We talk with the star of Alfonso Cuar
One of the finest movies to hit cinemas in years, GRAVITY comes from visionary director Alfonso Cuaron who previously gave us HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and CHILDREN OF MEN.Starring Sandra Bullock & George Clooney, the film uses the latest 3D technology to immerse us in deep space in a way never before seen on the big screen. We talk to Sandra Bullock about preparing for one of her most challenging roles to date.
What sort of training was required for you to do some of the amazing moves in the film?
Sandra Bullock: I had to retrain my body from the neck down to react and move as though it’s in Zero-G without the benefit of Zero-G moving your body. Because everything that your body reacts to with a push or a pull on the ground is completely different than it is in Zero-G. So to make that second nature just took training and then weeks of repetition and then syncing it with Alfonso’s camera and the mechanics and the mathematics of it all, and then separating that from your head when you had to connect to the emotion and tell the emotional story. So there were various contraptions that existed on the sound stages. When I first saw them, you just made them your friend as quickly and as physically as you could, because if you didn’t, they were so confusing and complex. You had to figure out how to communicate in a language that you’re not understanding coming at you and it didn’t make sense with my rhythms, and then going back, and thinking, ‘That doesn’t make sense. Can we musically do this?’ Because then, rhythmically, I will know. So it was just such a collaborative experience.
After working in darkness for months, what was it like to see the environments in the finished film?
SB: The first time I saw it all put together was in Venice. I always say, an actor, when they see themselves for the first time, you spend all your time just watching yourself and hating yourself and picking your performance apart and saying, ‘I look horrible.’ There was no time to pick apart one’s performance, because you were inundated with the extreme beauty and emotion that he created visually, and I hate using the word ‘technologically’ because it sounds like it’s an inanimate object. Technology is something that’s heady. It was turned into such an emotion and such a visceral physical experience in this movie. You just went, ‘I don’t know how they did it with sound coming here behind your head.’ All of a sudden you found yourself affected in ways that you were not planning on being affected. So we had that same reaction. I think George [Clooney] and I both did. We went, ‘Wow.’ I mean, you can’t really speak after the film is over. So I think I was lucky enough, in my career, to finally be able to view a movie I was in as it was supposed to be viewed, as a newcomer.
What is it like to perform on screen for a great deal of the movie by yourself?
SB: I’d answer the latter question first. I never thought about that. I never thought about, ‘I’m the only person on screen.’ You had the story, the elements that Jonás and Alfonso wrote. The technology was a constant character around you. I always went back to, ‘What was in their heads that I need to honor and help execute?’ I never once thought, ‘I’m the only person.’ Because there’s George, who’s a vital part of this film and represents life and this outlook on living, and if you don’t have that, this film could not exist. So I never thought of it until I started doing press and everyone’s freaking me out, going, ‘How do you feel that the whole film rests on your shoulders?’ [Laughs] And I’m like, ‘How is it now my problem? I didn’t write this or produce it or come up with the cockamamie idea to make a space movie.’ But I still don’t think about it, because I feel like I’m third or fourth on the list of characters before the story, the emotional visuals, the sound, the experience of what they’ve created.
Can you talk about the research you did for the film, the people at NASA that you talked to, and how that helped you understand this character and what she’s going through?
SB: We had a lot of technicians around us that helped me, literally, with knowing where buttons were on the Shuttle and Soyuz. ‘What would I do? Is this correct?’ I was more concerned about body work and how it worked in Zero-G, and there was no one to ask. Because you have people explaining, ‘Well, this is what happens.’ And I’d go, ‘It’s not registering.’ My brother-in-law was actually with a friend of his at some wine packaging place and the guy said, ‘You know, my sister is an astronaut.’ And my brother-in-law went, ‘Well, my sister-in- law is getting ready to be an astronaut.’ So he got my number for Katie [NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman], who was at the ISS at the time, and she called, and I was able to literally ask someone who’s experiencing the things that I was trying to physically learn, and was able to ask her about how the body works and what do you do, what do I need to re-teach my body physically that cannot happen on earth? We needed to get the puppeteers and everyone together on the same page so we’re all, as Alfonso says, we think this way on earth-you have to think about space. It’s just the oddest thing to reprogram your reactions. So it was just a really coincidental, fortuitous thing that happened, over wine, that got me the final piece of information that I needed. And so that was it.
In your conversations with the NASA astronaut, what fascinated you about her job, which is one that may be even cooler than yours, as far as the psychology of being an astronaut and the things she told you about her experiences?
SB: We had one phone conversation. Apparently they’re not allowed to just accept calls whenever you feel like calling the ISS. And our work schedule was so crazy, so our connection was always sort of ships passing in the night. My character wasn’t an astronaut. My character wasn’t someone who wanted and aspired to be an astronaut. All those questions were for George. That’s the research that he had to do. My character was just someone who happened to be in a position where it was easier to train her to just execute this one mission and then go home. But I think what I did learn from them, which was so beautiful and again applies to George, is just their emotional point of view on life and why they go up there, why they specialize in something on Earth, and why they want to go to space to see how it operates in space, so we all benefit from it when they get back.
GRAVITY is at Irish cinemas from November 7th