” I was reading it and felt so much was tailored to me” Bill Pullman discusses reading the script for The Sinner and playing the mysterious detective in the show.
Bill Pullman plays Harry Ambrose on USA’s The Sinner, a detective investigating why Cora (Jessica Biel) committed a brutal murder. Except Ambrose isn’t your run of the mill detective, there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. Throughout the series, we learn more, we learn about his demons and we start to understand his strange connection to Cora.
I caught up with Pullman to talk about working on The Sinner and playing the mysterious Harry Ambrose and what that ending means for Ambrose in season two.
How did The Sinner all begin for you?
I think it was in 2016, around Spring. I heard about it through my agents who said I should read the script. They told me it was a TV series and I didn’t know what to think because I hadn’t spent too much time doing series so I wasn’t sure what was coming. I read the script and the letters from Derek Simonds. If you can get a chill up your spine while you’re reading something, then that’s great. I was reading it and felt so much was tailored to me. I wondered how he found me. Ambrose was from a small town in upstate New York and so am I. I’ve always been interested in Bontany. My family is involved in many different professions, but they have a real advocation for the natural world and so that felt similar.
I’ve always been interested in the stories where you’re trying to uncover something and discover something in yourself.
I was really excited to read it and start from that point.
The difference between doing TV and film is you know with a film script where your character is going to end up and more often than not with TV, you don’t. How much did you know about Ambrose?
I think there were parts unknown. There are a few things that were projected and it really comes down to trust and collaboration. If you have those things, you know that whatever the eventuality is you’re a participant in it in some way. You don’t feel insecure or you don’t feel like you don’t have enough information. I was able to relax and just live in the moment and I have to say it’s been a real collaborative situation.
Jessica Biel set the tone with being a producer in doing this project that she loved. Her connection to Derek was close. I felt so comfortable and diving into the scripts.
I loved that Harry is so much more fleshed out than what we see in the book. Did you ever refer to it for source material at any point?
Derek talked to me about it and said I could do what I wanted, but he said, “It would be interesting if you didn’t read the book until after.” So, I didn’t read it until later.
He told me about how much more he would be developed in the series and my brain goes into a rat maze. With the series, I wanted the impulses to go from the writers, the directors and what we had on the script. To me, the book at that point was an outside source.
I liked the strange connection he has to Cora and in Episode 8, he says, “The things that happen to us when we were kids.” That’s the revelation. Talk about that scene and what we figure out.
As we were shooting it, we were projecting ahead as to what this scene would be like.
It’s quite a bit. There was quite a long time where no one was certain if we’d gotten to the heart of it around the time we were doing episode five and six, but we hang in there and so when we get to the scene where I’m talking to Cora on the phone there’s that great intimacy that is achieved which helps when we get to that scene.
The car was this great micro-lab place to do investigations of the soul. I think it ended up being an interesting phenomenon as to how you shoot a car scene.
We had a tow rig so Jessica and I are inaccessible and it looks like a tow rig, all these people are there with headsets and Jessica and I are in our bubble in this capsule and the way that was shot really helped get to the intimacy that we see in that scene.
What about his marriage? What is going on there?
He’s on a slippery slope for sure. Not through lack of trying. Even though he’s desperate to hold on to it, he hasn’t been able to make it the center of his focus and choices and so he’s still seeking something that he doesn’t get in the marriage. That conflict and duality in a person is something I feel he hasn’t dealt with. That interest he has in Cora, I feel he senses she has a duality and he gets some vicarious release through her. I feel they’re both seeking to keep it hidden in themselves and they want to be found out at the same time.
It’s interesting to play those characters because there’s so much internalization within them.
I loved that last shot of Ambrose that we see at the end because it goes full circle to the beginning. What can you tell us about what we can look forward to in season two?
That was an interesting day. We were wondering what to do with the nails and the black and blue. We had other choices and we hadn’t thought of doing it in the car, but then when it came up, it turned out to be the ting on a champagne glass and was a great launching pad for what we have to look forward to in season two. Ambrose is really trying hard to stay on the rails and not go off. He’s gone through something. That hearing gave him a sense of him having to shape up and fly right.
We’re still shooting the series and we’re shooting episode three.