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Jenny Cooney Carrillo finds the star and producer of Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock, down to earth and hysterically funny Ė especially on the subject of straddling her co-star, Benjamin Bratt.

†Sandra Bullock has taken on the roles of both actor and producer in her latest film, the romantic comedy Miss Congeniality. Starring opposite Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen and Michael Caine, Bullock portrays an FBI agent forced into entering a beauty pageant on a mission to catch a terrorist planning to sabotage the pageant on national television.

Her character, Special Agent Gracie Hart, is the quintessential tomboy whose transformation at the hands of Michael Caineís character offers a hilarious look into the expectations of beauty pageant contestants. Bratt works as her partner on the case, watching her change from plain to knockout and realising his feelings for her in the process. In this interview, the delightfully down-to-earth and hysterically funny Bullock describes what it was like to straddle Benjamin Bratt, how she feels about real-life beauty contestants, and why sheís so good at physical comedy.

How do you feel about beauty pageants? Have you ever been in one?
It is a very Americana thing. I never felt pressure to enter one, but there is always a little hierarchy that goes along with those events. Like Homecoming, there is the Queen and the chosen few in the Homecoming court, and I am sure I felt the pressures at one point. I actually entered a beauty pageant in North Carolina once to earn some extra money for school. All the gay people in the dance department decided they could dress me. It was like Michael Caineís character - they could teach me how to walk and we had these beautiful Bob Mackey gowns that they used to do their drag shows in. I didnít win but I made a little money so it was okay!

You character changes her mind about pageants after the mission. Did you feel the same?
I think her opinion changed about women, not so much about the pageant itself. I think she had a preconceived idea of what those types of women are which, I think, we all do. We cast a lot of women who had been in previous pageants and so many of the girls were absolutely wonderful; they were feisty and smart and funny. Some of them were even lawyers, so I think that we generalize these women because we see it as superficial to enter these pageants and donít see them as something deeper. There were lots of beautiful women there and it was hard to be on stage when there are fifty women who are looking beautiful and you are not looking as good. I know the men enjoyed it. Ben (Bratt) was very happy because all the women were in love with him. Not because he is handsome and nice but he is so charming. He would walk onto the set and you could see everyone watching him. But I donít have an opinion on pageants one way or the other except that I do think itís a great venue for a talented woman. If she has something she wants to achieve in life and this is how she can get it, then great. Go for it.

Back to Benjamin Bratt. He said you were a mean boss.
Well, I required that he showed up on time (laughing). He didnít really say that did he?

Good, because we made sure he had a good social life. I literally carved time out of our schedule and made sure that Benjamin had chunks of time where he could go home for extended weekends since he and his other half, Julia Roberts, were working on different things in different places. I think that time is really important. It was the same scheduling for Candice, making sure she had time to go home. Michael Caineís wife was able to come to the set and William Shatnerís partner was also able to come so I tried to be conscious about all of their needs too.

Maybe it was because you beat him up in the movie?
Yeah, I knocked him around. That was our first day. I hurt him. Did he tell you that? He had a back problem which he didnít tell us about for weeks because he must have been embarrassed. I did it, apparently and I donít know what I did, but he really got injured.

Maybe it was during the time his head was stuck between your legs?
We were rehearsing and were glad that we liked each other at that point. I would have to sort of straddle his face in this wrestling scene and heíd laugh and ĎIím so glad itís you!í Itís like, if you have to straddle someoneís face, you want it to be someone you like - thatís how I feel too!

Your character in the movie goes from tomboy to cover girl. How do you feel about making the transformation and which are you more comfortable as?
Well, that is the great thing about having a full staff of hair, makeup and wardrobe. I love both sides of myself so it just depends on the occasion. Even though I love being a tomboy doesnít mean that I lose the feminine side. I would love to show up in jeans and a t-shirt for a cover shoot but that doesnít sell apparently. So itís fun to just play dress-up -and air brushing is the greatest thing ever. We had a scene where I had a huge pimple and I was worried that it would show but they took care of it right away. I guess that was the girl side of me - the tomboy side would have let it go!

Wouldnít you love for men to like you looking natural?
Actually the men in my life like women without make-up. I think that most men prefer that. I mean we all gravitate towards attractive things. And it is nice every now and then to dress up and see how great you look, but it is also nice to roll out of bed in the morning and have someone think you still look beautiful. I think men donít really care about clothes. Letís face it Ė theyíd rather see us naked. We really dress up for the other women because weíre always checking each other out!

This movie really showcases your talent for physical comedy along the lines of Lucille Ball. What do you think of that comparison?
Yeah, I love being physical to get a laugh. Iíve read where Iíve been compared to her, but no one can be Lucille Ball. She was just so great with her expressions and timing. But I have always been really physical. My father has pretty great comedic timing - actually his whole side of the family, so maybe itís genetic. And I used to do gymnastics so physical comedy is like gymnastics. I love it. Itís fun. Not every joke is going to be funny, but if you can fall over something well, that insures a laugh. And Iíve had plenty of practice falling over in high heels so that was easy!

Published March 15, 2001

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