Enthused by her course-work and desperate to begin the real business of acting, she decided to try her luck in New York and, packing her gear and her dog into her Honda Accord, she left Greenville three credits short of a degree. Accepted at the Sanford Meisner's renowned Neighbourhood Playhouse, studying under Meisner himself, she'd support herself with bar-work at a rough-house "crack den" on 43rd and Broadway (a job she obtained by falsely claiming she had plenty of experience).
Name: Sandra Bullock
26 July 1964 (Age: 49)
Where: Arlington, Virginia, USA
Height: 5' 7"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar and 1 Golden Globe
Strangely, for someone whose screen persona is usually so open and simple, it's difficult to accurately describe Sandra Bullock. Sure, she's often feted for her Meg Ryan-like girl-next-door appeal. But then, like Julia Roberts, she's also an unconventional beauty and talented comedienne. And let's not forget that her breakthrough came when she stole the show in an all-out action movie. On top of this, though deservedly famous for an irrepressibly bubbling personality, she was a student of The Method under Sanford Meisner and started off (to rave reviews) on the New York stage. Hard to pin down, is Sandra. Harder still when you know her unusually exotic background.
She was born Sandra Annette Bullock on the 26th of July, 1964, in Arlington, Virginia. Her mother, Helga, the daughter of a German rocket scientist, initially studied to be an opera singer in Nuremberg. To support her studies, she worked as a clerk, one day being called to the town's Palace of Justice (where the notorious post-WW2 trials took place). Here she was to takes letters for the new head honcho, one John Bullock. Bullock, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, was a Juilliard scholar who'd joined the Army as a runner and risen to become the boss of the military Postal Exchange for the whole of Europe.
To begin with, there was no romance between the pair. But over a three year period, with John singing at recitals (he was also a part-time voice coach), and Helga gaining renown as a dramatic soprano, they grew close and, while still in Germany, were married. John's organisational talents drew him into the Army Material Command and it was due to this work that he'd eventually become a contractor for the Pentagon, moving to Arlington and also buying a mountain property just north-west of Charlottesville. The family grew - three years after Sandra came another daughter, Gesine.
Right from the start, Sandra was a wilful and contrary child. She now recalls an incident when, at age three, with the family moving into a new home, she was directly instructed not to touch a light-bulb lying there. Her response was to karate-chop it and slice her hand horribly. It would not be the last physical injury she'd suffer as a youngster.
For an all-American girl-next-door, Sandra's formative years were thoroughly inappropriate. Much of her time was spent in Salzburg and in Nuremberg, where she lived with her aunt and grandma, attending a local school (she's fluent in German) and studying English with a tutor in the afternoons. During the opera season, she'd attend her mother's performances, sometimes appearing herself as the ubiquitous "gypsy child", or singing in the children's chorus. Also studying ballet, she quickly proved herself to be a natural performer.
At age 10, she was brought back to Arlington and attended the town's Washington-Lee High School, alma mater of both Shirley MacLaine and her younger brother Warren Beatty. She immediately had a hard time. Coming from Europe, she was different. "I was still in green velvet bell-bottoms," she explained later "when everyone else was wearing straight legs. I always had these stupid barrettes holding my hair back. I was just a couple of beats off". Of course, she was teased, and teased some more for her - if you can believe it - ugliness. Indeed, so badly hurt was she by the abuse that she vowed to never treat anyone that way. She kept it, too, her reputation for down-to-Earth decency being unparalleled in Hollywood.
There was another lesson learned, in far more dramatic circumstances. One day, out on the property near Charlottesville, sitting in the same bulldozer where, when she was 10, he gave Sandra her first beer, and close to the creek she fell into and received the scar she still carries over her right eye, John's knee slipped and hit the gear-shift. He tumbled from the 'dozer and rolled downhill, closely followed by the giant machine which ran over him, breaking his legs and several vertebrae and near-severing his left arm. For 24 hours he lay there, doing vocal exercises and yelling for help in order to keep his blood circulating, until he was discovered by a group of his students.
In hospital, he was told that his legs would have to be amputated. In fact, they weren't. After a year's tough rehabilitation, interrupted by a cardiac arrest, he was walking again. But young Sandra was marked by this near-catastrophe, becoming very protective of her family. Though Helga would die in 2000, John would remain as Sandra's semi-manager, while Gesine, who'd study to be a lawyer, would, like John, be Vice President of Sandra's production company, Fortis.
As time passed, and her body changed, Sandra's high school career became more enjoyable. She became a cheerleader and excelled at drama, though not without a fight. With her drama teacher, Mrs Filpi, she conducted a fraught relationship, often ignoring her coach and following her own path. Graduating in 1982, she'd be named Class Clown. It was also said later that she was voted Most Likely To Brighten Your Day but, as this was not the case, that was most likely just an effort to package her as everyone's favourite girl-next-door.
From Washington-Lee, Sandra moved on to East Carolina University at Greenville, majoring in Drama and supporting herself by competing successfully in dance competitions. Taught by Don Biehn, a former pupil of Sanford Meisner, who'd recall her as being absolutely fearless onstage, keen to hit emotional highs in every moment of every scene, she'd learn the Meisner Technique and stand out amongst her peers, particularly in a Biehn-directed college production of Three Sisters.
Attending many an audition, she made her screen debut in the ultra-violent Hangmen, concerning feisty veterans battling with a renegade terror team within the CIA. But her first real break came the following year, 1988, with an off-Broadway performance as a sassy Southern belle in No Time Flat. For this, though the play itself was panned, she received a review glowing enough to secure her an agent. TV came immediately. First there was an appearance in the short-lived sit-com Starting From Scratch, starring Bill Dailly and Connie Stevens and boasting the tag-line "The more she gets to him, the funnier it is for you".
Next came her first major role, and an introduction to action flicks, with Bionic Showdown. This, as you may have guessed, involved Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin uniting with Bionic Woman Jaimie Somers and some young bionic friends to track down a bionic spy. Sandra made a real go of it as a bionic girl, sending adolescent pulses racing when track-running in a leotard.
This was a fairly busy time for Sandra. 1989 also brought a small part in The Preppie Murder, the true life tale of the murder of Jennifer Levin in Central Park, where cop Danny Aiello tracked down bad boy graduate William Baldwin. Then there was Who Shot Patakango?, a story of racial tensions and teens coming of age in '50s Brooklyn. And then there was Religion Inc, where Sandra played the sceptical girlfriend of an ad-man who promotes a new cult based on greed.
It was looking good - great, actually - as 1990 brought her first starring role, in the TV series Working Girl, based on the Melanie Griffith movie. Here Sandra, replacing TV vet Nancy McKeon, took Griffith's role as Tess McGill, an ambitious secretary who gets into terrible scrapes while trying to bluff her way to the top. Sadly, the show didn't last, Sandra later describing it as her "quickest flop". Her next role would not be so juicy. Jackie Collins' Chances and Lucky were turned into a miniseries following Gino Santangelo's building of a casino empire in Las Vegas, and the efforts of his daughter Lucky (played by Nicolette Sheridan) to keep it going. Miniseries queen Stephanie Beacham was part of the family, too, with Sandra appearing briefly as Maria, wife of Gino and Lucky's mother.
1990 also brought the first great love of her life, when she began filming Love Potion #9. Here Tate Donovan played a geeky biochemist who's a flop with the ladies till gypsy Anne Bancroft presents him with, yes, a love potion. Sharing it with his dumpy research scientist buddy (Sandra), the pair engage in a "scientific evaluation" of the formula. The movie would not be released for two years, and would then flop.
On-set, Sandra fell for Donovan, to the surprise of the crew. Believing her to be genuinely sweet and a genuine actress, they were shocked when she went for a guy who was "more interested in his close-ups". Nevertheless, she followed Donovan to Los Angeles and stayed with him for over three years. "The person who needed me most was always the person I was attracted to," she later explained. "My priorities were him first, me second".
In Los Angeles, work came slowly, Sandra being forced to take odd jobs to get by (she is, in fact, very handy around a bit of DIY). Eventually, though, some small parts did come. There was Who Do I Gotta Kill?, where a writer, obsessed with conspiracy theories, loses his agent, then his girlfriend (Sandra, who dumps him during sex because he can't think of a reason she should stay with him),and finally ends up working for the Mob. Then there was When The Party's Over, a drama concerning friendship, sex and success in the Nineties. Here Sandra played a young painter who shares a house with two girls and a gay fellow. All is well till infidelity invites terminal jealousy.
By 1993, things were rapidly changing. Sandra won a short but vital role in a remake of The Vanishing, where she played a girl whose kidnapping by psycho Jeff Bridges provokes boyfriend Keifer Sutherland into years of painful searching. Then there were two roles she won in an incredible two hour period. In Peter Bogdanovich's The Thing Called Love she was wannabe country singer Linda Lue Linden, seeking fame in Nashville along with Samantha Mathis, Dermot Mulroney and River Phoenix. For her part, she would write and perform the song Heaven Knocking On The Door. More problematically, she'd also break her nose (something she'd also done years earlier when Gesine accidentally elbowed her when opening the garage door). For a week, she'd be filmed only from the back and side.
Things were worse with poor River Phoenix, though. Now with drug trouble he was fading fast, and this would be his final completed film before his death outside LA's Viper Rooms. His girlfriend, Mathis, would naturally be devastated and Sandra would comfort her, the pair becoming fast friends.
The other part was in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, a tale of fading machismo and undying dreams of love and happiness, where Robert Duvall and Richard Harris played two lonely oldsters in a Florida retirement home, struggling with the passing of time. Sandra played a waitress who lets the shy Duvall flirt with her. Also involved was fellow Washington-Lee alumnus, Shirley MacLaine.
1993 also saw the release of another, lesser picture - the Roger Corman-produced Fire On The Amazon - where she was involved with activists and Indians, fighting deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Deeply unhappy with sex scenes, Sandra was called upon to make out with co-star Craig Sheffer. He'd later reveal that, in order to get through the scene, they drank tequila, Sandra occasionally going outside to vomit, before returning to the shoot. Sandra was particularly reluctant to appear nude onscreen. In fact, she made the production company sign a contract stating which parts of her could not be shown, and even stuck duct tape over her nipples to ensure they would not be seen. Eventually, she would attempt to block the film's release - though this was perhaps an effort at quality control.
But that year did bring a far happier (and more important) experience. An executive at Warner Brothers had noted her efforts in The Vanishing and recommended her to producer Joel Silver, then desperately seeking an actress to step into Demolition Man - Lori Petty having been discharged after just a few days. So, suddenly Sandra was there next to Sylvester Stallone, playing his new partner once he's been brought out of cryo-freeze to battle his former nemesis, arch-villain Wesley Snipes. Also involved were Benjamin Bratt, as a fellow cop, and MTV comic Denis Leary. Later, Leary would reveal that, though he didn't know Sandra, one day she knocked on his trailer door to say there were some guys in her trailer who'd really like to meet him. On arrival, he found that it was Motley Crue. Sandra, having no idea who they were, was busy making them peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches.
Though essentially a special effects super-blast, Demolition Man did reveal Sandra's own comedic talents. And vitally her performance so impressed Silver that he in turn recommended her to director Jan De Bont, then casting for his debut feature, to be called Speed. Here maverick cop Keanu Reeves had to save a bus-load of innocents from Dennis Hopper, a criminal maniac who's put a bomb onboard, a bomb that will blow if the bus drops below 50mph - and Sandra's driving. Everyone told Sandra not to do it, she'd just be "the girl". The producers were most unhappy with an unknown in the part, especially an unknown who wasn't blonde with big breasts, but Jan De Bont insisted. The result was a searing mega-hit. Sandra was made.
Joel Schumacher was now very keen to get Sandra involved in his Batman Forever, but she'd already signed up for her first lead role, in While You Were Sleeping, Demi Moore having dropped out after a dispute over her fee. It wasn't going to be easy. The role called for relentless good humour, and Sandra was badly damaged by a split with Tate Donovan (who'd himself later be dumped by Jennifer Aniston). Still, she pushed herself and it came off. In the movie, she played a ticket seller on the Chicago tube who falls for a commuter (Peter Gallagher) she sees every day.