Sandra Bullock: There's Something About Sandy

Over the past couple of years, Sandra Bullock has evolved from the wisecracking sweetheart-next-door to a wised-up, self-protective, enterprising woman with a life. Here she talks about sweating through her new film with Ben Affleck, Forces of Nature, struggling through her company's new production, Gun Shy, and breaking out of the prison of "cash, cash, cash, scripts, scripts, scripts."

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There's something about Sandy that's different from Mary--or Cameron or Julia or Meg or Demi. Something that makes her the kind of girl (she's 34, but "girl" seems the correctly affectionate term) audiences embrace. Even when she appears in movies that drop out of sight quickly, she's still the gal we love to watch. That's what the People said in January when they gave her the People's Choice Award for favorite movie actress. It isn't that she's dripping with sexuality or that she can do any accent and pass for a native speaker. It's that she looks like somebody you can trust, and she throws out sarcasm with the right balance of sincerity and leg-pulling, and she's enjoyable to watch whether you're a man or a woman. She's the star who still wears bobby pins in her hair, who squints without glasses, who prefers junk food to haute cuisine, who doesn't do drugs but will chug a beer and lick the foam from her upper lip. She always seems to be giving her best effort, and because of that, we root for her and applaud her perseverance.

Two economics professors recently reported that according to their esoteric statistical analysis of box-office winners, Sandy was one of the two surest keys to a movie's ultimate financial success. So is she worth the $11 million she reportedly got paid for Hope Floats? Well, the movie did over $60 million and is still strong at the video stores. Speed, the movie that made her famous, grossed over $121 million; the modestly budgeted While You Were Sleeping (1995) grossed over $80 million; A Time to Kill raked in $109 million. But too many lukewarm efforts like The Net and Practical Magic, not to mention outright bombs like Two If by Sea, In Love and War and Speed 2: Cruise Control, and Hollywood's confidence in you gets shaken.

Sandra Bullock wasn't just thinking about her box-office clout a few years ago when she got rid of her management team. She just didn't like the choices she'd been making. So she started her own production company, brought in her father and lawyer sister to help her with business affairs, sought out smaller, more comfortable films to make, and began to finance low-budget independent films for her friends to work in. You can trust that whatever Sandy is doing now, it's exactly what she wants to be doing. Certainly her teaming up with Ben Affleck in Forces of Nature is something to look forward to. And the first film her company has independently produced, the tentatively titled Gun Shy with Liam Neeson and Oliver Platt, will be worth checking out, too.

LAWRENCE GROBEL: I saw The Blue Room on Broadway and went backstage to talk to your Practical Magic costar Nicole Kidman, and she said to say hello to you.

SANDRA BULLOCK: I saw the play in London. She was so magnificent. I was so proud of her.

Q: Could you do something like that--play five roles, appear in the nude eight times a week?

A: Not that role. They were right there, with no TV screen to make the separation. Usually I get embarrassed--though I love naked people as much as anybody else--but it was beautifully done. The fact that she has that body, I hate her so much! It made me want to start fasting. She's elegant, she's like royalty. That's why she's able to pull off certain roles, whereas I probably couldn't.

Q: I understand you were once naked on the Internet.

A: Yeah but it wasn't me--the boobs were much better. [Laughs] They were big, a nice rack. And they were not mine.

Q: You've just finished your company's first independent production, Gun Shy, starring Liam Neeson, haven't you?

A: I felt like I lost 10 pints of blood. I did more yelling and cursing about every fucking thing. But it was great.

Q: Was the yelling usually about money?

A: Always the fear of the budget running out. It was odd and really liberating being on the other side, seeing how disgusting the antics are between agents and clients. I was shocked. We had speakerphone conversations with agents where they'd threaten to pull their clients at the eleventh hour. And I thought, "Isn't it amazing? The business is overtaking the artistic side."

Q: The business usually overtakes the show in show business.

A: As an actor you're protected from that. You have no idea what your agent is doing on your behalf. I had no idea.

Q: Is there anything you thought of telling Liam Neeson about Jan De Bont, who directed you in Speed and Speed 2 and will be directing Liam in his next project, The Haunting of Hill House?

A: The thing about Jan is he does a certain type of film. When they're done well, they're really good; when they're bad, they are horrible! And I know--because I was a part of one of those horrible things, Speed 2. [Laughs]

Q: We'll talk more about Speed 2, but let's get to your new movie Forces of Nature first. What attracted you to it?

A: The script was wickedly funny. Perfect for me. I didn't want to work, but when I was doing looping for The Prince of Egypt Jeffrey Katzenberg asked me to please read the script. What was I going to say, "No, Mr. Katzenberg"? So I read it and realized it would be stupid to pass it up. Then I met with Ben [Affleck], who was, of course, late. Ben shows up on what we refer to as "Ben Time." But he's so bloody charming he gets away with it.

Q: Did you enjoy making the picture?

A: It was hot, a difficult shoot. Cast members and crew were dropping like flies because of the heat--110 degrees in Savannah in the middle of summer. We smelled so bad.

Q: When you finished it you said you didn't want to act again for a year. Was it that draining?

A: When I finished Forces of Nature I had too many other things in my private life that I wanted to enjoy. I felt like I was at a junior high school level in terms of my mental state. I didn't want to talk any more about what designer I was wearing. I'd done nothing to contribute to the growing of my brain. There were too many conversations I was drawn into where I felt I was immature and wasn't educated enough. I had a great upbringing in Europe--I was very educated on a lot of different levels, but not the levels that I felt I'd gone into.

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