With his All-American nice guy looks, Bill Pullman was for many years cast as a decent but ineffectual man who almost inevitably got dumped on by his significant other. This trend lasted until 1995, when Pullman starred opposite Sandra Bullock in the crowd-pleasing While You Were Sleeping: although he played another nice guy, he actually won the hand of his leading lady. With the success of that film, he was soon starring in a variety of roles that allowed him to do something besides serve as a grinning doormat.
Born in rural Hornell, New York, on December 17, 1953, Pullman was the sixth of seventh children. He grew up with an interest in construction work and after graduating from high school, he enrolled in a technical college to pursue this interest. A random visit to a local drama club and subsequent meeting with a drama teacher convinced Pullman that he wanted to perform on the stage rather than build it, and he went on to earn a BA in theatre from the State University of New York at Oneonta. After attaining a Masters in directing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Pullman joined a theatre company and performed throughout South Dakota and Montana. While in Montana, he did a professorial stint at Montana State University, where one of his students was aspiring director John Dahl. Dahl would later give Pullman one of his best -- and least typical -- roles, in The Last Seduction.
Following his stay in Montana, Pullman decided to move to New York to further his stage career. He became very active in regional theatre and won acclaim for his work at such places as New York's Lincoln Center and Washington, D.C.'s Folger Theatre. In 1985, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue more theatre work, and the following year he made his film debut with a small role in Ruthless People. More substantial work came the next year, when Pullman was given a lead role and subsequent dose of cult stardom in Spaceballs, Mel Brooks's Star Wars spoof. Although the film was reasonably popular, Pullman toiled along in second-rate films (excepting The Accidental Tourist) until 1992, when he was cast as Geena Davis' husband in A League of Their Own and as the doctor who tries to convince Bridget Fonda not to have breast enlargement in Singles. Although his roles were relatively small, they gave way to more substantial work in Sommersby and Sleepless in Seattle. Both films were released in 1993 and made him appear as a sort of serial cuckold, thanks to his respective roles as Jodie Foster's spurned husband and Meg Ryan's rejected lover.
Fortunately for Pullman, he was able to prove his versatility with his deliciously nasty role as Linda Fiorentino's sleazy husband in Dahl's critically acclaimed The Last Seduction the following year. With his ability to play bottom-dwellers thus established, Pullman went back to playing nice guys in 1995, when he starred as Bullock's love interest in While You Were Sleeping and Christina Ricci's father in the hit family film Casper. The success of these films allowed Pullman to continue to display his versatility in a number of high-profile projects: he journeyed into darker climes as a disturbed husband in David Lynch's Lost Highway (1996) and played the President of the United States in the monstrously profitable Independence Day that same year. In 1998, Pullman starred as a private detective in Jake Kasdan's directorial debut, the comedy thriller Zero Effect. In addition to his work in front of the camera, Pullman began to work behind the scenes in 1995, when he founded Big Town, his own production company.
Ringing in the 2000s with voice work in the Joss Whedon-scripted Titan A.E., Pullman took the lead in the dark corporate comedy Rick and fell victim to The Grudge before getting some big laughs in David Zucker's Scary Movie 4. Later, in 2011, a recurring role as murderous schoolteacher Oswald Danes on the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood earned Pullman a Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor on Television. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi