Sandra Bullock was never a typical America’s sweetheart. People loved her that way. They adored her in “Speed,” “While You Were Sleeping” and “Miss Congeniality.”
But, in a move that was anything but typical, she abdicated the throne. At the height of her career, she gave it all up for two years.
Her outside interests took up a lot of her time (she dabbles in real estate, owns a restaurant in Austin, Texas, and produces “The George Lopez Show” on ABC), and when she did come back to acting, she wasn’t interested in being a big Hollywood star again. She auditioned for small roles in low-budget movies, even though big Hollywood stars rarely have to audition. Her last film, in which she played writer Harper Lee in “Infamous,” had a budget that wouldn’t even have covered the catering bill on one of her earlier films.
Bullock, 42, has become a staunch advocate for the environment and has been generous during national disasters, writing separate checks to the Red Cross for $1 million. Two years ago, she stunned many people when she got married for the first time, not to an actor but to tough-talking and heavily tattooed Jesse James, car mechanic and host of the cable television show “Monster Garage.” She is stepmom to his three children.
In this conversation, she reveals little about James but explains why she gave up the movie-star life. She also discusses her new movie “Premonition” (review), which opened March 16. It’s a psychic thriller about a woman who is told that her husband has died in a car crash, only to discover the next day that he is alive again.
Q: How’s real life working out for you?
A: Today, it’s not bad. There’s an endless flow of green tea, little gifts such as cookies and flowers, and I’m in the Four Seasons.
Q: I’m speaking about your life in an overall sense.
A: I’m not an overall kind of gal anymore. I take the day for what it is, good or bad. As of right now, I am satisfied with where I sit. Tomorrow, it could be a completely different story.
Q: But you’re no longer interested in sabotaging your career?
A: I never saw it as sabotage.
Q: But you could have made it a lot easier on yourself?
A: By continuing to water down everything, taking a paycheck and making things that nobody remembers? Sure, I could have done that.
Q: You wouldn’t have been the first actor to do that.
A: Thank God I was raised by the parents I was raised by.
Q: So, it’s all about the upbringing?
A: Yeah. It has to be. There’s nothing in the Hollywood system that promotes someone to do what I did. My instincts were so overwhelming that I had to stop. I was raised by extraordinary artists who never settled for anything other than a 100 percent work ethic.
Q: But humans can only take so much temptation, and Hollywood offers more temptation than most?
A: True. But money has never been a lure for me. I’ve always had trouble with the business side of things. But I need to do something creative, and that doesn’t mean I need to be on a screen in big-budgeted films. The last four films that I’ve done had a minus budget. But the satisfaction level was beyond anything I had done up to that point.
Q: Why didn’t you do these smaller movies before?
A: I didn’t have those options. But, don’t get me wrong, everything before that was a blessing, and I was in a position that most people would love to be in. I was excited about working.
Q: And you changed all that by taking two years off?
A: I had to stop so that I could come back and tell people that I had lived more, had more to offer and was willing to audition for these smaller roles.
Q: And their reaction?
A: They attitude was: “Maybe you’re not as squeaky happy as we thought you were. Maybe we will let you come in and audition for this role.”
Q: But wasn’t there some satisfaction in being at the top of your profession?
A: I was never at the top.
Q: Yes, you were.
A: There’s no such thing as being at the top. Everyone’s on top for a second because someone else put you there. I’ve never felt more at the top than I do right now. I’m at the best place creatively I’ve ever been. The big paycheck is stupid money.
Q: No regrets about giving up the big money?
A: If I decided to do a comedy tomorrow, you’d be surprised how fast the big paycheck would come back.
Q: Not to be crass, but isn’t it nice to be able to write a check for $1 million to the Red Cross?
A: Of course it’s nice, but you don’t have to be in the movies to write a check like that.
Q: But that’s how you made your money.
A: I could have done the same thing with real estate.
Q: Are you that successful in real estate?
A: I used my early TV money to get started. I love restoration.
Q: Let’s change the subject to something I know you enjoy talking about — your personal life. I’m curious how you and Jesse got together?
A: And I’m so not going to tell you.
Q: Look, I’m not really interested in how you got together. I’m more curious about the two of you.
A: What I’m fascinated by is why people are so fascinated. You know what it comes down to?
A: Exactly. It’s all about appearance. I wish the sun would go out for a year — just in light, not in heat — and we’d be amazed at the friendships we’d strike up. When the light went back on, we’d go: “Oh, my God, that’s who I fell in love with?”
Q: You seem happy now.
A: But I was happy before I got married. Because of that happiness, I was fortunate to see something that I wouldn’t have seen before.
Q: So, it sounds as if it was a good decision to wait to get married?
A: I didn’t wait. Waiting means that I’m purposefully putting something off until something happens. I had the greatest life. I was doing exactly what I wanted. Marriage was not something that was in my sights. I don’t believe in that American adage that to be complete in life, you have to be married. Things in my life happen exactly when they’re supposed to happen.
Q: As for your new movie, let me ask you a stupid TV interview question.
A: Have I ever had a premonition?
Q: I take it you’ve heard the question before?
A: Sometimes you know what’s coming, and this one was a no-brainer.
Q: Do you have an answer?
A: I’ve answered it so many times that I have the answer down pat. I think human beings are born with extraordinary intuition, but it’s beaten out of men. Women get to hone it.
Q: And how is your women’s intuition?
A: I have what my friends call the “doom feeling.” I get a pit in my stomach and am overwhelmed by a sense of doom. I don’t know what’s going to happen specifically, but I know something bad is going to happen.
Q: If you’re ever standing in front of me as we’re boarding a plane, please tell me if you have one of those feelings.
A: I was in a plane wreck in Jackson Hole (Wyoming), and just before we crashed, I heard an inner voice say: “Pull the seat belt tighter.”
Q: What happened?
A: We missed the runway, which broke off the wings and the wheels. Because of the snow, we didn’t explode. There was no turbulence or warning, but I tightened my seat belt and I was OK.
Q: Whose voice was it?
A: It was Christmas of 2000, right after my mom died, and I’m convinced that it was my mother’s voice.
(Cue the scary music.)