Lots of people juggle careers. Bill Pullman has grafted his.
Pullman, who played the president of the United States in Independence Day, will play another U.S. president in the NBC comedy, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, debuting Jan. 10. But he's also included in Canadian director Yung Chang's documentary, The Fruit Hunters, because he's so involved in growing fruit on his 2 1/2-acre orchard below Hollywood's hillside sign.
The film, making its U.S. debut at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this week, tells the story of individuals who cultivate and go to extraordinary lengths to savor fruits few people have tasted.
Pullman, who grew up around an orchard in New York state, is one of those fruit hunters.
"Growing things and being able to live off the land has always appealed to me," he said in a phone call. "I think in California it really blossomed. This climate is sensational for growing a lot of different variety of rare fruit plants from other climates all year-round. That idea was intoxicating to me."
Pullman, 59, has grown over 100 different varieties of fruit, including four varieties of oranges, four of grapefruits, and many varieties of mandarins and tangerines.
"I would say the biggest surprise to me, the tree that I just find so cool (is) Persian mulberries," he said. "They're so fragile, the farmer's market will sometimes sell a single layer of them to gourmet chefs, but they're pretty pricey. But, if you stand under a tree and eat away, you just feel so lucky to have a sensation that very few people get to have."
Pullman is included in The Fruit Hunters with a shamanistic native fruit expert in Borneo, a Honduras scientist "racing against time" to breed a banana resistant to a devastating fungus and a 19th-century Chinese worker who cultivated the Bing cherry before being deported under the anti-Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. But Pullman provides a sense of drama when he galvanizes his community to work with a government agency to buy some Hollywood orchard property slated for development.
That effort failed, but the neighbors still get together for what Pullman calls a "picking kitchen."
"This picking kitchen is really going back to threshing bees (ceremonies to celebrate the threshing of a crop) - just pitching in to do something together outside and learn about fruit," he said. "We had one in May about loquats (a yellowish fruit grown mostly in Japan). Most of the people had never eaten one before. We have a lot of loquat trees in the canyon that we identified, and we picked them and harvested them and made sauce out of them. A lot of people get to feel like a farmer, even if it's just for four hours on a Saturday."
Pullman found himself in the middle of what he calls a zeitgeist of interest about sustainability and community. They exchange ideas at these picking kitchens that are quite sophisticated.
"This whole climate change and what it's doing to our environment is frightening to people," he said, "and to have a forum where they're discussing things like this, it's very rewarding. The Asian psyllid (an aphid-like insect) is moving up. It could destroy a lot of citrus trees. There's the whole whirling disease (infecting fish with parasites) and you've got colony collapse (caused by the mass disappearance of worker honey bees). Getting the word out for people to share knowledge is important. I think it begins in people's neighborhoods."
Pullman was organizing picking kitchens and saving the hillside while his acting career also was in full bloom. He did a TV movie called The Innocent in August and September 2011 and promoted his TV series Torchwood in that fall. He also shot The Fruit Hunters that fall before doing an L.A. play called The Jacksonian with Ed Harris.
"When we continued the picking kitchens, it was extremely emotional - all these things we did in the spring," said Pullman. "(Chang) had gone to Borneo and was doing other things, but I was doing the play and getting up in the morning on Saturdays and doing the Farmer's Circle, and then doing a matinee and evening show. That was a crazed period."
But he found calm savoring the flavor of his fruit. "It's all about the heightening consciousness of flavor and experience of life," Pullman said.