Sandra Bullock


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Single White Female, early 30s. “flat-out adorable” @ People magazine.
Voted “World’s sexiest woman” (1995). Dynamic, friendly, GSOH. V.wealthy ($ 10 million per picture). WLTM man for DIY, rock-climbing, movies. Must hate paparazzi.

Interviews with celebrities, are, by their nature, like blind dates: a charm-them-or-die situation, where the journalist attempts to sweet-talk the person he is meeting into opening up and telling him everything, and hopefully get to spend more time with them.

Even still, it’s a little surprising to find Sandra Bullock talking so freely about the topics couples invariably end up talking about on such a date: surviving being single, recovering from former relationships, the disasters of dating…

We’ve only just met and we’re already talking about marriage, though not (sadly) to each other. Or even that favourably.

“My greatest ambition is to wake up one day and not think of marriage as the next step to death,” one of us says and, to my surprise, it’s not me but Ms. Bullock – voicing a view that even the most loaded, lippy, New Lad would hesitate trying to get away with.

It transpires that the subject, or rather the prospect, of marriage, has troubled Sandra Bullock for years – ever since she was young and her mother, going against type, would warn her against becoming tied down, or the bleak future that would lie ahead if her husband left.

Bullock (predictably) rebelled against her mother’s stance early on in her life but has been making up for lost time ever since – to the point that, even as recently as two years ago, she was having nightmares about it.

In one dream Sandra Bullock has had repeatedly, she is walking down the aisle and as she says, ‘I do’, she turns and at the end of a long corridor, in a blaze of white light, sees her husband-to-be – “this little guy !” she yells, pulling a face.
“I realise then it’s the wrong person, and I’m going ‘that’s
who I’m supposed to get married to ?!”

A bit extreme, I say.
“I just didn’t want to make a mistake,” she explains, laughing – rather unnecessarily. “I was panicked about making the wrong choice.. I don’t want to spend my life having ” settled down”. You know, I hate that expression.”

Alot of men, I mention, will be wondering why more women couldn’t look at things this way.
“Yeah,” she says, a slight smile rising up one side of her mouth. “But those are always the ones you all want to marry.”

Quite so.

SANDRA Bullock, the star of box-office bonanzas, Speed and While You Were Sleeping, has always had a reputation for being one of the more unconventional, approachable, stars Hollywood has.

But, now more than ever, professionally and in her personal life, she seems to relish talking about herself freely and eagerly, as if she is almost trying to shape a new Sandra Bullock – for Hollywood, for the world outside, and, for herself.

Partly of course, this is part of the process of recovering from what she calls “the Speed 2 experience” – being on the end of one of the most savage critical maulings in recent years, something that would scar even the type of tough chick she has played so often.
“The decade’s dullest action picture,” the Miami Herald called it.

Sandra Bullock is also, as she puts it, “disgustingly single”,
as she has been for the past few months now.

“I’m in a cleansing period, ” she laughs, after the end of a relationship that lasted “on and off for two years”, but which, like the other relationships in her life – “and there have not been many” she points out with something between a smirk and a grimace – has not, ultimately, challenged her position on marriage.

“The trouble with being single,” she gushes, “is when you go somewhere like Paris… I’m always in those places by myself.”

All of which adds a certain poignancy to her performance in Hope Floats, a corny but odd, five-hankie drama directed by Waiting To Exhale’s Forrest Whittaker.

Bullock plays Birdee Pruitt who, recovering from the break-up of her marriage and her own public humiliation (on an American talk show), returns to “momma” to “find herself” in the small-town safety of Smithville, Texas.

After Speed 2, Bullock herself took eight months off “to
re-evaluate things”, something she seems to have been doing ever since.

She has moved away from Hollywood (to Austin in Texas where she is building a house), sacked her manager (of 12 years) and attorney (7 years), installing her father instead.

She has also shifted her career towards smaller, more intimate, films and created her own production company, Fortis Films, which, unusually, has not merely developed projects simply for herself to star in.

Meeting her in person, the impression you get from watching her most successful roles prevails: she is a garrulous, energetic presence, with a raucous, sardonic humour, dominating your attention – but all from a wary, slightly nervy, foundation.

When we meet, with her hair piled stylishly high, she is wearing a black polo-neck and neatly-tailored dark suit to complement her trim, Barbie body. But any impression of elegance is swiftly shot down when she deflects any compliments about how she looks by attributing it “all down to the hair and make-up people who came to my room this morning.”

She’s as “down-to-earth” as any actress who commands $10million a film can be, citing her hobbies as rock-climbing and DIY – to the extent she is building her own house. Not something you can see most of Hollywood’s starlets trying.

The “tough” tomboy image Hollywood loves is, like the down-to-earth, infectious friendliness, fairly obviously a shell protecting something altogether more edgy.

“One thing I knew about myself” she has said about her early career “was that I was really good at trying,” hinting at how much she has had to put into it.

This has been her niche: the gutsy, gregarious, gorgeous
Girl-Next-Door; “a blue-collar Cinderella”; a world away from the icy airs and graces and super-star sophistication portrayed by a Demi Moore or a Sharon Stone.

Time magazine described her as “a sex symbol the 90s can relate to” and “America’s sweetheart” – a mantle inherited from Julia Roberts via Meg Ryan.

In Hope Floats, Birdee is Smithville’s former golden girl,
three-time winner of The Queen of Corn beauty pageant, but Bullock’s empathy for her lovelorn character ends right here.
“I was never the one all the boys thought of as a hottie.”

Her mother, Helga, was a German opera singer touring mostly in Europe. With her (American) father, a voice coach, and, younger sister Gesine, the family travelled between Virginia and Nuremberg/Salzburg where Bullock would live with her grandmother.

At school, she describes herself as always being “an absolute outcast. There was something seriously wrong with me” – a result of her parents travelling so much, so that she was “always the new girl” at school.
“For years I had no friends.”

At 14, she actively re-invented herself, even becoming a cheerleader as a calculated manoeuvre to be less of an oddball, less “incredibly ordinary” as she puts it, and be more popular.

By the time the family eventually settled in Arlington, Virginia, she had been forced to learn how to win people over quickly – so well that she was voted Class Clown in her High School yearbook.

Her first experience of showbusiness came when she was ten, in her mother’s opera productions, when she would invariably play a gypsy kid. She majored in drama at East Carolina University, and moved to New York, pursuing the classic path of waitressing and bartending, struggling in plays Off-Broadway to get an agent.

Having moved to LA, she appeared in TV movies like The Bionic Showdown (with Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner) and the Jackie Collins’ series Lucky Chances.

Her first film (The Preppie Murder, with William Baldwin) started a series of bad films with terrible titles that included the likes of Who Do I Gotta Kill ? and Who Shot Patakango ? setting a precedent she has stuck to ever since.

Her first big break was in 1990 in a short-lived TV version of Working Girl – in the Melanie Griffiths role. The second was a part in Stallone’s sci-fi film, Demolition Man which, led to Speed.

Speed grossed over $ 300million and “changed things that I didn’t give my permission to change – like my life.”

“Every time I got a cab in New York, the driver would say ‘don’t worry I won’t go under 55′ ! But what’s really nice about Speed 2,” she beams with stagey bravery, “is that it closed that chapter for me !”

Demi Moore passed on While You Were Sleeping and, together with The Net, they netted another $ 120 million between them so by the time she took a co-starring role in A Time To Kill she was making $ 6 million for five weeks’ work.

Benefiting from Keanu Reeves’ refusal to do Speed 2, her
$ 12.5 million fee more than made up for the paltry half a million she received for the original. Whether it was worth it in the long run though was debatable.
“When did I realise how bad it was ?” she repeats, as if I was a complete idiot. “When I saw it.”

Promoting it was “humiliating” but she felt she owed it to the people who had fought to cast her in the first film to see it through.

“In a way it was the best lesson I could have learned,” she says brightly. “It was the end of an interesting time in my life.”

Which is certainly putting a brave face on it – especially as, professionally at least, it has generally been seen as the start of a pretty awful time in her life.

Speed 2 began a run of duds that has continued with Kate & Leopold, Two If By Sea and Richard Attenborough’s In Love & War, all of which sank without trace.

For the last of these alone, Bullock still picked up $ 10.5m – which Julia Roberts had turned down for not being enough – something else that only created more criticism.
“It was an agent thing,” she says now. “This thing of being Highest Paid Actress became their goal and that really upset me. I never wanted that.”

Critics were now enjoying her bad run more than they had enjoyed her great performance in Speed.
“The playfulness which some found so fresh has begun to grate,” wrote The Telegraph’s Quentin Curtis. The Miami Herald said she had become “pretty, perky, but not much deeper than a puddle.”

All of which was slightly unfair given that any more huge hits were the last thing she wanted.
“My failures have been far more beneficial than my successes,” she says, “because success comes with a nasty sting attached.”

The one thing she has learnt about fame is “you can’t control it. You just protect yourself the best you can. I don’t read magazines about myself or industry magazines. I don’t even make it to my own premieres. I’d rather support a friend’s film by paying to go and see it. I don’t need to show up in a designer gown. That’s not about the film. It’s about you. I admire those (actors) who can do all that. I just go, ‘god, look at the confidence they have’.”

Still, looking back at the films she’s made, a career dominated by thoroughly ordinary, indeterminate pictures with no groovy independents, it’s curious, and probably disheartening, to note that the best films she’s been in have been the two block-busters: Speed and While You Were Sleeping – the very type of film she is trying to get away from.

Her attempt to re-define the career she wants has certainly been commendable, but has ultimately only confirmed the impression she is floundering slightly, as if having shown so much drive and determination to get to Hollywood’s peak, she wasn’t sure what to do when she got there.

After so many films that have been neither cool and quirky or mainstream and popular in favour of plain mediocrity, she now seems to be hedging her bets.

On the one hand, she is producing independent projects like Gun-Shy, through her production company. And on the other, she has completed Practical Magic, a Witches of Eastwick fantasy with Nicole Kidman. She has also starred alongside hot-property Ben Affleck in DreamWorks’ romantic comedy, Forces of Nature, both of which seemed aimed at propelling her back toward the top.

Looking at her reservations about stardom, you get the impression that neither she nor her basic situation has changed that much. She often talks about “trying to learn how to relax” and admits she still basically feels like an outsider, in much the same way she did at school, but has (once again) simply learnt to adapt.

It’s this quality that American Vogue detected when praising her performance in While You Were Sleeping for its sense of “loneliness and pluck.”

The central conflict about her seems to be that, no matter how hard Sandra Bullock has tried to distance her life and her personality from her own fame, and no matter how ‘normal’ or down-to-earth she might appear to be, her life is never going to be normal. Whoever is going to be with her romantically will have to take alot more on.

Ironically, at High School she and the one boyfriend she had were voted Couple Most Likely To Get Married and she admits: “I could easily have seen myself married to him.”

After that though, she admits rather forlornly, “I didn’t fantasise about getting married because I couldn’t imagine that I would find somebody.”

She has had long-standing relationships with Don Padilla,
a technician she met on The Net, A Time To Kill’s Matthew McConaughey and early on in her career, her co-star in ‘Love Potion no.9’ actor, Tate Donovan, who she has described as the love of her life.

The men she has gone for, she tells me, have mostly “reflected who I was at the time”, which may explain McConaughey whose stardom was exploding at the same time as her own.

One of her friends told her recently she “always goes for the squeaky wheel” (the one that makes most noises and gets her attention). Another said she “needed to raise the bar” – be more demanding in her selections.

“I said, ‘wow, I didn’t even think of that !” she giggles,
admitting that she has gone for the more average, straightforward options “so that if they went away, it would be OK. And I could say ‘see !’ ”

The fame, she insists, is not a barrier, or, if it is, she wants someone “fearless and confident enough to get past it” – certainly not relish it, like one date she had “who actually enjoyed being followed by the paparazzi… Scary.”

The rich and famous always put a fence around themselves but, she explains excitedly (with no sense that this is not something she needs to be discussing), she has always done that anyway – “held people at arm’s length so that they knew better than to get close… I was always brilliant at playing hard to get. The problem is, I always knew I was doing it, so that when it worked, I didn’t respect the person that fell for it,” she laughs.

“It does make it harder,” she says slowly, returning to the burden of fame anyone asking her out will have to face.
“But it’s not something I dwell on or think about. Mostly I’ve known the person, so it’s been well-established already. It’s hard for anybody – because the rejection is the same, just as powerful. Relationships are out to wreck us, that’s it,” she says cheerfully.

But she remains determined – convinced “at some point I’m going to meet my match. Someone who sets me free and is my soul food. Not settle down but settling up.”

But not – probably – just yet. She is adamant that Forces of Nature will be the last acting she’s going to do for a year or longer.

“I have to adhere to that, or I’ll have a nervous
breakdown ! If I’m on one more set where I have to be made up… I just have nothing else to give right now. I have to allow myself to have a life.”

She is going off to Africa, presumably to “find herself” some more.
“Somewhere as adventurous as possible”, she says as our ‘date’ comes to an end. “With one guide, a camera and a pair of khaki shorts… Just man and animal. I feel that’s what it’s about. Survival of the fittest.”

I’m sure that will be you I tell her.
“So am I !” she smiles, as if she is ready to make sure of it.