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Sandra Bullock has developed a role for herself behind the camera as powerful as the one she has built in front of it, because she wants the license to have her say in the films she makes, as she explains to Andrew L. Urban during her visit to Cannes to promote Murder By Numbers, of which she is executive producer.

A nice little black number – casually slipping off her left shoulder – blends nicely with her long dark hair as Sandra Bullock takes a seat on the terrace overlooking the Bay of Cannes from the sublime environs of the Hotel du Cap at Antibes, 15 hair-raising minutes along the coast road by car from Cannes itself. This is the hotel that doesn’t accept any form of payment except cash. This is the hotel where superstars stay; Robert de Niro, Gregory Peck, that sort of star. And Sandra Bullock, star, producer, executive producer, mover and shaker.

"framed by the Mediterranean,"

Bullock is framed by the Mediterranean, the modest waves splish-splashing below us along the rocky wall of the hotel; behind her in the lower garden, the familiar figure of Rodin’s The Thinker sits gazing out towards the troubled African continent. The serenity of the scene is punctuated by Bullock in black. She is business like, her femininity somehow accentuated by the formality of her manner – at complete odds with her demeanour two days later at an intimate press conference with Hugh Grant; more on that a little later.

She is in Cannes to promote two films, neither of which are screening at Cannes (at the festival), but that’s not the point. The point is that the world’s media is in Cannes, and what better time to woo the media for both films. The main objective is to get as much press coverage for Murder By Numbers (which began its international release program immediately after the Cannes film festival) as possible. That’s why there are a few media screenings of the film for those who have secured interviews with Sandra Bullock or her two young co-stars Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt, or the film’s director, Barbet Schroeder, all of whom are camped out here at the Cap.

The second film, which was the focus of her press conference with co-star High Grant, is Two Weeks Notice, had just finished shooting. Grant was flown down from London for a relaxed press conference, not in the giant press room of the Palais des Festivals but in the far more romantic, charming and intimate atmosphere of the fabulous Carlton Hotel, where we all mingled for cocktails after the most amusing press conference I’ve ever attended. 

The Bullock and Grant Show lasted half an hour, and the questions from the media (not more than 50 from around the world) seemed to be part of the script – or at least that’s how the two stars handled it. The hot topic at the press conference was the rumour about their affair during the making of the romantic comedy in which she plays a sassy and neurotic lawyer to Grant’s wealthy and dependent boss. When she’d had enough and gives two weeks notice, the romantic comedy kicks in. They both responded with dry humour, cool irony and sharp observations about each other, on a level that suggested a comfortable bond had developed. Nobody could guess how deep it went. 

But that was a different Bullock to the one sitting opposite me on the terrace of the Cap. And so is the film: Murder By Numbers is a gritty police drama in which Bullock plays homicide detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock), investigating the murder of a young woman found in a ditch in the woods, with her new partner Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin). Evidence leads them to two students – Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) and Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt) – who share a secret friendship. Cassie believes that they believe they committed the perfect crime, and is determined to prove it.

"anything you want it to be,"

Apart from starring in it, Bullock is also executive producer of the film. Whatever that means… “It could be anything you want it to be,” she says matter of factly. “But it can be far less work than if you’re producing. I didn’t have the capacity or strength to produce this, but I wanted to make sure we would make the film that was on paper. We made sure each rewrite got better and better, we got the best facilities and the best actors, but I didn’t have to worry about budgeting and physical production. I didn’t want to have those worries because the role was too difficult to spend time worrying about that.”

Bullock quickly denies that it was a condition of her taking the role to be executive producer. “Not at all; they wanted me to produce it because I had just produced Miss Congeniality but I was too tired and didn’t have the energy, but I do want to be able to have … look, sometimes the title gives you licence to speak your mind and give your two cents’ worth. To be a bit more into it than you get to be as just an actor.”

Murder By Numbers shows Bullock as a credible dramatic actress, and the character is flawed enough to be interesting. But she is also a powerful woman character, not in the sense of being a female President or some other authority figure, but as a person. She says it’s not a new thing. “We used to have great roles in the 40s and 50s and 60s for women . . .and I think when a certain action genre of film took over the marketplace, the roles for women were adjusted for those films – we weren’t required to be much more than a damsel in distress.”

Bullock pays tribute to actresses who “paved the road” with more recent films that made money. “That’s opened up the doors for people like myself to make films.” But she is also realistic about her career. “Every once in a while I am lucky enough to have a film that’s a success and that allows me to go off and do these other things that I like to do. And if I have another film that’ a success, that’s great. But I don’t feel the need to maintain that level of success – my career is better when it does this [she makes a wave motion with her hands]. . . more like waves.”

"I just love the process."

Bullock’s production company is now working as a self-contained entity completely on its own, and has recently signed to produce a tv show. “I set things up so I can continue to be creative and work in the business when I don’t necessarily want to be in front of the camera any more, because I just love the process. The attention doesn’t just have to be on me, you know.”

In retrospect, Bullock is even more glad she chose not to produce Murder By Numbers; “it was not easy…. The subject matter [is not easy] and you never know if you’ll pull it off. We basically tell you who did it, and we still have to pull off a thriller, with the mystery given away. But that’s why you have somebody like Barbet [Schroeder, director] who’s made films like this and can play with nuances and gets into the underbelly of things, which I find very attractive.”

Maybe that explains why she and Hugh Grant get on so famously.

Published October 31, 2002

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