The last thing you wish when you meet Sandra Bullock is that she’ll look at your tattoos. After all, her ex-husband, tattooed presenter Jesse James, humiliated the actress by admitting he had an affair with model (also tattooed) Michelle McGee, resulting in the end of a five yeard old marriage with the actress. But she sees the tattoos and makes fun of them: “Let me see your tattoos”, says Sandra in a red tight dress. “They look very nice”. Then, she stops talking for a few seconds and adds: “Enough with this subject!”
Sandra Annette Bullock, 49, could avoid this kind of situation. With an estimated fortune of 145 million dollars and a 17 million salary, she wouldn’t have to work anymore to raise her adopted child, Louis, 3. And she thought about it after she divorced. Apart from a small role on drama “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (2011), she hasn’t been in a movie since “The Blind Side” (2009), for which she won an Oscar for best actress a few days after she found out her husband was cheating.
So, she decided to return this year not just in one, but two movies: “The Heat”, the biggest box office comedy hit in 2013, and “Gravity”, mexican Alfonso Cuarón’s (“Y Tu Mamá También”) sci-fi that received standing ovations on both Venice and Toronto festivals. ”I had lost faith in the profession I had chosen and I had no idea whether I would go back. But Alfonso restored my excitement with my career and with movies.”
Sandra’s rebirth, however, wasn’t that simple. The actress was interested in a role that had already been offered to Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard and Natalie Portman: scientist Ryan Stone, in her first space trip to fix the Hubble telescope. Nominated by friend George Clooney, who plays the astronaut Matt Kowalsky, she found Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonás, script, a perfect fit.
“You don’t always have the opportunity to to get out of your comfort zone and be challenged as I was in this movie. It was a life experience. Or a near-death experience”. Cuarón created filming technics to illustrate the odyssey of the two astronauts who are left adrift in space when debris of a Russian satellite destroys the spacebus Explorer. Sandra had to act hanging in huge cranes with 16 steel cables that simulated zero gravity, and also in machines called “bicycle chair” that captured the feeling of spinning around in space. ”When I entered the studio, I felt like in a museum of torture. Everything was invented for this movie and nothing had been tested. We didn’t know whether it would work out until we got in the machine”, says the actress. “One day after spinning, the crane broke down and one of the arms fell where my arm would be.”
The “crazy mexicans”, as Sandra calls Cuarón’s team, continued. “They used an equipment that tests cars resistance in factories in Detroit. They would put the camera in it and release it at 24 miles per hour. The thing would only stop at about a feet from my eyes”, says Sandra. There was a scene shot inside the water where Alfonso requested that I released less bubbles. They didn’t care whether I lived or died”, she adds. “She’s still mad at me. The bubbles are still around her”, laughs Cuarón. She goes on: “There were days when I didn’t understand a thing that Alfonso said. The process was very frustrating, a struggle, but in the end, I understood that I had to remove myself from my comfort to represent what the character was feeling.”
Her only relief was the presence of her friend George Clooney on set. “Sandra had the hardest work of all. I’ve never seen such extreme dedication to a character. I went to the shoot only in the end and I asked: “What the hell are you doing?”, Clooney said in Venice. “He would cheer up the place and look at us as if we were crazy”, says Sandra, who had to move very slowly to pretend she was in space. To find her character’s grief – Ryan’s infant daughter is dead -, the actress compiled songs and noises that were played along with the scene she was shooting. “I would listen from Radiohead to whale sounds, classical music and metal noises”, she adds, saying that she even cried after one scene. ”I think music is the easiest way to make me feel something.”
So much, that the actress swapped New York and Los Angeles for Austin, Texas, live music capital of the world, where she also owns a restaurant, Bess Bistro, and a bakery/flower shop called Walton’s Fancy and Staple. “I like Austin, there’s a great energy there. I even thought about moving to New Orleans, but I didn’t know anyone there. I live a simple life, I don’t even remember there’s a movie industry”, she says.
Maybe it was this simple life that made her cope with the difficulties she’s been through. That, and being a mother. “I feel scared every day in my life, specially for having a child. Having a child is like being constantly adrift”, she says, with a stern look, while finishing the interview. “Life is going to happen, and you can’t control it. It’s like gravity, constantly keeping your feet on the ground.”A version of this story was originally published in Portuguese on Folha de S.Paulo.