The Heat star plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut untethered from her space shuttle following a debris storm. Cut loose from her space partner (George Clooney) and her ride to Earth, she drifts through the inky darkness until discovering a way to survive.
“The film is about adversities, and we were going through adversities,” says director Alfonso Cuarón. “Everything was a big challenge.”
Technically, the shoot was arduous. Recreating the zero-gravity of space required Bullock to learn to move at 30 per cent of her usual speed, and to be trussed up like a marionette on a 12-wire system and other torturous devices.
“We had a consultant from Guantanamo Bay come in,” jokes Cuarón.
Emotionally the shoot also presented issues. How could Bullock portray the impassioned inner life of the character when covered with a helmet and spacesuit for much of the performance?
“I think every actor will tell you that they are always panicked about being able to convey something with the least amount of preciousness,” she says. “If all you have are your eyes or your face, just feel it truthfully. For me, I didn’t think about being behind the visor. It was still my whole body feeling it.
“But a lot of times you’d feel yourself emoting something and they’d say, ‘No, we didn’t see anything.’ I just had to trust in what (Cuarón) saw. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I had him in my head and I just had to trust that.
“It’s a weird profession. You have to unscrew your head and screw on this other head of what this other person is going through and you go, ‘Wow, that’s not a pretty place to live all day.’”
Working with Clooney, who she’s known since before they both were famous, also provided support.
When she was having trouble with a particular scene, Clooney sent an email with a some suggestions on how to make it work. “It’s not my business,” he wrote, “so throw this in the trash or use it.”
As it turns out, his ideas were bang-on. “That’s the gift of knowing someone for so long,” she says. “He gives you gold tidbits like that. It’s sweet.”