”Being a movie star is a joke,” Sandra Bullock declares as she ponders the bread basket at a Los Angeles restaurant. ”It’s all such a crapshoot. You just have to sit back and go (a) beyond your control, (b) good marketing, and (c) struck a weird chord.” She finally dips into the basket. ”Mmm, yes, that cheesy one looks good.”
It’s nice to know that having the best year of her career hasn’t gone to the woman’s head. Last weekend, Bullock’s movie The Blind Side, the bighearted true story of football player Michael Oher and the brassy Memphis woman who brought him into her home and gave him a future — and a family — knocked the Twilight teenagers from their LOL reign over the box office. A film that opens at No. 2 and then goes to No. 1 in its third weekend is a highly unusual phenomenon. In fact, it can only be explained by an equally unusual phenomenon: great word of mouth. Thanks to teary-eyed praise from young, old, black, white, male, female, etc., the film has grossed $128.9 million and seems poised to continue its breakaway run through the holidays.
Coupled with the stellar success of this summer’s $164 million comedy The Proposal, Bullock, 45, is suddenly generating the type of heat that Hollywood typically reserves for the latest thing off the bus. Studio bigwigs are sending bottles of champagne to the actress’ home, which she shares with her husband of four years, former Monster Garage host and businessman Jesse James, and often his three kids. ”No one really drinks in our house, so we don’t really do anything with it,” she says, pulling her long hair into a loose ponytail. ”But we get a lot of champagne!”
Toasting her own accomplishment might go against Bullock’s unassuming nature, but her friends are more than happy to high-five over her success. Comedian George Lopez says The Blind Side is the perfect movie to have earned his buddy her best opening weekend ever because it’s not some over-the-top yukfest. ”It’s not her snorting,” he says. ”It’s not her wearing lederhosen. It’s Sandy being Sandy. That’s who she is — she helps. That’s why she pulls off the role so well.” In fact, Bullock disappears so seamlessly into the character — someone both hard-charging and nurturing — that her performance has sparked talk of an Oscar nomination. It would be her first. And it’d be a hell of a capper to a hell of a year.
Bullock herself may consider The Blind Side‘s success one of those intangible flukes, but she still hopes that the ticket sales will result in more well-told stories starring grown women. ”Sexism is everywhere,” she says. ”Ageism is everywhere. But you know what? It’s about making money. And look at what Sarah Jessica Parker did with Sex and the City. Look at what Meryl Streep is doing” — she pauses to laugh — ”every other week! The proof is in the pudding. I didn’t have the ‘Oh my God, I’m not working because I’m 40.’ I was working when I was 40. I’ve never had this many opportunities in my lifetime.”
”Is there a bigger female star in the world right now than Sandy Bullock?” asks Mandeville Films partner Todd Lieberman, who produced The Proposal. ”She’s number one right now. She has got her pick of roles.” So what is the woman’s next move? ”I’m going to crawl back into my hole,” she says happily.
For a while there, it seemed Leigh Anne Tuohy’s phone rang daily with news of a major actress who might step into her designer shoes in the movie version of her life, which is adapted from Michael Lewis’ 2006 book. (Incidentally, Julia Roberts was offered The Blind Side before Bullock, as well as The Proposal.) ”I said, ‘As long as it’s not Ruth Buzzi, I can deal with anyone,”’ says Tuohy. When Blind Side director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) told her that Bullock was close to saying yes, the Memphis mother of three was more than comfortable with the choice. ”I’ve never seen any of her movies and thought, ‘Man, I really hate this.’ Except this last one that I don’t know why she did, My Name’s Steve [sic] or whatever. I don’t know why she did that. But I can’t wait to rent The Proposal on DVD so whenever I’m in a bad mood, I can put on the scene of her and Betty White dancing around the fire.” (Bullock laughs appreciatively when told of Tuohy’s reviews: ”Leigh Anne has Truth Tourette’s.”)
The two women took an instant liking to each other when Bullock first walked into Tuohy’s household bearing a basket of candles and edible goodies. ”She’s pretty cool,” says Tuohy. ”And there’s very little I ever liked about Hollywood. I don’t like superficial. I’ve never gone out and bought boobs. I think they all oughta be doing something better with their lives, if you ask me. And Sandy does, let me tell you.” Indeed, in 1998, Bullock went so far as to make a home for herself in Austin. ”I’m not good at living in this industry,” she explains. ”I’m good working in it and appreciating it. But this town can swallow you up. You look at younger people in this business and you can literally see them being swallowed because everybody is making money off of them. So when I found Austin, I felt like it was a breath of fresh air with no pretense.”
Bullock spent the first decade of her career mired in an anxious state of melancholy. The Virginia native had scored big with hits like Speed, While You Were Sleeping, and Miss Congeniality, and yet fame left her feeling empty. ”I didn’t understand why I was the lucky one. And it’s all luck. Other people I knew who were far more talented than me — who worked harder than me — didn’t have it. I was very sad in a weird way, which you shouldn’t be when you have success. It didn’t make sense to me until my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I thought, ‘Okay, well, now I can make sense of the money because I can figure out how I can help.”’ Bullock’s mother, Helga, a German opera singer who prized discipline and gratitude above all else, died of cancer in 2000. After shooting wrapped on 2002’s Two Weeks Notice, Bullock told her agent that she wanted a couple of months off, which turned into two years.
But meanwhile, Bullock had discovered the empowering thrill of producing. ”I wanted to ensure that I could work in this business even when at some point they go, ‘Nah, you’re too old, you gotta go.”’ Looking around the entertainment landscape, Bullock wondered about the dearth of Hispanics in the mainstream, and caught one of George Lopez’s stand-up routines. ”She told me, ‘I’m more interested in helping you than I am with my own career,”’ says Lopez. ”I joked with her recently that ‘You and I, we’ve done The Blind Side already.’ Because she always told me, ‘I will never let anyone hurt you and I will always protect you.’ A lot has happened in the 10 years I’ve known her. When I met Sandy, her mother had just passed and she was very disillusioned with acting and everything that celebrity brought. Usually people get worn down in this business, but she’s brightened. That’s because of her family.”
Bullock scoffed at the idea of marriage for a long time, but in 2005, she surprised even herself and wed Jesse James. ”My husband worked himself to the bone to have what he has,” she says. ”Nothing was handed to him. So he has an appreciation for a woman who works hard, too.” Bullock has settled gratefully into her role as stepmother, but guards her family’s privacy. ”The kids don’t want to be talked about, and I like that,” she says firmly. ”They’re amazing, and I’m so happy I’m there and they’re so happy not to be in this business.”
Whether or not she’ll talk details, Bullock fairly pulses with love where her family is concerned. Complimented on the glass charm hanging from her neck, she holds it up to the light to show that it’s a compass. ”There’s someone in our house,” she says with an affectionate laugh, ”who always wants to know what direction we’re going in, so when I saw it I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, now I can always give an answer.”’ Later, her cell phone bleeps on the table, and she frowns over the area code: ”Is that the school?” After listening to the voice-mail, she jumps up and excuses herself. ”Spider bite!” A few minutes later, she returns, reassured that a rogue black widow has not chomped on a child. ”Everybody’s fine! Playtime has resumed.”
When in Austin, Bullock and her family live on a 20-acre spread, where five dogs — including not just a three-legged Chihuahua but a two-legged one as well — roam free. (She’s trying to talk James into sharing their land with a couple of llamas as well.) In town, she owns a popular comfort-food restaurant and a new downtown bakery whose building she meticulously restored. After lunch she’s due back at her production office for an afternoon of wrapping gifts and planning staff Christmas parties at her various businesses. She is known to present her husband with a sticky-note stack of tasks before the man has had his morning coffee. ”The other night I was lying in bed making my lists,” says Bullock, ”and I thought, ‘God, I would make a good assistant for someone.”’ Her Proposal costar Ryan Reynolds marveled over the woman’s efficiency. ”I’ve never met anybody who has it together like that,” he says. ”She’s really turned her business into a bit of an art form. Her artistry just happens to be a very large umbrella, and business falls under it.”
So she’ll channel all that energy into her career and sign on for a bunch of movies, now that she’s back on top? Not exactly. ”I’m a wise businessperson when it comes to the people I’m lucky enough to work with,” says Bullock. ”I’m not a wise businessperson when it comes to my own success. I’ll be the first to sabotage a moment. When you’re on a film set, you’re gone from home, not just physically but emotionally. Fourteen-hour workdays. You come home once a month. When I’m ready to open a script, I will, and if [the industry] is still ready for me, then great. But if they’re not,” she says, grabbing the thick, folded-up piece of paper next to her purse, ”then fine. My to-do list is long.”
If there’s anything in this world that Leigh Anne Tuohy admires, it is a woman who prizes family and friends. She recently told the actress that her youngest son, 16-year-old SJ, was getting flak because of the film. ”People don’t have the guts to say anything to me,” she says. ”But during his basketball game, we were playing a big rival, and every time he’d touch the ball, the other fans would go, ‘Hey, your dad needs to adopt a point guard because you suck!’ I was telling Sandy about it, and she said, ‘Jesse’s booking us a flight right now.”’
”Ooh,” whistles Bullock, gritting her teeth at the thought of idiot teenagers heckling her friend’s son. ”I wish I’d been sitting there behind them so I could’ve tapped them on the shoulders.” She puts on a big, toothy smile, but her voice is all growl. ”’Hi, how are ya?”’ Careful, boys. In a fight, she’ll always win.
The Blind Side Mystery: What does Michael Oher think?
Leigh Anne Tuohy, the real woman Bullock portrays in The Blind Side, has been happily promoting the film, but her adopted son, Michael Oher, has been conspicuously quiet. The Baltimore Ravens rookie, 23, missed the film’s premieres (though he has since seen the movie) and has declined recent interviews. ”He’s got a job to do right now,” says Tuohy. ”He’ll be more visible when the season is over.” But Oher, who’s the Ravens’ starting right tackle, has hinted that he’s uncomfortable with some elements of the Michael Lewis book on which the film was based, telling The Baltimore Sun, ”Some things in it are the truth, some things are not. People have got to do things to sell it.” Oher is currently ”in the trenches [probably] getting trash-talked about some distorted version of his life,” says author Lewis. ”He’s a bit embarrassed.” — Jeff Labrecque