In 1994, Sandra Bullock helped Keanu Reeves save a bus full of passengers from a bomb in the action blockbuster Speed and became a fledgling star. Sixteen years and more than 25 films later, she has secured her place in Hollywood with two wildly successful films in 2009, The Proposal and The Blind Side. While The Proposal confirmed Bullock’s deft comedic skills, it was her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side that showed the depth of her acting prowess and is earning her critical acclaim and a plethora of award nominations.
Bullock had already won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress when we spoke on the phone on a recent Saturday. The next day, she was crowned best actress in a drama at the SAG Awards. Personable, funny, and self-deprecating, Bullock spoke of her concern that her depiction of Leigh Anne would come off like a cartoon, about taking roles that frighten her, and about how once you realize Hollywood is like junior high school, you get along just fine.
Congratulations on winning the Golden Globe. That’s exciting. It is, it is! I think in the coming months, I’ll be able to stop and look back on everything with excitement. I guess right now it’s just all sort of very new, sort of a state of disbelief still. … I’m not seasoned in this end of the awards, and it’s just a whole new unexpected thing. You don’t expect it, so you don’t plan, you don’t know what to do once it’s in your hand, except to be thankful for all the people who made you look good enough to get there. [Laughs.]
How did you come across the script for The Blind Side? It came to me. It was already such a beautiful package that I didn’t think I could bring anything to it, that I could make it real enough, and powerful enough, more than it already was. I didn’t think people like [Leigh Anne Tuohy] existed. It’s a great role, I said, but it feels like it’s manufactured. … After I met her, I fully understood why you can never describe Leigh Anne without sounding like a cliché. She’s nothing of the sort … and once I sort of dug in a little bit, I understood the animal a little bit. I never will understand her 100 percent. She’s her own mold. After a year, I finally came back [to the director] and I said, “I’m scared enough but excited. I’ll be able to step up and see what I can make out of it.”
What was it that scared you? That it would be a cartoon — this sort of tough Southern woman with a heart of gold. And the story was really beautiful, and it had so many different levels that you didn’t want it to be a cliché. As a friend of mine said, “Oh, good white lady saving black boy, and comes out virtuous.” … Everyone is quick to judge and question someone’s good intentions. We don’t trust them when they’re from the heart, so that actually intrigued me the most, in keeping that alive in the story.
The word-of-mouth buzz that it got was amazing. You gotta hand it all to the director and screenwriter, John Lee Hancock. After The Rookie, he said, “I’m not going to direct or write another sports movie.” And he came across this story … and John just said, “I need to tell this story because it’s a story about a mother and son. It’s not a story about football; it’s a story about loving a child and making your family.”
You did an amazing job of portraying Leigh Anne Tuohy as abrasive but loving. I thought that was the gift that you brought to the film, because that is a hard line to walk. Yup. It is a hard line to walk, and John and I kept saying we’re going to keep each other in check. There were times when I said, “No, she’s not going to have tears in her eyes, I’m sorry.” If we got that moment, it’s got to be earned. It’s more fun to be with her brittle than it is with her soft. And if you meet her, believe me, there needs to be an explosion before she’ll let you see any softness or that she feels that she’s not able to control things. And I find it nicer to let the audience feel it rather than telling them what to feel.
That’s the great thing about the movie that one didn’t get from the previews. It wasn’t a sentimental movie, and yet it was a completely emotional movie. You said it. You’ve got to make the sentiment. You’ve got to bring your emotion and your sentiment, and bring what you feel to it, rather than us going, “Here, we’re going to drop to our knees and sob uncontrollably … pain.” It’s like, “Oh please.” [Laughs.]
The film is completely absorbing, and that’s why you are winning all these awards. Did you think it was going to be such a big hit? Are you kidding? No. We had a tiny budget. No one wanted to make the film, other than Alcon Entertainment. …You just make the movie that needs to be told. [The awards were] unexpected, and I’m so thankful. The film opened a lot of doors for me. I stopped six years ago, doing a certain kind of role, and I said, I’m just going to start from scratch and see if someone lets me audition again, and they did.
The Proposal also came out last year to great success. The comic timing between you and Ryan Reynolds was brilliant. Ryan and I go way back; we’ve know each other really well for about eight years. We figured this could either be flat-line … I mean, we’ve known each other through so many relationships and friends and vacations, but then you go, now we’re going to have to pretend we’re intimate. How is that gonna work?
Did you guys laugh your butts off while you were making it? We didn’t! We had so little time — it was getting up at the crack of dawn, rehearsing, finding the moment. … We just would rehearse on the weekends and we were really tired, and it was really cold. [Laughs.] But Ryan and I don’t do well when it’s a lot of joking around because you sort of lose the spark. You get to work, you work. There were no dinners or going out or funny moments; we were just tired and working in this freezing place.
It seems to come effortlessly to you. I never see you miss a beat in those films. I mean, you’re funny. Well, I find out what is my kind of comedy. There are certain kinds of comedy that I cannot do.
Like what? I don’t know how to describe it, but if I can’t land the joke in my head, it’s not gonna happen. I like the physicality of humor better than I like a lot of talk. I like awkwardness for the character, more than I like setting up a joke, knocking it out.
I think that’s much more difficult than just being fed funny lines. Well, obviously you know yourself so well, I’m sure that helps with your success. Obviously I don’t, because I keep choosing things — well, I’m going to try this, and then it sucks. [Laughs.]
I think it’s a very healthy attitude to take yourself seriously but not so seriously that you won’t let yourself fail. We’re always going to fail. Not failure — we’re always going to have a poor execution. A failure is really the end of something. The nice thing about this business is that it seems to allow people to step back into the ring and prove themselves, and what other jobs or other art forms out there allow that? In how many careers can people come back and show a different side of themselves? There’re not a lot of places in life where you can do that. For some reason, Hollywood allows that.
What about how brutal Hollywood can be? It is. They make fun of your age, your ass, your hair, your outfit, and who you’re dating. It’s just like junior high school. There’s no maturity in this business; you’re adults talking about Lindsay Lohan … [phone disconnects]
Hello! It’s me again. [Laughs.]
We were talking about no respect in Hollywood. Yes. Once you understand that, you’ll be fine.
Sandra Bullock will accept the American Riviera Award at the Arlington Theatre on Friday, February 5, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, visit sbfilmfestival.org or call 962-8543.