Here’s part II of our chat with Alaskan hunter and actress Hillarie Putnam, currently available in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
By Chris Cocoles
Hillarie Putnam knows she can hang with the guys and be just fine, thank you.
The 26-year-old big-game hunter, actress and docu-series television star still doesn’t understand why women who hunt like herself are sometimes questioned for their motives.
“Where did this idea come from that says every woman has to look (a certain way)?” asks Putnam, who recently wrapped up a stint on The History Channel bear hunter show, The Hunt. “If you play sports, you have to look like a man; if you’re in business, you have to look like a man. It’s this crazy thing. That’s probably why we’re so confusing to so many men. We have all these different elements to us.”
Don’t put any label on Putnam, who’s tough enough to take down a Kodiak brown bear – which she did on The Hunt – but also pulled off the role of Tracy Lord – the one made famous on the big screen by legendary Katharine Hepburn – when she was one of the stars of the stage version of The Philadelphia Story in Portland, Ore.
“Being able to play that role was phenomenal. The (character) has an affair on her fiancé the night before she gets married while she’s still in love with her ex-husband,” Putnam says. “You look at what she’s doing, and you realize the time period it came from is pretty long ago. We look at women who make those choices today, but we’ve been making these same bad and good decisions for years.”
Putnam has plenty to keep her busy in a hectic schedule. She co-owns a talent agency in Portland, Red Thread Entertainment, and is working with TV executives in Los Angeles to develop her own outdoors show from a woman’s perspective.
In part II of our chat with Putnam, the Wasilla resident, who splits time among Alaska, Seattle and Portland, talks about her earliest hunting memory, a once promising career in sports, acting and her ultimate dream job.
Chris Cocoles Can you share one of your most memorable hunting or fishing trips?
Hillarie Putnam I remember my dad and I went to Pioneer Peak (Chugach Mountains, near Palmer) when you could still just get a tag and go sheep hunting there. Now you need a permit. It was just he and I and I had super short hair; we climbed up, and even now he still gives me a run for my money when we’re climbing up a mountain. But I could not keep up then; I think I was 8 or maybe 10. I remember finally getting up to the top and pitching a tent. Every time we stopped we kept eating blueberries and he kept telling me how great it would be once we got to the top. This sheep and goat hunting is my favorite type of hunting to do. You get up there and it’s such a wonderful feeling. You put forth the effort to get there. And then you have all this stuff you can look down on. On that hunt we didn’t get anything or even really see anything. It was just the element of being above the rest of the world for three days where no one can reach you. I’d wake up every morning and my dad was cooking breakfast outside. You throw your stuff in a light pack, hike around the mountain range and come back. It’s such a special moment. You’re the only ones who remember it. We didn’t bring any smartphones or cameras of any kind. The only two people who remember that climb are my dad and I.
CC And you enjoy the roughing it too?
HP There were no sat phones back then and I didn’t grow up climbing with a GPS. We would go out and my mom might not hear from us for three days, and if we were weathered in she might not hear from us for five days or a week. You really missed the people you were away from back then. I don’t know if you miss people the same way. I went to (an outdoors store) and I thought, “This is wrong. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. There are packets of soda!” You are supposed to go out there and suffer. I miss what it’s like to daydream about a pizza. Then when you get back, you can have it.
CC How patient do you think you have to be as a hunter?
HP In Alaska that’s a big thing. A lot of (hunters) come from Montana or Michigan and they’re used to deer hunting from a (deer stand) or in a blind. There’s something drawing the animal to you. So you wait, but it’s not the same as it is in Alaska. If you hunt on ranches or have guides, there is a lot of wandering around and trying to find the creatures. But in Alaska, there are so many creatures, a lot of times it is just about finding a good spot and seeing what happens and waiting. It’s like moose hunting, which is calling them in and seeing what can come to you. And most of the time in Alaska when hunters aren’t successful they just don’t have patience.
CC You were quite the athlete back in high school in track and basketball, correct?
HP I won the state title in three events and I did the high jump, long jump, triple jump and hurdles. I had colleges that had scholarships for me. I was looking at UNLV and Michigan State for track and field.
CC Were you a forward in basketball?
HP I played all five positions. I’m 5-9 so a little short inside, but I was an aggressive defensive player. What I lacked in size I made up for in aggression. I played some point guard too and I was a coach on the floor, for better or for worse [smiling]. I didn’t realize it when I was in school, but now that I’m older, I realize that I wasn’t a big communicator. I liked to wake up at 5 a.m. and go run or shoot hoops, and I kind of expected everyone else to do that. Now I realize that who wants to do that at that age?
CC You played lingerie basketball, like the Seattle Mist (of the lingerie football league)?
HP Exactly. A friend of mine is the quarterback [laughs]. A lot of people said, “Well, that’s pornographic.” But it’s interesting. When I first went in there I thought to myself, “I have to be careful about what this is.” But these women were successful (NCAA) Division I ballplayers. These girls could play basketball and some of them are mothers and some are doctors. Every night after they get done with their regular lives, they come in and play this game but wear feminine clothing. And they look like beautiful women.
CC But acting seemed to overtake sports, and you went to college at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles. What was that like?
HP The school just focuses on having an entertainment career, and our final project for our career course was putting together an original (subject) that you think would do well in television. Everyone in the class and the faculty voted on the best, and I actually won. It was based on a female hunting travel show that went around the world highlighting different locations that had women who were standouts. And now, seven or eight years later, I’m hopefully able to write a show that will do that. The more you look back the more you realize everything you’ve done is preparing you for what’s about to come your way.
CC One of your biggest movie roles to date was in The Frozen Ground, which had quite an impressive cast. How did that go with some Hollywood heavyweights?
HP The person who was the most fun to work with was 50 Cent (nee Curtis Jackson, who plays a pimp in the serial killer film that takes place in Alaska). He was remarkable. His persona is he’s this bad boy who sings dirty songs that people grind up to each other in the clubs. And then you meet him and he’s the most polite, well-mannered and sweetest guy; he’s kind of a little shy. But I was blown away by how professional and sweet he was. I was in a holding room with him and (co-star) Vanessa Hudgens. She was super bubbly with high energy, and it was interesting having that experience with them.
CC Your big scene was with Nicolas Cage, but you had a memorable meeting with one of the other stars of the movie, John Cusack.
HP (Cage) just showed up and did it, and he had a big entourage, and a lot of them flew in and out to shoot their scenes. But Cusack, I had a very interesting interaction with him. There ended up being a scheduling conflict and the director told me to come down and hang around the set for a while. But there was a scene where I was just standing there watching the production. He gets up from the table and walks over to this pillar where I was and then he walks out the door. But he walks up to me as “the killer.” They yell, “Cut!” and he looks at me to try and figure out who I am. And he’s still in character and hasn’t flipped back to John Cusack yet. So I’m standing against the wall and I’m like, “John, this is really strange. I kind of feel like you want to rape me. So can you please turn on your other face to we can have a conversation.” But he was very sweet, and every little girl grows up with John Cusack in Say Anything.
CC Talk about the motivation to succeed that you seem to have and how it pertains to being Alaskan but with some Hollywood roots.
HP The kids I grew up with, they don’t seem to have average lives. Friends I went to school with, some are bush pilots and they have three different companies where they’re air-taxiing people around. They just have this intense drive and ambition. I think that’s why I liked L.A. There are big dreamers and they’re a little weird. I was just down there visiting friends, and they work five jobs and live in tiny apartments. And they truly believe, to their core, they are going to make something of themselves and there is something bigger than them. And that’s what I run into when I’m in Alaska.
CC Do you enjoy the camaraderie of being outdoors with friends and family?
HP It’s always learning more about each other. Some of my best relationships in the entertainment world have been at Crystal Creek Lodge (907-357-3153; crystalcreeklodge.com), a fishing lodge in King Salmon, Alaska, in the middle of nowhere. When the guests come out you’re up in the early hours to go fishing. You have crappy weather, but there’s something about the idea of being remote and cut off from the rest of the world. You actually have to look somebody in the eye when you’re talking to them.
CC Do you have any long-term goals?
HP There’s this dream of Alaska – what Alaska is and what you can do there. And when you want to give someone the Alaskan experience, you kind of rise to living how Alaska breeds its humans to be. So that’s the ultimate goal for me is to have a lodge of my own.
CC What it is about Alaska that everyone loves enough to do TV shows there?
HP I think the reason why Alaska has been so on fire lately, (the outdoors) is all you have up there. I think people long for that. It’s wonderful for entertainment where we’re at right now with media and have information at the snap of a finger. For years and years – and I hope it will continue to be that way – Alaska is such a turn-on to so many people. If you talk to tons of people, it’s always a bucket list. If not to get hunting or fishing or snowboarding, it’s at least to go on a cruise. It’s untamed, and it’s fascinating to me that it’s still out there.