Now that she's won an Oscar and broken box office records, insiders weigh in on her prospects

By Missy Schwartz
March 19, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Within minutes of winning Best Actress on March 7, Sandra Bullock faced the question that all actors do as soon as the little gold man is securely in their grip: What are you gonna do now? That’s the Hollywood way, of course; you’re only as good as your next project. And given how extraordinary the past 12 months have been for Bullock — two smashes in The Blind Side and The Proposal, plus beating Meryl Streep for the Oscar — the question takes on greater weight. Where on earth does she go from here?

Bullock herself doesn’t know. Though she could probably paper the walls of her Austin home many times over with all the scripts being sent her way, the star, 45, hasn’t chosen her next project. ”When I’m ready to open a script, I will, and if [the industry] is still ready for me, then great,” Bullock told EW in December. ”But if they’re not, then fine.” For now, she’s promoting The Blind Side (available on DVD on March 23; read the EW review here) in Europe and sifting through all those screenplays. ”She’s sitting pretty,” says Lynda Obst, who produced Bullock’s 1998 romantic dramedy Hope Floats. ”[She can go] anywhere she wants. But she won’t just renavigate a career that already works.”

No one in Hollywood thinks Bullock will suddenly ditch crowd-pleasing roles to pursue art films. ”Sandy Bullock seems pretty levelheaded to me,” says a top industry exec. ”She knows where her bread is buttered. I don’t see her announcing, ‘Oh, now I want to play Joan of Arc.’ And that’s good.” Adds a veteran marketing executive: ”Sandy Bullock is the people’s actress. I could see her taking her comedy and moving it into a smarter direction. But I gotta hope she doesn’t start playing, like, one-legged, deaf schoolteachers in Haiti. It’d be horrible.” What she should do, most insiders agree, is continue to mix mainstream comedic roles with riskier supporting turns — as she did in Crash, playing a bitter Los Angeles housewife to spectacular reviews.

As for the dreaded post-Oscar pitfalls that have plagued other recent Best Actress winners, there’s little reason to believe Bullock will suffer that fate. Unlike, say, Halle Berry and Charlize Theron, who won their trophies as emerging talents (and have struggled since), Bullock has been at this for more than 20 years. She’s beloved by studios and audiences. Of the decade’s nine other Best Actress winners, only Julia Roberts boasted a similar career when she won for Erin Brockovich, in 2001. ”The Oscar isn’t something that happened as a surprise on a second movie,” says Crash producer Cathy Schulman. ”You felt it in the room on Oscar night. It was the crowning achievement thus far to a terrific career. That’s why the room stood.”

Acting chops aside, Bullock’s greatest asset may be her strength as a producer, thanks to credits like Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice, and The Proposal. And in a town as fickle as Hollywood, controlling your own projects can be the key to an actor’s longevity. Says Obst: ”She’s not at anyone’s mercy. She can invent something for herself.” Allow us to make a suggestion: a buddy comedy with her new buddy Meryl Streep.