She may be lost in space in Gravity, the new movie already garnering awards buzz, but in real life Sandra Bullock’s feet are firmly on the ground. The star talks to Susan Griffin about the film.
If Sandra Bullock ever gives up the day job, then she can always turn her hand to a spot of acrobatic work following her experience making Gravity.
“It was completely new, more like being a member of Cirque Du Soleil,” says the actress as she reflects on the heart-pounding thriller set entirely in space.
She stars as Dr Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, alongside veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney. They’re carrying out a routine mission when disaster strikes and the shuttle’s destroyed, leaving the pair tethered to nothing but each other and spiralling into the ether.
Much like James Cameron’s Avatar, the movie has set a new bar in film-making, using alien technology and involving, as Bullock puts it, ‘the most bizarre system of contraptions’ in order to create the illusion of weightlessness.
There was the Light Box for instance, a 20ft by 10ft elevated LED box ‘in a sea of blackness’, in which Bullock would be clamped from the waist down.
Within this, striking images of Earth, the International Space Station and distant stars, provided by NASA, were projected on to the walls, giving the actors the perspective of what their characters were seeing.
“What blew me away is how the astronauts are able to show this world of ours to the viewer. I’d never seen it like that before, and felt guilty that I’d never appreciated it as much as I do now,” says a fresh-faced Bullock.
There was also a 12-wire system, ‘where you’re basically being manipulated by puppeteers to simulate flying around space’, says Bullock, 49.
She also worked intensively with a movement coach to achieve that zero-gravity effect, which required her to move more slowly but speak in a normal tempo.
“It’s not how your brain would naturally work,” says the Virginia-born actress. “I had to retrain my body to react in the way it would react in space.”
Without a doubt, Bullock says Gravity is the biggest challenge she’s set herself professionally – and it’s something she relished.
“I loved it. I mean, I didn’t love it while we were making it, every day was uncomfortable, but I appreciated that,” she adds, laughing.
“I appreciate not being in my comfort zone, because that means I’ve got as far away from myself as possible. And I learnt that unlocks things that scare you, frustrate you, makes you feel so insecure, but it also forces you to dig very deep.”
Bullock, who came to prominence in the 1994 action movie Speed, has eased her work schedule since winning a Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side in 2010 and adopting her son Louis, now three years old.
But she couldn’t resist this project, which is directed by the Mexican film-maker Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban).
“I’ve admired Alfonso for so long, but working with him exceeded all my expectations. He’s a master film-maker and collaborator who makes everyone around him want to give their best.”
That said, she confesses that the movie ‘scared me on every level’ – not least because it was initially going to be shot in what is fondly known as the ‘Vomit Comet’, a plane that plummets out of the sky to achieve weightlessness.
“I’m afraid of flying, it’s one of my greatest fears, so I thought it was maybe time to get over that, but I was grateful we didn’t do it that way,” notes the actress, grinning.
As part of her preparation, she spoke to astronauts about their experiences, and it proved revelatory.
“I used to think that astronauts wanted to go into space for the thrill and adventure, but when I spoke to them I was so moved by their deep, deep love of that world and the beauty of Earth from their perspective, seeing the oceans and mountain ranges and the lights of the cities. It’s amazing to realise how small we are in this massive universe.”
“Going into this film, I had no idea what I was capable of on so many levels, physically, emotionally and mentally,” says Bullock. “It was body-changing, mind-changing, mind-bending.
“I just hope people who come on this amazing ride will leave the theatre also feeling transformed.”