This is Her Moment

Box office success is nothing new to the 45-year-old actress, who has logged plenty of hits dating back to “While You Were Sleeping,” the “Speed” series, two “Miss Congeniality” movies, and this year’s winning reverse May-October romantic comedy “The Proposal.”

But even Sandra Bullock’s highly lauded turn in the Oscar-winning drama “Crash” a few years back didn’t portend the depth she brought to the film adaptation of a true-life book, “The Blind Side.” Bullock portrays Leigh Anne Tuohy, the upper crust Southern Belle who adopted black inner city teenager Michael Oher and used her love and guidance to help transform him into a star football player (he just completed his first season as offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens). Bullock nailed the character’s bullheadedness and tender heart in the performance of her career.

The actress will receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award next Friday during the first full day of the festival’s Silver Anniversary year. She talked about the film and her career over the telephone just five days after picking up the Golden Globe for best actress and two days before receiving the same award from the Screen Actors Guild, both of which portend a happy night for Bullock come the Academy Awards in March.

Q. You were in two of the year’s biggest hits and most well received movies in one year. And they just told me at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival that you’ve sold more tickets in advance than anybody in the festival’s history.

A. Are you serious? Oh my gosh. So what does this mean?... I’m thinking, in this economy, when art is taking a back seat, if it means revitalizing a festival that respects the work and steps outside of the hype, it’s great. As long as everyone’s having a good time. If you’re there with a great sense of humor and an open heart, welcome. If the heckling starts, I’ll throw it right back. Bring it on!

You were also named top box office draw of the year, the first woman since Julia Roberts ten years ago. What does that mean for you, and for mature women actresses in general?

I hope it means people will stop bringing up the concept of “women of a certain age.” It always happens. But us ladies in the business, we don’t think about it until we do interviews. So it would be nice if this began to neutralize things and sex and age don’t matter anymore….Maybe it also means better material for us.

At the Golden Globes, you said you first turned down the part of Leigh Ann Tuohy because “I didn't think I could bring anything worthy to the table….”

It was already there. It was such a beautiful story. Her vivaciousness and personality is twenty percent more than what I even put on screen. You don’t meet people like her. And when you put that kind of person on film, it can come across as a caricature and audiences don’t buy it…I thought I didn’t know enough about this woman to make it my journey. The director kept coming up with different scenarios, but I just didn’t see it for me.

And then I met her. It wasn’t like the clouds opened and I saw the light, but I did see this energy inside of her. I found her very real. Scary even. There’s a sharpness in her. And when I see that, I know it’s always covering up something else. My goal was to keep picking at her to find the cracks in the veneer. Once I found it, I knew I could play her. Then it was just a matter of getting her talk and look down, which we had the luxury of three months to work on.

So what was the secret?

I’m not going to give her up! Are you kidding? She’d put a hit man on me! (Laughs) I fear Leigh Ann as much as I love her.

That was your first time doing a real live person –

No, I did Harper Lee in “Infamous.”

Right, of course. I’m sorry. I didn’t see it, because it came out right after “Capote.”

Yeah. I learned an important lesson. It was one of my most moving and rewarding experiences on film. You can invest so much and….I guess it does matter if no one sees your work.

I’ve also read that you don’t feel as if you’re a great actress. Is this insecurity or do you honestly believe you’re not that talented?

I know that there are more talented people than I am out there. If you ever think you’re the best at what you do, you need to stop. I will always be a student. I will never be at the top of my game. Every time I think I know one hundred percent how to use my craft, it turns out not as good. It’s just the facts. I’m constantly looking at what I do and am not satisfied, and I’m not ever in that place where I can sit back and say I’ve done my best work. I don’t ever want to get there.

How did playing Leigh Ann change things? What did you learn?

I’m around crazy amazing people all the time. I thrive on them. So while every experience leaves an indelible impression on you, I don’t know… But I did pass judgment on her. They’re this born-again Christian Memphis family; they speak and operate differently than I do. I was taken aback. I don’t know that kind of person. In the end, shame on me. Because they’re people who want the same things out of life that I do. We just take different attitudes to get there. So I think I’ve changed in that I won’t pass judgment as quickly. You take whatever route you want. I’m done judging. And I now consider them wonderful allies I can share my life with.

Switching to “The Proposal,” you weren’t looking for another romantic comedy. You’d even told The New York Times we wouldn’t see you in another one “for a good long time” because, you said, “you have nothing left to offer.” What happened?

A lot of pressure (laughs). There were a lot of phone calls telling me I was nuts (not to do it). So I finally said, okay, I’ll read it just to not hurt a relationship. Then I was intrigued and little excited, and pissed because I liked the character so much. It was the guy’s role. I could see it. I knew what the timing was. I knew how to do it. But I was still hedging and then they said “What do you think of Ryan Reynolds?” I’ve known him for years and our timing works well together. So that made it even harder (to say no). Then my husband told me I needed to do it. The man who never at all cares about what choices I make said “You need to go make this film.” And I protested: “But they’re never funny. They don’t have the bite.” So he said, “Make sure it has it. Make it a comedy that just happens to have some romance in it.” And then he kicked me out of the house.

We’re glad he did. It’s a very funny movie. And you did full nudity for I believe the first time in a very funny scene. How was that for you?

You think, “Dear God, make it a closed set, no laughing and pointing and I’ll be fine.” It’s like dance and choreography. After the first five minutes, Ryan and I couldn’t have cared less. My pasties are coming off on his chest. He’s bopping about all over the place. And all you care about is that the hit is right, and the “sliding down” works. All it was about was the comedy and the timing and not having your gut hanging out, in that order. It wasn’t until the director says “cut” that the slight embarrassment comes back.

You seem to be one of the few Hollywood actors whose life doesn’t revolve around it.

I believe in the Hollywood that gives me work and allows me to be an artist. That I love and promote. All the rest of it is just selling.

Is that how you were able to just stop and move to Texas three years ago?

I liked myself too much to keep on the track of the kind of work I was doing. I was no longer wanting to get up, or read scripts, or put myself on a set. I wanted more from my life. I was getting fulfilled artistically in other areas, just not the film business. My work was suffering. I had to stop and start from scratch. Audition. Change direction. Give up the money. It had to change.

So what’s next? Are the offers rolling in now?

There’s a nice stack building in my house. But I don’t want to read them yet. I’m enjoying where I am right now. When my head and plate is clear of all these events, then I can sit down and figure out what little or big project I’d like to do next.