INT: Sandra Bullock
SPEED queen Sandra Bullock returns to theaters this week with her latest project, the Truman Capote biopic INFAMOUS. Sound familiar? Last years Oscar-winning CAPOTE dealt with the exact same subject matter. The films were actually greenlit and shot at about the same time, with CAPOTE landing in theaters first. In this one, Bullock plays Capotes best friend, "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Nelle Harper Lee.
Last week Bullock stopped by the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills for a press conference to promote the film. Here are some excerpts.
Are you gravitating more towards indie films?
Ive always done indie films its really more about timing. What doest the public want to see? The subject matter might not strike a chord, but Im always been a fan of indie films. Thats how I got started. I love em. Theres such room to play.
Can you talk about playing this reserved, thoughtful character?
Its just whats written. I feel like everything I do is a character. Miss Congeniality is not me. I think playing myself would be incredibly boring. It wouldnt bring in an audience. Its how it was written, by the research that I did. The information I came up with, what I was told, what I uncovered piece by piece, and it molded that person. Again, its just the essence of a human being. We dont really know a lot about her and I think shed like to keep it that way. But, I was able to get bits and pieces from a lot of great sources that are close to her. A family of mine lives in Alabama that lives very close to Monroeville and is from roughly that time, that has that cadence, that accent. Monroeville is a totally different accent compared to Birmingham or anywhere else. It has, interesting enough, New Orleans influences. Its just little pieces together, but that is how it was written. CRASH was one kind of woman, MISS CONGENIALITY is another kind of person. When I did Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, one of my first films, also a very reserved person. It just depends on what is written. You do whats written?
What did you think of Catherine Keeners performance in Capote?
I think Catherine is fantastic. It was never brought up before we started doing press. Catherine and I laugh about it. We both knew we were making the films and we were both excited about our roles in it because they were so different, written so differently. I think the same with the Truman role, and also the perspectives of the films are very different in how they are approached. Ive said it many times, you could do five more films on this time and peoples understanding or feelings about what happened during this time and youd have five completely different films in addition to these two. Ive known Catherine for a while. She could read the phone book and make it spectacular.
So how would you say this film is different from Capote?
I would say that the way this is approached is an outsider point of view of Trumans life and what happened in this situation. There are so many facets to this series of events that even counteract Capote and Infamous that I later found out from people in the law enforcement business who were a part of these whole events who said, Oh, thats what they wrote, but my uncle was there and this what he said happened. So I love the aspect of approaching an event from different points of view. The whole joke with Truman Capote was every word is true, with a wink. I mean, how much did he add to make the story what he wanted it to be and how much is true? And thats what I find so fascinating about this. Its the other peoples points of view. I think Doug [McGrath, the writer/director] wrote an extraordinary story.
Did you get to bond at all with Toby Jones, the actor who plays Truman?
No. I never met Toby. We had so little time on the film that I met him as Truman and he met me as Nell and we had so little time. There was no downtime. There wasnt any going out to have drinks time. We had to stay where we were and bond that way. Getting back from us to our characters was a little bit of an effort, so we pretty much stayed in those places.
How strange was that?
I liked him as Truman; we got along really well. There was a great love there and it naturally happened. This could make a beautiful love story, just their story and how long they have known each other since they were babies in Monroeville. I think he was in kindergarten when she first met him. Dill, the character in To Kill A Mockingbird, it has to be based on him. He was who he was. You dont think of it as anyone other than the person that youre opposite. I didnt go, Heres someone imitating. When you are acting in a role, you react to them with the history that you know between these two people. How long they have known each other? What is their relationship? You go from there. You dont think outside like that. You are just in the moment.
Whats it like being part of such a talented ensemble cast?
Theres a greater support system. You feel like you the freedom to interact with people, to play off of someone, to have other actors giving you material that makes you look better is a great relief. When youre by yourself a lot of the time, you have to rely on yourself. It makes for a lot of insecurity a lot of the time. If an actor throws you something, its more fun to react.
How did you go about researching the role?
Given the material that does exist, taking that, taking photographs. How does she hold her body? How does she hold a cigarette? What do people who worked with her and knew her at the time say about her? What were her quirks? Everyone said she had an incredible sense of humor, which made total sense to me. My dads part of the family is from Alabama and they are natural born storytellers of that time. They are all in that same age, that part of my family, and they can all tell a story because they survived the wars.
They survived the Depression. They made something out of nothing. The accent, we heard a little piece of her voice in the background of an interview with another woman and her laugh. There it is. Shes a great golfer. People from the outskirts knew her and how she would approach things. Her relationship with Truman. And then it all had to come down to what Doug wrote because we dont really know a lot about her. I used what I knew about her. There was a sea of stuff we found out from her notes, from when she went with Truman.
We think we found her notes, because they were vastly different from Trumans notes at that time. And each one of the pages says,T.C. and I went to the Clutters. Copious notes. She was a schoolteacher, and the notes were so meticulous. And then you saw the handwriting next to it that was very different from Trumans, like a teachers. Teachers always have that superb handwriting. If thats what we found, I used a lot of what that was. She stuck to the facts. She was there to take notes for him and she didnt like that fact that he was flowering up information.
Where did you find the notes?
From the New York Public Library. All of the notes from his time are at the New York Public Library. You can go there. Its pretty fascinating. A lot of notes, but after youve been there a couple of hours you really get to know someones handwriting and personality of how they write something down, and scribble vs. these typed notes that were incredibly organized. We could be wrong, but its too close.
How familiar are you with Capotes writing?
Id read some of his works. You read it at an age where you go, Oh, thats pretty cool. But, I dont think you can fully appreciate his writing at 12. I think you can appreciate it as an adult when you have an understanding of the political climate and who he was and the tone of the time. Same thing with To Kill A Mockingbird, as a young child you read it and identify with the children, Scout and Dill, and what these incredible kids did at the time. Then as an adult you read it and you go, What a statement! What a movement she created, for lack of a better word, when it wasnt cool to step out and say these things. How many people can say they have created a piece of art way beyond their lifetime here? It still applies. You read To Kill A Mockingbird and it resonates now just as much as it did back then.
Why do you think Nelle never wrote a major work again?
She wrote some beautiful short stories and articles that when you read them are just as moving as To Kill A Mockingbird, These beautiful pieces of life But like Doug said so well in the speech that he wrote for her: People are always asking whats next? Why can they not be supportive and okay with only one? Why does she need to write anything else? You might not be able to top that. I hate to draw analogies, but musicians who have created the ultimate album of themselves and of passion and of love and they did it under their own umbrella and they werent influenced by anyone else and they put it out and it reaches everyone what does everyone say? Oh, sophomore second is going to be a flop. Thats when the studios and other people say, You need to do this. You need to do that. Its almost like, and Im speculating, her entire lifetime lived up to this book.
Youd probably have to live some more lifetime, that same amount thats so powerful. Thats her life. Her father is represented in that book. What kind of man must he have been to raise his daughters like he did? Her sister is an attorney, still practicing, and shes older than Nelle. Blind and deaf and still practicing. These women are so strong and alive and smart and evolved.
Did you ever consider contacting her?
I never would have crossed that boundary. She doesnt want to be met. She pulled herself out of the limelight. Just because Im an actress playing her doesnt give me the right to go knock on her door and go, I need to understand! I admire her enough and have enough respect for her to give her her privacy. I never would have done it, never would have crossed it, because I wouldnt want anyone to cross that boundary with me.
And again, maybe she doesnt want her life told. She doesnt support the productions of To Kill A Mockingbird in her own town, you know? So, for me to go ring her doorbell, Nell! How you doing? She probably has no idea who I am, which is fine with me. I was portraying the essence of what Doug wrote with the bits and pieces that were my job to find out. But, my job did not entitle me to go hunt her down and disrupt her life, which she is very clear in establishing to be away from this circus.
Do you feel the pressure of Whats next?
Sure, but it doesnt affect me any more. It used to. I used to react by just jumping on another project and not being 100%. There were things about it that were wonderful, but not 100%. And Ill always make that. You go, Well, lets try it and Im lucky to be working. But I dont react that way any more. I react by my own clock, not by the demands of someone elses schedule and let me tell you, its a great relief. Im lucky because Ive gotten to that place in life where I have interests outside the acting business that are just as exciting to me, that allow me the luxury of going, Im going to go here for a while, until something comes along that gets me scared. Ive decided to just do things that scare you. And then you go, Oh my god, I love this. I cant do it. And then when you sign on to do it then you start panicking. How am I going to do this? And it forces you to cross another bridge in that territory. You could screw it up or it could be something incredible.
Did this project scare you?
Oh, yeah. I kept asking Doug, Why do you want me to do this? Do you need funding for this film? Is that what it is? People keep asking me, What did he say? I dont recall, but he had such a clear answer, obviously. I thought, If this man has spent four years of his life writing this story, I dont think hes going to screw it up by asking someone to be in the role that will take the story down. I dont want to be the one piece of this film that doesnt make it work and I dont think I am.
Can you tell us about your next project, Premonition?
Ive always wanted to do sort of a Hitchcockian thriller, a scary film that doesnt rely on things sliding out of the woodwork. Its hard to shoot. But just the script You dont read scripts like that and it came at a time when I just said, I always wanted to do a script that had some meaning, because Hitchcock always had incredible meaning behind his thrillers. So that came along, and it was a tough shoot. It was one of the hardest shoots Ive ever had. We had to cram three and a half months of shooting into two months, long days and difficult shooting circumstances. But, you know, thats the fun of it. Will it work? Will it not work? You always do these kinds of films and you dont know. But you dont even know that with big studio films. And then it was picked up domestically by Sony, to distribute.
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