Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Balancing family, duty

Disney's 'Tiger Cruise' portrays Navy ship at sea on 9/11

By Bridget Byrne
The Associated Press

Bill Pullman makes an odd noise as he tries to approximate the "huge racket" that occurs on an aircraft carrier.

"You can't shut down the ship and I was so unused to not having complete quiet on the set ... it took me a while to adapt to that," Pullman says, explaining one of the challenges of filming Tiger Cruise on the USS John C. Stennis.

Pullman plays Cmdr. Gary Dolan in the original movie (8 p.m. Friday, Disney Channel). Hayden Panettiere portrays his teenage daughter Maddie, who's unhappy that her dad's career takes him away from home so much.

During the annual Tiger Operation cruise, when the crew's families are invited aboard, she hopes to persuade him to give up his job. But while at sea, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occur. The crew goes on high alert and she witnesses first-hand the importance of his military duty.

The characters are fictionalized, but the movie's story line is inspired by the fact that the aircraft carrier USS Conspellation had family members on board on Sept. 11. The Constellation, now decommissioned, was not available, but the Navy gave the movie permission to film on the Stennis in San Diego harbor, and to shoot second-unit footage on the USS Nimitz at sea.

The demands of playing a military character intrigued Pullman.

"There is something exciting when you see people who are very formal talking with each other and there is a sense that they have chosen to be that way," he says. "There is something masked that is more interesting to me than just people who are intent on displaying their uniqueness or whatever ... there is a bearing which comes from having a little bit of something withheld. In acting classes they always say don't reveal 100 percent, it's much more interesting."

Producer Bill Borden says Pullman chose to play the commander, who must balance his feelings for his daughter and family with his obligations to his crew and country, in a manner not "syncopated" with the cliches of a military character.

"Instead of the military-salute-hard-rod-up-your-back type, he's the boy from Montana ... he's a little bit off, which is wonderful," says Borden.

Notable for playing the U.S. president in the aliens-attack blockbuster Independence Day, Pullman, 50, recalls appearing in The Devil and Daniel Webster while in the eighth grade.

"I didn't think it was the start of anything," he says, reasoning that when he was young, the idea that you would or could grow up to be an actor was much less prevalent than it is today.

After completing Tiger Cruise, he worked in Japan for director Takashi Shimizu on the horror film The Grudge. In the upcoming limited NBC series Revelations, he'll star as Richard Massey, an astrophysicist who teams with a nun in exploring the possibilities that Biblical prophecies will come true.

This fall, Pullman will be seen in the indie movie Rick, based on the opera "Rigoletto." He plays the amoral title character who tries to prevent his teenage daughter from seeing what he does for a living.

He calls it "a nasty little tale" - about a character completely opposite Cmdr. Dolan.

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