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Sandra Bullock Defies Gravity

Sep 30, 2013

By: Lynn Barker

We always believe actress Sandra Bullock whether she is in a comedy like Miss Congeniality or The Heat or winning an Ocsar in a touching drama like The Blind Side. Until the thoughtful space adventure Gravity, the actress hadn’t gotten to play many action leads in which almost a whole film concentrates on her endangered character. Talking with Sandra in Beverly Hills, we get the idea that she loved the challenge and the experience.

Astronaut Stone in awe of Earth from spaceAstronaut Stone in awe of Earth from space

Sandra talks about her cute, adopted son Louis and how being a mom has changed the way she lives her life and what she had to do physically and emotionally to play astronaut/scientist Ryan Stone in Gravity. Picture the actress looking simple and classy with long, straight brown hair and wearing a black and purple sleeveless block sheath dress and diamond stud earrings.

Kidzworld: This role is a little different for you. Talk about that. 

  • Sandra: Yeah. I’ve always been longing to do, emotionally and physically, what my male counterparts got to do. I just felt envious every time I saw a movie that I was in awe of and it was usually a male lead. Those kinds of roles weren’t available. They weren’t being written. (We had to) search for something and turn it into a female character, or develop it yourself.
  • But just in the last couple of years, things have shifted. Jonas and Alfonso (Cuaron) wrote this part specifically as a woman, it wasn’t an afterthought. It was the integral part of the story. It made me realize “I have to step up and be the best version of myself so, whatever is asked of me, I can produce.” Every day I’m so grateful.

Sandra and George listening to Director Cuaron on setSandra and George listening to Director Cuaron on set

Kidzworld: Could you talk about the research you did with technicians and astronauts to play this character?

  • Sandra: We had a lot of technicians around us that helped me know where buttons were in the (space capsule) and the (Russian space capsule) so I was more concerned with body work and how it worked in Zero G. A friend of my brother-in-law said ‘Yeah, my sister’s an astronaut.’ And my brother-in-law said, ‘Well, my sister-in-law’s getting ready to be an astronaut.’ So he got my number to (astronaut/scientist) Cady Coleman, who was at the International Space Station at the time, and she called me from there and I was able to literally ask someone whose experiencing the things that I was trying to physically learn. 

Kidzworld: What did you ask her?

  • Sandra: How the body works (in space) and what do I need to re-teach my body physically to do that cannot happen on earth that we need to get the puppeteers (who operated her “floating” rig) and everyone together on the same page.  It’s just the oddest thing to reprogram your reactions, so it was just a really coincidental, fortuitous thing that happened that got me the final piece of information that I needed…and that was it.

A tearful astronaut Stone fears for her lifeA tearful astronaut Stone fears for her life

Kidzworld: In your conversations with Cady, what fascinated you about her job, which is one that may be even cooler than yours (she laughs)? What fascinated you about the experiences she had?

  • Sandra: Well, we had one phone conversation. Apparently, they aren’t allowed to accept calls whenever you feel like calling them, and our work schedule was so crazy. Our connection was always ships passing in the night. But, my character wasn’t an astronaut (more a scientist). She was just someone who happened to be in a position where it was easier to train her to execute this one mission (in space) and then go home.
  • What I did learn from (astronauts) which is so beautiful, is just their emotional point of view on life and why they go up there, why they specialize in something on earth and why they want to go to space, to see how it operates in space, so we all benefit from it when they get back.

Astronaut Kowalski (George Clooney) tows Stone (Sandra Bullock) to safetyAstronaut Kowalski (George Clooney) tows Stone (Sandra Bullock) to safety

Kidzworld: Can you talk a little bit about what you had to do training-wise to play this scientist/astronaut? You were upside down and in weird contraptions to achieve that “I’m in space” feeling. It looked amazing.

  • Sandra: Well, there was just blackness or bright white lights or metallic objects (around me). Basically, you had to retrain your body from the neck down to react and move as if it was in Zero G. Everything that your body reacts to with a push or a pull on the ground is completely different than it is in Zero G, so to make that look second nature just took training and just weeks of repetition and then syncing it with (director) Alfonso (Cuaron’s) camera. Then you had to connect to the emotion and tell the emotional story.
  • There were various contraptions on the soundstages and you just made them your friend as quickly and as physically as you could because if you didn’t, they were too confusing and complex. You had to figure out how to communicate in a language that you’re not understanding. It was just such a collaborative experience. It’s just core strength. From a dancer’s perspective, just making sure you weren’t going to hurt your body and be very agile and flexible, to maintain your body in a rig that’s load-bearing and the load is your weight; for long hours of time.

Astronaut Kowalski floating near the Hubble TelescopeAstronaut Kowalski floating near the Hubble Telescope

Kidzworld: What was your reaction when you first saw the finished film?

  • Sandra:  As an actor, when you see yourself (in a movie) for the first time, you spend all your time just watching yourself and hating yourself and picking your performance apart, saying “I look horrible, I should quit..”. There was no time to pick apart one’s performance because you were inundated with the extreme beauty and emotion that Alfonso created with the visuals.
  • (The technology) was turned into such an emotional, visceral, physical experience in this movie. You just went “I don’t know how they did it with sound, coming here behind your head”. All of a sudden you found yourself affected in ways you were not planning on. I think (costar) George (Clooney) and I both went “…Wow.” I mean you can’t really speak after the film is over. So I think I was lucky enough in my career to finally be able to view a movie I was in as it was supposed to be viewed as a newcomer.

The astronauts work on the Hubble Space TelescopeThe astronauts work on the Hubble Space Telescope

Kidzworld: This had to be an emotionally grueling role for you. Was there something you learned about yourself that you’ve taken with you from this experience?

  • Sandra: Hmmm….oh I’m sure,  I mean you never quite know what the change is until one day you wake up and go “Wow, I’m reacting to things differently, I feel differently”. Alfonso and I had similar paths in life and how we looked at things and events and the unknown and then we went into the technological side and thought ‘Wow, I don’t know how I’m gonna pull this off’ but we always went back to the emotion of the story.
  • I can’t selfishly take journeys anymore because I have to take a little boy (her son Louis) along with me and (Producer) David (Heyman) turned a back lot of a soundstage in rainy London into a wonderland for a 1 ½ year old. Everything was bumper-guarded to protect a child’s head. We can go through the technical aspects of working and how you change, but there was just a level of kindness and collaboration (on this film). I think the general sense of the unknown bonded everyone together in such a human level.

Ryan Stone pilots a Chinese spacecraft home to EarthRyan Stone pilots a Chinese spacecraft home to Earth

Kidzworld: What was it like being the only person on screen for so long in the film?

  • Sandra: I’ve never thought “I’m the only person on screen: because there’s George who’s a vital part of this film (whose character) represents life and his outlook on living that, if you don’t have that, this film couldn’t exist. I never thought about that and now everybody’s freaking me out going ‘How do you feel that this movie rests on you?’ and I’m going “How is this now my problem? I didn’t write this or produce it or come up with the cockamamie idea to make a space movie (laughter).”  I think I’m third or fourth on the list after the story, the emotional visuals, the sounds, the experience of what they’ve created.

Stone reaches a damaged space stationStone reaches a damaged space station

Kidzworld: Sandra, you had to go to some pretty dark places as a mom in this role (her character suffers after the death of her child). Was that difficult for you to film?

  • Sandra: Oh yeah. No one wants to think about that. I just kept thinking “What would I do?” and I realized I might be far worse off than she is. So, you just have to go there and know that at the end of the day you can unplug. And you can go home and do something that a lot of parents can’t.

Kidzworld: Your voice was so important in the movie. It builds tension and carries people through the journey. How did you work on that?

  • Sandra: Alfonso and I talked a lot about the voice. It’s very specific, the voice and the breath. If I went a little higher -pitched in my panic, it always rang false. (We had to consider) the level of hyperventilation in that moment. Are the breaths too fast? Should we slow them down? There was a lot of time spent on that. So we were always able to go back and say “I don’t know why, it just didn’t feel right. Can we go back and just try other levels with the voice?” I always wanted to give her a voice, based on her experience and where she was in life. So it was unapologetically cut off and monotone, but very distinctively her.

Gravity is in theaters October 4th!

Gravity PosterGravity Poster