Look at me, I'm Sandra B...
Isn’t it amazing how life has a way of patting you on the back and then kicking you in the teeth? One minute Sandra Bullock is enjoying the best year of her career – a year in which she broke through her previous box office ceiling not once, but twice; a year that brought her rave reviews, countless awards and the ultimate, the Oscar for best actress. (The movie, The Blind Side, is released Friday 26th March.)
The next – a “Bombshell” – and she’s gone into hiding from a media storm because her husband, TV biker Jesse James – has been caught with his pants down.
A year ago, none of this seemed remotely on the cards. She was happily married, we all thought (and so did she) after a long search for the right guy. Her career was ticking along nicely, even if she seemed to have taken her foot off the pedal since turning 40 (she’s 45 now). Oscar chances? She’d never looked close to getting a nomination.
Her movies routinely clocked in around the $50 million dollar mark at the US box office – not blockbuster figures, but a very solid return on mid-budget fare like Miss Congeniality 2, Premonition and The Lake House. If the chemistry was right, those numbers might rise significantly: Two Weeks Notice, with Hugh Grant, made over $90 million; the original Miss Congeniality over $100 million.
One of the top three or four female stars in Hollywood, she was in a position to mix it up with more offbeat, challenging material from time to time – and has (Murder By Numbers; Crash; Infamous) but she wasn’t exactly working herself to the bone – she averaged a movie a year since the new millennium.
There is no secret to her success. Bullock’s wry personality is attractive to both men and women. She’s smart and funny, but also self-effacing and happy to play the ditz. She’s pretty but no sex siren. She’s like your perfect best friend, someone it would be fun to hang out with, and there’s nothing threatening there.
I’ve interviewed her a couple of times, the first occasion on her breakthrough movie, Speed, and what you see on screen is also what you find in person. She was genial, witty, and… businesslike.
No one ever has a bad word to say about her, in the industry, or outside it. Which is why I am fairly confident that I’m the only journalist ever to be blacklisted for writing a Sandra Bullock profile.
My crime? Faced with writing 2000 words on the back of a ten minute phone conversation – the line went dead out of the blue, and she never called back – I cheekily satirized her sweetheart reputation. If she’s such a doll, I wondered, how come Ms Congeniality would hang up on a poor hack with a deadline to meet?
I doubt Bullock herself ever read the piece, and if she had, I like to think she would have seen the funny side. After all, earlier this month she collected her Razzie Award for Worst Actress in person armed with the screenplay for All About Steve and threatened to go through it line by line to find out how she could have played it better. Be that as it may, her PR agency was not amused by my tongue in cheek approach– not only was I banned from talking to any of their A-list clients, so was the entire magazine.
These things blow over. Hopefully no one will take offence if I suggest there might be a silver lining to the storm cloud that has briefly settled over this adroit and personable comedienne.
Bullock has been a star for 15 years now. Along with Julia Roberts, she’s the go-to gal for rom-coms, and she’s almost always called the shots on her movies – her male costars rarely have the same clout. Yet there’s a lingering sense of under-achievement that surrounds her. Unlike Roberts, who has made films with Woody Allen, Mike Nichols (twice) and Steven Soderbergh (four times), she hasn’t worked with a major director, or even established a consistent partnership with a male star. (Though her rapport with Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal was promising.)
With the exception of Crash, in which she was a minor player, Bullock’s dramas haven’t really clicked. It’s as if audiences have picked up on her refusal to take herself seriously and followed suit.
A feel-good flick with a heart of gold, The Blind Side is only fractionally more challenging than her usual romantic comedies, and Bullock’s Oscar signals to what extent the Academy Awards is a grandiose popularity contest. But the movie’s astonishing box-office ($250 million and counting) will give her considerable muscle if she cares to flex it. And her recent heart-ache might prove just as valuable – an actress condemned to replaying eternal happy endings might find this turbulence character-building.
Along with the public’s sympathy, she is in a position to command our respect. For once she might be forgiven a little seriousness.
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