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Taking her fears to greater heights

Updated: 2013-09-22 07:57
By Brooks Barnes (The New York Times)

Taking her fears to greater heights

Sandra Bullock, left, was isolated and suspended by wires in the making of "Gravity," with George Clooney. Warner Brothers Pictures

Taking her fears to greater heights

BEVERLY HILLS, California - Like most movie stars, Sandra Bullock has been endlessly offered up in bits by the celebrity media. In Vanity Fair's estimation, this Oscar-winning actress is "friendly and direct and so unpretentious." She is "America's sweetheart," according to dozens of profiles, a gifted physical comedian who has suffered the occasional flop.

But one of her most noteworthy attributes is almost never mentioned: Ms. Bullock, who returns to cinemas worldwide beginning October 3 in the space thriller "Gravity," is arguably Hollywood's bravest A-list actress.

Sure, her role in "Two Weeks Notice" did not require exceptional courage. But consider what came after that 2002 romantic comedy. Ms. Bullock steered away from what was working, instead fighting for smaller dramatic roles that weren't always flattering. That shift led her to "The Blind Side" (2009), a difficult film that could have turned into a melodrama. Instead, it won her an Academy Award.

Last year, Ms. Bullock, 49, appeared naked in a skit on the television show "Chelsea Lately." You don't see Julia Roberts doing that. Speaking of daring leaps, Ms. Bullock almost drowned by taking one into the North Atlantic in 2009 to film a scene for "The Proposal." After bobbing in the water for take after take, she went into hypothermia and couldn't breathe. "I'd put her toughness against any tough-guy actor out there," said Todd Lieberman, a "Proposal" producer.

Still not convinced? And now comes "Gravity."

Directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuaron, the filmmaker behind "Children of Men" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Gravity" stars Ms. Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts adrift in space after surviving a shuttle mishap. But it's largely a solo performance by Ms. Bullock.

"Everyone asked me if that made me nervous, and then I started panicking," Ms. Bullock said. "I was mostly concerned about the Vomit Comet."

Mr. Cuaron planned to spend days filming inside a jetliner that simulates weightlessness by climbing sharply and then plunging downward sharply. NASA astronauts gave the plane its nickname for its propensity for making them nauseated.

Ms. Bullock has been "deathly afraid of flying," she said, since 2000 when she was on a jet in Wyoming that missed the runway, and sustained severe damage.

She agreed anyway. "I convinced myself it was the universe telling me I needed to get over my fear," she said. "I said I would do it. I wasn't happy about it. But I said I would do it."


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