A Minute With: Bill Pullman about "Torchwood"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Bill Pullman has played everything from an American president in “Independence Day” to a doctor in “Caspar, but in the new drama series “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” he stars as Oswald Danes, a convicted child killer who’s about to be executed.

Bill Pullman poses at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 36th annual Dinner of Champions in Los Angeles September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

But the execution, which premieres July 8, doesn’t go quite as planned because the sci-fi series, based on the British cult favorite, opens with a provocative scenario -- what happens when people suddenly stop dying?

Pullman, 57, who co-stars with John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Mekhi Phifer, talked with Reuters about making the series, and why he can’t smell anything.

Q: How would you describe this?

A: “It’s a very gripping sci-fi story that deals with a catastrophic situation. At first you think, everyone’s immortal! How great is that? But then the dark side of that becomes apparent -- no one dies, but we have only limited resources, and what does that do to people? Bring out their best or worst? Are the problems solvable? So it’s a real roller-coaster ride and it deals with some quite profound themes.”

Q: Were you a fan of the original BBC TV series?

A: “I’d never seen it but I loved this script and thought, what a great idea.”

Q: The BBC series’ creator and writer/producer Russell Davies, who’s also producing the STARZ show, says it’s not a reboot or new version. So what is it?

A: “I’d say it’s a continuation of the original show, which even in its three years was always changing and growing. And now it’s morphed into our show, and just because we’re going global there’s no disconnect with the old show and characters. I think fans of the old show will get it right away.”

Q: You’re best known for playing decent, upstanding members of society. So did you jump at the chance to play a child killer, or did they have to twist your arm?

A: “I jumped at it, though the quick description of him -- a pedophile murderer -- doesn’t sound good. But that’s not his essential condition. Yes, he begins there -- the most reviled person for doing the most heinous crime. But then either through coincidence or divine intervention, who knows, I become the pivot person who suddenly gets reborn. And then I set off on a journey to discover who I really am with this whole new life I’ve been given. How much baggage do I carry around from my past? What am I capable of? So he’s a very rich character.”

Q: So many British TV shows have become huge hits in America and around the world. What’s the secret of their success?

A: “There’s definitely a pattern of great British shows that get reinvented in America and do really well here, but I think ‘Torchwood’ is a bit different. It’s more of a hybrid that doesn’t exist as a reinvention. It’s a global story, and it’s interesting that it now comes to L.A. which is such a multicultural place.”

Q: You split your time between L.A. and your ranch in Montana. Is ranching a good counter-balance to acting?

A: “It is. I co-own the ranch with my brother, and he and his wife are really the backbone of the operation. I come in and do stuff like fix irrigation systems, pasture maintenance and so on ... I find (that) I think better and more clearly when I’m doing ranch stuff. It gives me a good perspective on my acting career.”

Q: Is it true that you lost your sense of smell when younger?

A: “I did. I was 21, and rehearsing a play, took a fall and was in a coma for a few days. And when I recovered, I’d lost my sense of smell completely.”

Q: So acting’s potentially a very dangerous profession?

A: “(laughs) Yes, and theater can kill you.”

Q: So are there any advantages to having no sense of smell?

A: “Well, I can do certain jobs because smells don’t bother me. But that means I’m usually the one at the ranch cleaning up all the manure.”

Editing by Jill Serjeant and Patricia Reaney