"It's a murder mystery within a very complex character drama."

In the upcoming drama-thriller The Unforgivable, Sandra Bullock plays Ruth Slater, a woman who has just gotten out of prison after serving a long sentence.

"My character is someone who has been incarcerated for 20 years for a pretty heinous crime [and] gets out," Bullock, who's also one of the producers of the film, tells EW. "There are several people whose lives she affected by this crime she committed, and there's a lot of hatred and anger and bitterness and sorrow associated with her release. She wants to find this one person, the only family she had when she went in, and you keep asking yourself, 'Why can't you let it go? This family member was traumatized by your actions — let it go! Stop harming these people all over again.'"

"Finding out the background to the story of why she did what she did is sort of the whodunnit of this," Bullock says of the project, which is based on a British miniseries. "It's a murder mystery within a very complex character drama."

Sandra Bullock in 'The Unforgivable'

Filming began in early 2020 but was put on hold by the pandemic. "We started shooting in February 2020, and then, as we all know, [by] mid-March, things changed globally," says director Nora Fingscheidt. "We came back in September and, of course, when we filmed the second half, shooting was very different. We had to be super, super careful and learn how to work with COVID. For me, the biggest challenge was: How can we make it work so that later on, when you watch the film, you don't think, 'Oh, wait, that was pre-COVID and now that's after COVID?' All of the sudden, all the extras are spread out or, oh, it's summer and [now] it's winter, because we shot in Canada where you have very strong seasons. That was an extra challenge."

The movie also stars Jon Bernthal, Vincent D'Onofrio, Viola Davis, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, and Rob Morgan. Bullock describes working with the high-wattage supporting cast as "ridiculous and selfishly beneficial."

Says the actress, "I don't care where you think you are on the level of talent on your acting scale, if you place yourself opposite those who are far better than you, they will only elevate you. I was so scared. I was basically making a silent film for my character, and I was like, 'If I fail with my emotional inner life, we've lost the storytelling.' But I would get opposite these tremendous human beings and you just go 'thank you' to be opposite talent like that. Everybody dreams about it. And then here we had it."

Beyond collaborating with top-notch talent, Bullock also found herself working with wood and nails in several scenes, as her character finds a gig as a carpenter in the film. `Was that a skill set she had to acquire for the role?

"My dad pretty much raised me as the son he wished I was," Bullock says with a laugh. "He restored homes and would always drag me into the homes he was restoring, so I have a big comfort level when it comes to that world." But she did experience a learning curve."They did not want me getting close to the band saw. I'd go, 'I know what I'm doing!' Then I'd have to stop and question myself — 'I haven't used a band saw since I was a teenager, so maybe you should show me how to use it real quick.'"

Fingscheidt hopes The Unforgivable will help build a greater sense of empathy among viewers. "I would love that they maybe reconsider their judgment of people who are outside the society, people who are massively disadvantaged because of their past," she says. "I think it's worth sometimes taking a second look. It's not so easy to reenter society. You might change in prison after 20 years quite a lot, but for the majority out there you're still a prisoner and you will live with that forever. It's really worth looking into details and giving people second chances. That is what I was thinking about a lot."

The Unforgivable costars Emma Nelson, Will Pullen, and Thomas Guiry. The film was written by Peter Craig, Hillary Seitz, and Courtenay Miles, and produced by Bullock, Graham King, and Veronica Ferres.

See EW's exclusive first look at Bullock as Ruth above. The Unforgivable is out in select theaters Nov. 24 and available on Netflix Dec. 10.

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