Patience pays off for Bullock with ‘Gravity’

by George Hadley-Garcia

Special To The Japan Times

Sandra Bullock is the first to admit she’s no psychic.

“I’m not the best at foreseeing things,” the actress tells The Japan Times. “But even in this business, few are.”

The 49-year-old actress won a best actress Oscar in 2009 for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side,” but had initially passed on the project. The talent involved, however, eventually won her over, and the rest is Hollywood history.

Speaking about her new film, “Gravity,” she says she is glad she didn’t pass on it.

“The reviews and audience reaction are proving (director Alfonso Cuarón) has made cinematic magic,” she says. “If I had declined this role and read those reviews, I’d have bust a gut, to coin a phrase. I get nervous and excited when I talk about (the film) — still.”

Bullock says acting in a science-fiction film has been a new experience for her, as has being in a movie that holds the potential for major plot spoilers in interviews.

In “Gravity,” Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. George Clooney co-stars as veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky. Cuarón, Mexico’s most commercially successful director, directed, co-wrote and co-produced the film. His earlier efforts include “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) and “Children of Men” (2006). The actress says Cuarón was a major reason she took the role.

“I’m usually up for a challenge,” she says, “but outer space and science fiction? I mean not that this is entirely sci-fi, but I knew zilch about the topic — and playing anyone who would be out in outer space was on the awesome side to me.

“I knew I was in good hands with Alfonso, who’s a brilliant filmmaker and a delightful individual.”

Having said that, the director definitely put Bullock through her paces. The film contains a lot of long shots, for which the actress was trapped in a complex rig on set. Might there have been times that she thought she may have made a mistake in taking the role?

“(Sometimes I wondered) if we weren’t challenging the audience’s patience,” she says. “I kept thinking, some of the time, ‘Cut … Cut, already!‘ But Alfonso knew what he was doing — as I should have guessed.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things that pass through actors’ minds during long inactive spaces. Yes, you’re in character, but any human character is going to have what Zen refers to as monkey mind. It jumps from one place to another — positive, negative, serious, whimsical, sexy, worrisome … Everything.”

Bullock says it took some time for her to realize the film would end up being as gripping as it is. The three years it took to edit must have given her plenty of time to pause for thought, but she now knows it was worth it. Of course, her portrayal of Ryan, a woman with a tragic past, adds to the result. She gave the character a layer of depth that brings to mind Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” franchise.

“Most good scripts have something in the character’s past that they must come to terms with,” she says. “It’s part of the arc and enriches the character. It was the same with Ripley; she wasn’t one-dimensional. I think with a female action hero or heroic character, there’s more need to avoid the one-dimensionality often found in typical male action heroes.”

Bullock says that one thing she’ll take with her from “Gravity” is how she thinks about space and the stars.

“I’ve long thought that the greatest journey is the one within yourself,” she says. “There’s so much more there than you think. When you look out at the night sky, it’s too awesome to fully comprehend. But now I feel that looking into outer space isn’t that different from looking deep inside yourself. Each direction is longer than it seems at first. Each is challenging and takes much time to understand. But they’re not that different, and it’s the looking — the searching — that matters.”

As to how “Gravity” will be received in Japan, Bullock says the film is universal.

“I think anywhere, it’ll be relevant to people’s lives in terms of learning, in terms of a routine and doing your best when things go wrong,” she says. It’s the same with “all of Alfonso’s movies, which is why he’s struck such a chord worldwide.”

“Gravity” is now playing in theaters nationwide. For a review of the film, turn to page 15. For more information, visit www.gravitymovie.warnerbros.com.