A Fruitful Idea: Hollywood Orchard
by Michael Ventre
If you called Bill Pullman an Everyman, he would probably cringe, because a true Everyman is too humble to marinate in praise. Whether it has been major roles in Hollywood smashes like Independence Day; indies like Lost Highway; Broadway fare like Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?; or the upcoming NBC midseason replacement 1600 Penn, the native of Hornell, New York, has applied what you might call American-roots acting to a panoply of styles, visions, and voices.
Ensconced in Hollywood’s Beachwood Canyon, the husband and father of three can now deliver this line to his supporting cast: “Lights! Camera! Action! Pick!” Pullman’s efforts to rally volunteer fruit pickers from the neighborhood to fill bushels and pecks for charity, while helping to educate local school kids, have placed him knee deep in limoncello, loquat jam, and appreciation. Featured in the upcoming documentary The Fruit Hunters, the Hollywood Orchard is more of a movement geared toward grassroots community action than an actual plot of land with fruit trees, although that’s on the group’s wish list. He’s hoping his zeal—and that of friends, neighbors, and total strangers—bears fruit up and down the canyon, and beyond.
Why the fascination with fruit trees? How did that begin?
BILL PULLMAN: My father planted a lot of trees, but not fruit trees. Somehow I got these nursery catalogs, which looked awfully good. I planted apples when I was 13 or 14 years old. When I came to California, I was reawakened. I was so overwhelmed by how much grows out here, and how easily it grows.
How did you manage to combine fruit trees and film?
BP: I had done an interview with The New York Times in connection with the release of a film. Yung Chang, a documentary filmmaker from Montreal, contacted me after reading it. He was intrigued that the interview talked about my own orchard and the fact that the weird collection of trees reflects my eccentric oeuvre. He came to LA to do some research for a film he was making about fruit hunters. There is a community around fruit people, and everybody helps. I took him around to see some of my favorite rare-fruit nursery owners because I thought it would be good material for his documentary. A year later he decided he wanted me to be a part of the documentary as a “guide,” meeting fruit hunters around the world. This idea was scrapped when Chang saw the emerging Hollywood Orchard.
You had hoped to raise enough money to buy a parcel of land and build an actual orchard. How is that progressing?
BP: We got The Trust for Public Land involved. We have not yet been able to reach an agreement, but we’ve done so many other things. We realize the land itself is a nice thing, but our focus is on community engagement now. We have a “Pick n Kitchen,” and the idea for a more transportable pop-up kitchen kind of facility to use when we have events. The idea of the orchard still really appeals to everybody. But we put it down to priority three or four.
What do you do with all the fruit you pick and the items you make from it like jams and breads?
BP: Our two main connections so far are with the Los Angeles Youth Network and Project Angel Food. The remainder of the fruit is made into preserves that are sold to raise funds for the community and school programs.
You did a performance of The Jacksonian at the Geffen Playhouse with Ed Harris, Glenne Headly, and Amy Madigan to benefit the orchard. How did that help?
BP: The Geffen very generously went along with it. It was a great thing to have Glenne and Ed and Amy and everybody all excited about the Hollywood Orchard. I had been coming into rehearsals telling them about our meetings. I would have a Farmer’s Circle in the morning, then two performances later on in the day.
Do you believe Hollywood gets its due as a tight-knit community or do people just associate it with tourism?
BP: We all live within this Hollywood sign, which is iconographical and a symbol of a world of glamour and fame. It’ll always be that. And now that the Oscars are in the Kodak Theatre, it has been feeling more like a community. Then I think things like the Hollywood Farmers’ Market getting nationally recognized, there’s that interesting type of bonding. And there are more initiatives starting, like that whole “Hollywood Central Park” idea of trying to build a park over [a portion of the Hollywood Freeway]. There are several people involved in the Hollywood Orchard who are very involved in that and are interested in bringing us into that project.
Did the level of response surprise you when you first launched Hollywood Orchard?
BP: I really think there’s something about the times. People were thinking a lot about food and food security and engagement with other people over food, more so than I thought. It’s amazing how quickly people got involved and stayed involved. They want it as an enhancement of their life in LA.
photography courtesy of bridie macdonald (farmer's circle, moby); mariya stepanyan (students); jordan stauss/geffen playhouse (pullman)
Cover shoot: September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.