Giving new meaning to the term America's Sweetheart, Sandra Bullock won over scores of filmgoers and critics with her wholesome, exuberant portrayals of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. Since her breakthrough role as Speed's unwitting heroine, Bullock has enjoyed the type of popularity that was in the past reserved for actresses along the lines of Mary Pickford or Shirley Temple.
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Born in Washington, D.C., on July 26, 1964, Bullock was the elder daughter of a vocal coach dad and an opera singer mom. Touring through Europe with her mother, Bullock was given her first taste of show business while still a child. Back in the States, she attended high school in Virginia and was a popular cheerleader, whose classmates dubbed her the person Most Likely to Brighten Your Day. After a stint at East Carolina University, Bullock took her sunny nature to New York, where she began concentrating on an acting career. After tending bar and studying her craft with dramatician Sanford Meisner, she got her start with a number of stage productions. It was for one of these productions, the off-Broadway No Time Flat, that Bullock received a rave review for her portrayal of a Southern belle, the strength of which was enough to land her an agent.
Television work followed, with a small role in the 1989 Bionic Showdown: The Six-Million-Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman and, after her migration to Los Angeles, Melanie Griffith's role in the short-lived television version of Working Girl. Miraculously surviving the widespread career fallout that surrounded her first starring film role in Love Potion No. 9 (1992), the actress went on the following year to star in the similarly ill-fated The Thing Called Love. However, things began to look up the same year when the struggling actress became the last-minute replacement for Lori Petty in the Sylvester Stallone action flick Demolition Man. Though her role was essentially limited to intermittent saliva exchanges with Stallone, her performance won the attention of the film's producer, Joel Silver, who in turn recommended her to Jan de Bont. De Bont, then in the process of casting his upcoming bus-with-a-bomb action film, chose the struggling actress for the part of Annie, the film's reluctant heroine. In casting Bullock against Keanu Reeves, de Bont reportedly came up against considerable resistance from studio executives, who wanted someone blonde and buxom for the part. The director persevered and, in 1994, Bullock took her place in movie history as part of Speed, one of the most successful action films ever made.
The film propelled the actress to stardom, surprising no one more than Bullock herself, who later remarked, "never in a million years did I think a bus movie would open every door I ever possibly wanted open."
Doors now wide open, Bullock next starred in the 1995 romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. The film was a critical and commercial hit, and the actress followed it up with a screen adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill, co-starring Ashley Judd and Matthew McConaughey. The success of that film was the last that Bullock would enjoy for a while, as she then entered something of a sophomore slump with disappointments such as In Love and War (1996), Two If By Sea (1996), and, perhaps most excruciating, Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997). Fortunately for Bullock, her audiences seemed to be inclined to forgive and forget, and she had a modest rebound with the following year's Hope Floats, which also happened to be the first project of the production company she founded, Fortis Films. The same year, Bullock also starred in another romantic comedy, Practical Magic, opposite Nicole Kidman. The film provided another modest success for Bullock, who, back in the saddle again, proceeded to do yet another romantic comedy, this time starring with Ben Affleck in Forces of Nature (1999). Although the film proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment, Bullock was back on the radar with a number of projects in 2000, including the critically disembowelled comedy Gun Shy and 28 Days, a comedy that starred the actress as a newspaper columnist forced to enter rehab after her drinking problem assumes uncontrollable proportions. Following her role in Miss Congeniality (2000) as an FBI agent forced to go undercover in the Miss U.S.A. beauty pagent in order to prevent a bombing, Bullock faced off against a more low-key menace in the thriller Murder By Numbers (2002) before returning to lighthearted drama with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (also 2002). Her status as the reigning queen of the chick flick permanantly established, Bullock next teamed with Hugh Grant for the amiable romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice before taking a two year furlough from the big screen - during which time she would assume the duty of executive producer for the George Lopez show in addition to turning in the occasional guest appearance.
In 2005, Bullock found herself at the center of Oscar talk when she essayed the role of the racist wife of a prominant district attorney in Paul Haggis' critically acclaimed drama Crash. An unflinching look at racism in the multicultural melting pot of Los Angeles, Crash defied expectations to take home best editing, best screenplay, and best motion picture at the 77th Annual Academy Awards. That same year, a return to her role as bumbling undercover FBI agent Gracie Heart in Miss Congeniality 2 found Bullock returning to familiar lighthearted territory, although the sequel performed far more poorly than the first film. With her role as a lovelorn doctor who discovers a curious rift in time in 2006's romantic fantasy The Lake House (a remake of the 2000 South Korean film Siworae), the actress marked a graceful return to swooning, romantic pictures, not to mention a reteaming with her Speed man Keanu Reeves. Determined to remain firmly planted in serious acting, Bullock singed on to play author Harper Lee in the movie Infamous which, because of its unfortunate timing, was swallowed by comparisons to the film Capote, and went largely unnoticed. Undaunted, Bullock singed on for the supernatural thriller Premonition, about a woman who experiences shifts in the events of the universe and must use the visions to prevent her husband's death.
2009 turned out to be one of the popular actresses most memorable years. In addition to producing and playing the lead in the smash hit romantic comedy The Proposal, Bullock earned the best reviews of her career as a protective mother helping raise a struggling high-school football player in The Blind Side. For her work in that movie, Bullock won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actress, not to mention the Oscar for Best Leading Actress. Fresh off her win, Bullock next took on another dramatic film, the post-9/11 drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. She starred in 2013's Gravity, opposite George Clooney, earning herself a second Oscar nomination. In 2015, she starred in, and produced, Our Brand Is Crisis.
~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi