Sandra Bullock: We need to change film's fairytale idea of what motherhood looks like
Sandra Bullock plays a mum fighting for her family's survival in new thriller Bird Box. She tells Laura Harding why there's a need to change the way mothers are depicted in cinema, why she seeks darker challenges after comedy roles and whether there'll be another Miss Congeniality film
THERE have been plenty of mothers depicted in film – good mothers, bad mothers, evil, tragic and heroic alike.
From Sarah Connor in Terminator and Wendy Torrance in The Shining to Margaret White in Carrie and Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, we have seen endless mums on the big screen over the years.
But Sandra Bullock, herself a mother-of-two, is adamant that we rarely see the full complications that come with raising children.
She hopes to change that with her new film, Bird Box, in which she plays Malorie, who is desperate to save her two children when a mysterious force starts wiping out the world's population.
"Before I made this film, I knew the way motherhood has been represented on film needed to not just change," she says, "but it needed to expand, because the complexities of being a mum have not been fully represented cinematically.
"And Malorie is someone who is not a natural parent, or at least you think so. This is not someone who has a natural inclination to be a mum, not the desire, the drive, or the want.
"And you might think, 'This is not a good representation of a mother'. But then you go, 'Is it really not?' Because she fights. She is using everything she knows and understands to save these little creatures' lives. Her fear is driving her."
And Bullock (54) knows something about fighting for her children. She adopted son Louis, now eight, from New Orleans in Louisiana in 2010, and in 2015 daughter Laila, now six, joined her family.
With both adoptions, she had to keep the process under wraps until the process was finalised, and only announced Louis's arrival four months after he was born.
"I have learned that we need to start showing women in a more complex fashion when it comes to motherhood," she says. "The same as we need to show men in a more complex fashion when it comes to those who are incredibly paternal and who are very demonstrative and loving and hopeful with their kids.
"It's happening all over the world but we are just not seeing enough of it on film."
In the movie, Malorie is heavily pregnant when the mysterious force – which prompts anyone who sees it to take their own life – takes hold.
Taking refuge in a stranger's house with boarded-up windows, alongside John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Trevante Rhodes and BD Wong, she is almost in denial about her impending motherhood.
"It was more uncomfortable for me to play Malorie in her flashbacks, when she is pregnant, when she is sort of disconnected from the idea of being a mum. I felt hopeless. I felt weak in a way and I kept on saying to Trevante, 'I don't like playing this. It makes me feel really uncomfortable.'
"But we have got to stop thinking about this fairytale idea of what a family looks like, what a partnership looks like, what a mother looks like, what a father looks like.
"That's what I loved so much about this. It was just people being there for each other, loving each other at the worst of times.
"Where they came from, what they look like or what their past was had no bearing on their current situation."
When the film reverts to the present day, Malorie is forced to take her two children down a treacherous river in a small boat, while wearing blindfolds to avoid seeing the dangerous entity, to the one place left that may offer sanctuary.
"I feel like there are two films in one here," Bullock says, "and both have these different aspects that need each other. People hear a thriller or a horror genre and they want to go see it, they want to go on that ride.
"Then there are those people who love those smaller, complex, more intimate storytelling moments. This story, this film, needs both those things to exist.
"So an audience that would normally not go to horror films will have a journey that they didn't expect, and vice versa."
The role was a particularly dark one for Bullock, who won an Oscar for her role in the uplifting film The Blind Side the same year she adopted Louis and has starred in comedies such as Miss Congeniality, The Proposal and The Heat.
It also comes hot on the heels on her star turn in this year's Ocean's 8, in which she plays the criminal sister of George Clooney's character from the Ocean's Eleven films.
Was such a hard pivot a challenge?
"Oh God, yes," she says. "But you want those. Most actors will tell you they want to do exactly the opposite of what they are doing just then. When I do something heavy like Bird Box I want to do a comedy, and when I'm doing comedy I look for something darker, more complex. I'm lucky in that get to balance it. I get to do the two of them.
"Sometimes you don't get to do them and you're struggling and wishing and hoping. I'm lucky to exorcise all my demons and my complexities and my fears on one hand and then do something fun and collaborative with a big ensemble that's more of a tent-pole popcorn film on the other.
"It's a pretty incredible luxury that I've been given."
Does that mean there might even be another Miss Congeniality film on the horizon?
"Oh, I love me some Miss Congeniality, definitely. I want to find that comedy, it just has to be a different kind of comedy. I have already done the Miss Congeniality thing, but you do want to go to a world where you can make people laugh and enjoy another kind of ride. I'm definitely looking for that."
:: Bird Box is in cinemas and streaming on Netflix now.