Q&A: Actor Bill Pullman

The actor on living off the land

The world’s largest food-film festival, Devour! The Food Film Fest is back in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, running from November 4th to 8th. The event brings together an eclectic array of renowned chefs and local talent. Accomplished actor Bill Pullman, who fought to save the world in the box office smash Independence Day, is curating his favourite food film of all time, Babette's Feast. Eat North chats with Pullman on his love affair with exotic fruits, his ranch in Montana and the Hollywood Orchard.

Have you spent time in Nova Scotia or in the Maritimes before?

No. This is one of the reasons I jumped at it when I got the invitation from Michael, to finally get to Nova Scotia. I spent time in Maine when I was a kid, but they always said, “You need to get to Nova Scotia.”

Also, our family has always been huge fans of folk singer Stan Rogers. We never made it to the Stanfest, that whole tradition and music, I really love.

You are curating the Danish film Babette's Feast at this year's Devour! Why did the movie resonate for you?

I hadn't seen a lot of foreign films at that time, but I did manage to catch it and something about it stuck with me for a long time; the perspective about food from the 1800s until now. In the centre of it is the story of two daughters whose lives are quite constrained and this French woman comes along and throws this feast, kind of reinvigorating their lives.

I understand you have a real penchant for exotic fruits. You opened the Hollywood Orchard with your wife and love cultivating loquats. Can you tell me a little about that?

Loquats grow really well in climates like the one in California. It's not a fruit that can be easily commercialized, so you don't often see it in farmers' markets, you see it a lot in Asian markets. People have these trees here on their land in California but don't know what to do with it, so we started the Hollywood Orchard out of food that's gone to waste. It's been four years now. Hollywood Orchard is rather virtual in a way; we identify people who have trees that they are not picking and we pick the fruits. Then on Saturdays, we have a signature event with volunteers who divide the picked fruit, and most of it goes to disadvantaged youth.

Do you make your own jams, pies, and baked goods from the bounty on your property?

It’s all going on here! We harvest it and use it. One thing I love to do is freeze the fruit. My favourite tool in the kitchen is a Champion juicer, an old-style juicer that has a three-style horse motor. It really bears down so it can push ice-cube-sized pieces through the throat and it comes out as a sorbet. You can make sorbets from loquats and sapote, which is a creamy avocado-textured fruit from South America. We usually harvest it in December and January.

In addition to the orchard, you have a ranch in Montana and have dabbled in some beekeeping. It sounds like you have your hands full.

I admire beekeepers; I have an exchange with a beekeeper in Montana who maintains the hives on the ranch. In exchange, we get the honey back. We will make things with the honey at Christmastime. We also have grass-fed beef on the ranch. I own the ranch with my brother and his wife; we've had the ranch for 20 years. It takes a lot of work.

Where does this love of living off the land stem from?

My father was a doctor in a rural community in western New York State. There are four brothers in the family. He would put us on farms for the summer to make us strong for football, even though we weren’t any good at football, but we all got the agriculture side. My father was also a big fan of eating wild things. There was a great guru of that time named Euell Gibbons and he was all about eating wild edible plants.

What's up next for you in the world of film?

I just wrapped up the sequel to Independence Day in New Mexico; I was there for two months. Now I am off to Louisiana to shoot a new Rob Reiner film that's in the works.