling old folk Library of Congress recordings and making them into set tracks and adding layers,” says Pullman, who would listen to them “when I realized I’d be too much in the world” of Murdaugh.

But throughout his career, it hasn’t always been easy for Pullman to get in and out of a character. Even when he feels like he’s moved on, he later realizes that’s not the case. That was what happened while filming 1997’s noir thriller “Lost Highway.”

“Sometimes you have little tells. I remember coming home after a ‘Lost Highway’ day. I had young kids at the time. My wife was asking me something, I was getting into the refrigerator, and I guess a thing welled in me,” he remembers. “I had a whole quart of milk, and I just slammed it down on the floor. I don’t normally do that kind of thing. I realized it was something that resurged.”

Usually, Pullman is quite a family man. In fact, his son Lewis Pullman is also in the Emmys conversation thanks to his role in Apple TV+’s “Lessons in Chemistry.” Lewis’ series debuted on Oct. 13, while the Lifetime films aired on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15. So they made it a three-night family event.

Lessons in Chemistry Brie Larson Apple
Lessons in Chemistry Brie Larson Apple

“We said, ‘that’s so weird that we’d have night, night, night of Pullman men.’ We’re not a sports family; we don’t watch the Super Bowl together. Let’s say we’re like a sports family but we’re watching the sport of acting,” the veteran thesp says. “So he came over and watched. It was really fun and then we debriefed. Our little plan has always been debriefing. It’s not finished until you can get around the table.”

Watching his son work and grow in this industry has been a huge gift for Pullman, who says Lewis is such a hard worker that he may prep better than his father does.

“It’s just the mechanics. It’s not a competitive thing, but there is awareness that he involves himself in. If you go into his apartment on location, he’s got all this stuff happening to prep. I used to do a version of that,” he says, explaining that he’d cover paintings in hotel rooms with brown construction paper. “Then I’d fill it sometimes with things that were connected somewhat. But it was nowhere near the level that Lewis goes to. I think his brain needs to [see it]. He’s so good at that.”

Pullman says that “Lessons in Chemistry” was “lightning in a bottle” for his son — something he relates to his experience on “While You Were Sleeping.”

Recently, producer Jonathan Glickman said on a podcast that Pullman wanted to quit the movie after the table read but couldn’t because he’d just quit something else. Glickman also claimed that Pullman and co-star Peter Gallagher asked about reversing their roles to better the story; that never happened, but once director Jon Turteltaub joined the production, the story was improved.

“Oh, my God. I gotta watch my mouth,” says a shocked Pullman through laughter as I tell him the quotes. “I think I had pulled out of a movie — which is the only one I ever did! I didn’t know Jon by the time we were at the table read but he was secret sauce, and he gave Sandra and I permission to really be free. He did so much to it, and he would never take credit for it.”

Looking back, Pullman remembers Turteltaub telling him and Bullock to trust him, even when it wasn’t on the page. And it worked.

In one scene, Pullman’s Jack explains to Bullock’s Lucy that when a man is interested in a woman, he “leans,” which is very different than “hugging.” A fan-favorite moment — “people call it the leaning scene,” he says — wasn’t on the page.

“The whole lead into it was great, and all improvised at night,” says Pullman. “I think it was Jon’s idea.”

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