Tag Archives: Bill Pugin

The Guy Who Taught Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman Sign Language in McCartney Video

With our upcoming opening of the world premiere of our signed/spoken Cyrano, Sign Language is very much on our minds and in our hands these days. No wonder the new Paul McCartney video, “My Valentine”, caught our eye. It features Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp using Sign Language!

So, who taught them the Sign Language used in the video?

Bill Pugin

Our friend, Bill Pugin. Bill lives in Los Angeles and is a longtime friend of the Fountain and Deaf West. His sister, Mary Anne, is deaf and his great affection toward her inspired him to learn sign language. He attended Gallaudet University, a university for the Deaf in Washington DC, where he completed his formal training in Sign Language Interpreting in 1979. He is now one of the foremost ASL interpreters in the country and has traveled the world providing sign language interpreting services for three U.S. Presidents, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, World Leaders and Entertainment Industry Icons. He launched his own national interpreting service, The Sign Language Company, in 1986.

How did the gig with Paul McCartney come about?

“A mysterious call came from London asking if I could teach two actors to sign a Paul McCartney song for a video to be shot at Paul’s home in Beverly Hills, ” Bill says. “The London office of Paul’s Management company was impressed with my company’s web site and the body of work I had done. I ended up at Natalie Portman’s house teaching her “My Valentine” from Paul’s “Kisses on the Bottom” album. Three days later, the day of the shoot, I’m up at Paul’s place waiting for the second actor to be flown in.”

Johnny Depp and Paul McCartney at Paul's house (Bill Pugin in the background)

“Finally, Johnny Depp arrived and we got to work on the same song. We had about fifteen minutes to work on the song. I signed the song for hours sitting on an apple box under the camera for Johnny to be able to peripherally see me for each take. I was his “human cue card”. Johnny’s signing turned out to be more theatrical and ‘abbreviated’ because of the time issue.”

Why Did Paul Want Sign Language in the Video?

“He said it was his daughter, Stella’s idea. Paul always has an interpreter on a riser with a spot for his concerts and Stella loves sign language, apparently. Paul told me that he also makes sure that the portion of seats in the arenas where he performs that are blocked by equipment – and therefore can’t be sold – are given at no charge to blind audience members. All that AND an animal lover!”

Natalie Portman shooting the McCartney video.

“I spent nine hours with Paul McCartney at his house. When introduced to him, I asked “Is it as big a thrill for you meeting me as it is for me meeting you?” He laughed and said, “Bigger!” I told him how I spent a day with Princess Diana, he told me how he cried when she died (they were friends). I told him how some of my elementary school friends were jealous because their parents didn’t let them stay up to watch The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He told me stories about Eric Clapton and Elvis. I asked him if he ever received my sister (Evelyn’s) letter that she sent in 1966. He said it was the only one he kept.”

“At the ninth hour, he asked how I was doing and he gave me a neck and shoulder rub. I said, “I can’t believe I’m getting a massage from the ‘cute Beatle’! I woke up the next morning smiling because it wasn’t a dream. It was real. Surreal. Sir Paul!”