Life is pretty delicious for Sandra Bullock right now. And we mean that literally. The Oscar winner, 49, is wrapping up a tasting of new pastry items at Walton’s, a bright, airy Austin bakery/café she refurbished and opened four years ago. Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, that great mane of hair twirled up in a knot, she is a warm hostess, quick with a hug and lusty encouragement to eat, eat.
The last time EW sat down with Bullock was in 2009. Shortly thereafter she’d win an Oscar for her tough and bighearted performance in The Blind Side. She’d also go through a very public divorce and reveal that she’d adopted a beautiful, sparkly-eyed baby boy named Louis. If ever there were a woman who’d earned the right to lie low and nest awhile, it was Bullock, who navigated her season of grand combustion with grace and dignity. “She could run a country if she needed to,” says longtime friend Matthew McConaughey.
In 2013 Bullock got her groove back magnificently. She returned to her physical-comedy roots alongside Melissa McCarthy in Paul Feig’s joyful buddy-cop movie The Heat, the one drink of water for female moviegoers in a summer desert of capes, cars, and exploding White Houses. Then, in October, Bullock delivered a bravura one-woman performance — throat tight, breath jagged, eyes wounded and alert — in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, a $536 million-and-counting formula-free smash.
Bullock knows how ephemeral happiness can be. “When people are like, ‘Life is so good,'” she says, “I go, ‘No, life is a series of disastrous moments, painful moments, unexpected moments, and things that will break your heart. And in between those moments, that’s when you savor, savor, savor.'” We sat in her bakery and talked about moments of all kinds.
Just before The Heat came out, you told me it was the greatest love story of your career.
Melissa and I had that loving, weird connection where we just went, “Wow, you can’t buy it, you can’t manufacture it.” We’re so different in our comedy styles, but somehow they complemented each other and we were a modern odd couple.
You really let Melissa shine in a big way. Was that hard on the ego?
Yeah, I mean, ego is everywhere and you always have to put it in check. I do different comedy than Melissa’s. Her style is…I mean, it comes out of her mouth and you gotta back up. And once I realized that that drove the film, I had to step back. Otherwise I would’ve been fighting for something that would’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor…. They needed a pseudo-straight person, and I became that. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but the end result was the success of the film and people liking us together. The movie is exactly what it’s supposed to be — it’s about friendships and two people being awkward and funny and not caring what anybody else thought about them. Now people go, “What about a Heat 2!?” I don’t want to do a sequel. But what I would love to do is another film with Melissa. We always talk, like, what if we do a road trip that’s a silent film? [Laughs] I know I came out of that movie with a friend for life.
When was the last time you had to convince somebody that you were right for a role?
Every time you work you’re convincing the director — can we try this moment, can we try something different? I feel like I’m always fighting. When we did The Heat the studio was like, “There has to be a love interest!” And I was like, “Noooooooo, do not.” Early on we won that battle.
What was a battle on Gravity?
Well, first of all, the battle was getting me to do it. Because I was not going to work. Then, weirdly, I didn’t have to fight for much. Like the whole thing with the character losing her child? I said I didn’t want her going back to a child, because of course someone’s going to fight for that. So what if she had absolutely nothing to fight for — she’s lost a child, there’s nothing back home, she’s a person who’s basically a machine? That was my idea, and Alfonso was so open to it.
I’m surprised that you lobbied for that because I would think as a new mom that would be absolutely brutal to play.
It was the worst possible headspace to be in. And I was in weird contraptions and I couldn’t use my body at the speed I wanted to, so it was like doing modern interpretive dance all day. But it was the best thing for me because it took away a crutch that I have, which is [using] the physical side to sell something. And at the end of the day, I went out into the sunshine, out to where the life force was — my son.
I imagine that through much of your career you didn’t dare hope for a role as rich and spare as Dr. Ryan Stone.
I knew it was out there, I just didn’t know if it would be presented to me. And I certainly never imagined getting it all in that large a capacity.
You said you started out your career as the action girl and then became the romantic-comedy girl. At what point do you think people started simply seeing you as the actress?
Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been seen as a chameleon. [Laughs] But I remember when I first read the script for Crash. I’d stopped acting. My agents told me I was being offered the role and I said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” After we shot my scene I remember sitting down and thinking, “Wow, hopefully this will be the beginning for me in being given opportunities.”
What kinds of opportunities?
Anything other than what I’d been doing. Miss Congeniality had come out, which I thought was brilliant. The second one I wanted to be brilliant for [costar Regina King], because she’s an awesome, funny, incredible actress. I was looking for a female buddy thing long before The Heat. But [the sequel] didn’t strike a chord with audiences. And I just didn’t want to do romantic comedies anymore. So when my agents came to me years later with The Proposal I was pissed. I had said, “Do not bring me this stuff!” And my agent said, “But you’ve always wanted to play a bitch.”
Why’s that appealing?
It’s funnier. Being complex and irritating is always much more fun. I kept saying to the producers, “We got to commit to the bitchy. Don’t try to water it down. Let her just be an A-hole.” Being nice is so boring. There’s just not a lot of material.
Has your relatability seemed like a burden?
But if the relatability allows you to step in the door, how can that be a curse? It’s been nothing but a blessing for me. And even with the most irritating, hateful characters there is lovability. Unless they’re a sociopath and need to be locked away. I don’t think I’m ever going to play that character because who wants to go see me in that movie?
I actually think that sounds interesting.
When you stepped back from the movies, did you ever think of doing TV?
When I was seeing television progress, I thought, “How exciting that when I’m ready to do TV it’s going to be amazing.” When you look at cable it’s sometimes better than the movies. I’m not afraid of the landscape changing from large to small screen if it’s as rich as it is now.
What’s your favorite show?
I’m desperately waiting for Downton Abbey to come back, and I’m into season 1 of Scandal. Talk about sexy decadence. I want to be with the president.
Your Oscar may have back-burnered any TV career. In your acceptance speech, you joked, ”Did I really earn this or did I just wear y’all down?” Was that charming self-deprecation or did a bit of you feel undeserving?
I was so f—ing tired that day. I had not slept but two hours because Louis had been sick. I felt like I was drunk — that’s how tired I was. Thankfully I don’t remember anything else I said that night, but, I mean, you’re looking at Meryl Streep, you’re looking at Gabourey [Sidibe], at all these women, and you don’t feel you’ve earned it.
But that said, are you able to take pride in your performance in Gravity?
[Long pause] I will always nitpick every aspect of my performance. I’m an actress! We’re vain, crazy, narcissistic creatures. You look at yourself 17 feet [tall] and you’re going to be riddled with insecurity. Maybe when I’m old and go back to my youth, I’ll say, “Oh, look at her, bless her heart.” But I’m proud of the experiences I had on that movie. I’m proud that when Alfonso said, “Okay, you’re going to sit at the bottom of a tank 35 feet below,” I said, “Okay, let’s go down there and sit all day.” I’m really proud that I had those moments where I became fearless because I’ve never felt fearless before.
Alfonso told EW that he’s against a sequel. He joked about an alternate ending to Gravity where you’re squashed dead.
Yeah, he said he either wanted to kill me with an asteroid or just George hurtling from the sky. I think George would have been really funny. The last scene you just see us on top of each other, limbs everywhere. Our hands intertwine with our last breath of air and we die on top of each other clutching the earth.
Speaking of George, he recently revealed your dirty little habit of drunk-dialing him.
Yes, I heard. I heard. [Laughs] I’m so embarrassed for him. It’s a booty call. But then he wants the commitment and the marriage and I’m like, “Dude, I don’t have the time.” And he’s all, “But I’m not a one-night-stand kind of guy.” Well, then, I can’t. Drunk-dialing is what it is, George. I just need an hour of your time.
Is this a bad moment to ask if you are dating or want to be dating?
You know what, if it should come along, great. But I feel like I’m not missing anything yet. Maybe one day I will. But my son is 3 years old, which is an amazing age. Four is an even better age. So if something happens, great, but if not, I’ve got plenty to do.
You make fun of your type A personality. What’s on your to-do list right now?
Planning Louis’ birthday party. Decorating his new room, not that he’s used it yet — guess whose hot feet are on my face in the night? Getting ready for Thanksgiving. Getting everyone together for Christmas. Getting ski rental gear. Getting the sleigh ride together.
I notice that committing to your next role didn’t make it onto the list.
Maybe once I get to next year and something comes along that allows me to still be a stay-at-home mom. I have a feeling that work is going to shift now because I don’t want to drag him around to places. There are a lot of prerequisites that have to happen for me to be happy. He really will be happy anywhere, but I want to know as a mom that I’ve provided him people, experiences, education — life things — before I go, “I’m an actress and I need to act.” I really don’t need to act.
You sound like a great mom. Do you have plans to adopt again?
I’m open to whatever comes our way. I know that sounds vague, but I’m so lucky with what I have and I’m so in love with our life and our routine and how simple and how massive it is. But whatever comes along.