Sandra Bullock Interview for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

January 17, 2012
Interview by: Dan Deevy
DanDeevy@thecinemasource.com

Written by: Rocco Passafuime
RoccoPassafuime@thecinemasource.com


For much of Sandra Bullock’s career, she has been defined more by her popularity than by her acting strengths. She has scored success with Speed films, While You Were Sleeping, the Miss Congeniality films, and The Proposal.

Bullock’s last film The Blind Side managed to not only be popular, but gained critical acclaim for her performance, which culminated in a Best Actress Oscar win. Now the 47 year-old hopes to score even more critical acclaim in the drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

In the film, which is based on a novel by Jonathan S. Foer, Sandra plays Linda Schell, the widowed mother of a young boy Oskar, played by newcomer Thomas Horn, explores Manhattan for a lock-box that his father, played by Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks, gives him the key to before tragically perishing in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The actress, who adopted a son of her own nearly two years ago, talks about how her own real-life experience of being a mother helped prepare her for the role.

“I play mothers often, a lot, actually,” Bullock says, “And I think the nice thing about this film was that this mother was very complex. She wasn’t as nurturing, or seemingly nurturing. She wasn’t all the things you would want a mother to be at the moment that the child really needed her to be that, and I think it pays off in the end. You see that she actually was there in her own way. I don’t know how my life applies to it, I just know that the character in how it was written was tricky, because you want to be demonstrative, you want to be nurturing, you see Thomas’ character struggling and hurting, and you want to be a caring human being, mother, father, friend, fellow actor.”

“So that was hard but I think that’s what I liked so much about it, that it seemed more real her being the way she was as a mother, more so than the way we’ve seen moms depicted in films,” she adds, “Because usually it’s very squeaky and happy and she takes care of everything when in fact life is messy and it’s hard. And I think that’s what made their relationship so powerful is that it wasn’t perfect. It was just human.”

Bullock talks about how she was able to tap into her ability to grieve as her character by wading through original messages left to loved ones on 9/11.

“We all did,” she replies, “[Director] Stephen [Daldry] brought in this documentary that was not shown in the U.S. It was voice messages that people left when they weren’t able to make contact. I get goosebumps thinking about it now, but the thing that I was so haunted by and I think in a good way, if I can say that, was that so many of them were messages of strength and calm. It’s almost as though as it progressed and as they kept calling back, there was the ‘Don’t worry; I’m fine,’ then the worry realizing they’re not fine, and inevitably the last message left was one of resolve almost. They understood where they were going and their gift to the person they were leaving this message to was ‘I love you,’ whatever information they wanted them to impart to anyone else, but so many of them had a peace within them. They wanted the person on the other end of the line when they heard it to have support and peace.”

“It’s almost like they’re supporting from beyond, and to leave this piece of love behind I thought was so emotional,” Sandra continues, “It’s hard to understand because I don’t know how many of us have been in the situation where you thought okay, this is it. I’ve had a couple close ones but not where I said okay, this is really it, I can have all my faculties and give this gift. It was hard, and you heard that reflected in Tom Hanks’ voicemails and the way that they were written and the progression of them. You just are in awe of human beings. You’re really in awe of human beings, and that’s what I think I took away from that.”

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close marks the acting debut of Thomas Horn, who plays Bullock’s character’s son in the film. Sandra was asked how she felt her young rookie co-star did his first time out.

“Oh, he’s impossible,” she says, “The word diva doesn’t even begin to describe him. Beautifully, it was effortless, and when it was frustrating it was frustrating for the both of us because even though this might have been his first go at it his desire to get the best from a scene was exactly like mine was, and I’m sure the same is Max. Just the desire to make sure every stone was unturned. And as you can hear him speak, the learning curve, it was about this big.”

“Within the first couple weeks of shooting, I noticed that this person had stepped into the world of acting as though he’d been there for about as long as I had,” Bullock adds, “He gave me so much, gave me so much, and I’m so grateful that it was him because he gave me performances that I don’t know if I would have gotten from someone else. I’m sure they would have been different, but I got so much magic from this dashing young man that I’m grateful that he was opposite me giving me these great moments.”

It was commented that Bullock portrayed grief in a very realistic way, contrary to the expected reaction of weeping, wailing, and lots of tears, and that director Stephen Daldry had her hold back her emotions.

“Oh no, he didn’t.” Sandra replies, “Oh, we’re going to have on the DVD version where Stephen picks Sandy up off the floor and makes her do it again. The beauty is that’s the way it was written in the book. Not really. Mom was not viewed as very loving and demonstrative and I like that. I like that through his point of view he couldn’t see who she really was, and the way that [screenwriter] Eric Rothportrayed her, I loved it because it was real. We don’t grieve beautifully, and I think what’s bad about that is that it doesn’t allow human beings to properly grieve because we think that it’s not proper, it’s unattractive, it’s we need to pull up our socks.”

“She was very, very human, Thomas was very, very human, the renter was very, very human, and all their humanity woven together created, I think, the end result of just harmony and understanding and a healing that I don’t think you would have gotten had everyone grieve in a pretty movie way,” she continues, “And Stephen loves to torture his actors but we love to be tortured by Stephen. The scene he might have chosen might have been one where I wasn’t sobbing, but there are 20 other takes where that could have been sobbing. But that’s what he does. He pulls out everything from his performers and then uses us like tools in his editing process. But his portrayal of the mother, the way it was portrayed in the book and the way that Eric wrote it and the way that Stephen directed it I thought was one of the more realistic ways of grief that I’ve seen in a very long time.”

Sandra was asked if she had visited grief counselors to prepare for her role.

“I’ve met grief counselors, yeah,” she answers, “Every person grieves differently. Every single person based on their upbringing, just where they’re from grieves in a completely different way no matter who you meet.”

“She was designed by the writers and I was able to bring what I could bring,” Bullock continues, “There are stages of grief that I consciously thought about. This would be this stage, this would be this stage. And that’s universal for everyone. But when they arise, how they arise is completely different for each person.”

It was brought to Bullock’s attention that three of the current top five rental movies in Netflix are her own. It was asked of her whether she had a magic that allows her to connect with and be so consistently popular with audiences.

“I had no idea,” she says, “Am I naked in any of them? That takes care of that. And I think I was working out a lot. Luck, it’s just luck. There is a whole plethora of films that nobody’s renting that I’ve been in as well. It’s just a crapshoot. You don’t have a magic wand.”

“I think as I’ve gotten older I say no a lot more,” Sandra adds, “I want to fight for moments in films, I want to stop a scene and say ‘This isn’t working,’ I want to figure it out. I don’t want mediocre to be in there even if it’s a fun comedy. I want that moment to be as good as possible. I’ve just become a better fighter for my work. I didn’t have the guts to do that before.”

Sandra was asked if she had a way she chooses movies.

“I don’t want any more experiences that aren’t amazing,” Bullock says, “I don’t care how big the role is, I want to walk away saying, ‘I had this extraordinary experience.’ I mean look at the cast, the subject matter, each and every morsel of this film, the writing, Eric Roth, you go how often does that happen?”

“So when that comes across your path you fight for moments like that,” she continues, “Even when you don’t have any fight you figure it out, but Stephen Daldry was the person that I fancied and I wanted to be with. But it’s true. Look at the body of his work. Why would you say no?”

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"I don't compromise my values and I don't compromise my work. I won't give in." -Michael Moore

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