At the age of 26, Sandra Bullock has Hollywood at her feet. A minute ago she had Orchid Street at her feet, but then she sidestepped a guy wearing a satellite dish on his head, and now she is perched on the curb of Hollywood Boulevard, with Joan Collins' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame stuck to the bottom of her planted shoe like a piece of chewing gum.
"Hi, I'm Sandy," she says, greeting a flock of tourists who pass her by with video cameras at half-mast, struggling to place the face. "Welcome to Hollywood." Over her head is the giant marquee of Mann's Chinese Theatre, where one of the featured attractions this day is "Demolition Man," her fall blockbuster star-turn with Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes. Playing a perky 21st-Century policewoman, she manages to turn scenes of dry exposition--explaining the future to Stallone--into screwball comedy.
Bullock is preparing herself for the moment later in the day when she will share a screen kiss with co-star Keanu Reeves in the action thriller "Speed," which she has been shooting since early September. She is determined to look good for her close-up.
"When it gets right down to it, I'm as shallow as anybody else," Bullock says, her long, slender face parted with a devastating smile. "My day depends on how well my hair is working out." She is the sort of person who thanks you for laughing at her jokes, though to do otherwise would seem rude because she is so clearly enjoying herself.
Bullock, a believer in Method acting, brings a strict discipline learned under acting coach Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York to such emotionally charged scenes. "Sandy taught me to have real respect for the other actor," Bullock says. "It's not good to make their eyes water when you're doing a love scene. They kept a case of Binaca on the set of 'Demolition Man' at all times," she says, "and a lot more people got killed than kissed on that picture."
She also breathed some much-needed life into Peter Bogdanovich's "The Thing Called Love," although apparently not enough to persuade Paramount to release it nationally. And though she plays the relatively minor role of a good-hearted waitress in Warner Bros.' "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway," due Dec. 17, the part provided her an opportunity to work with Oscar winner Robert Duvall and Oscar nominee Richard Harris.
"Maybe I should have pumped them for acting tips," she says, "but I'm so stubborn about doing things my own way. I don't want to look back and think I did something because somebody else told me to."
Bullock replaced Lori Petty as Stallone's comic foil in "Demolition Man," which would have been a daunting role even if Stallone were well known for his sense of humor. "So I was a little scared," she recalls. "Then I went in the first day and met Sly and he had golf tees up his nose." The same day she was called upon to simulate orgasm with Stallone, though plot-driven advances in the technology of lovemaking--or possibly the golf tees--kept her at arm's length from her co-star.
In "Speed," which is due next summer, Bullock's tormentor is played by Dennis Hopper, dark prince of all that is edgy and outre-the-top in Hollywood. "I want to be like Dennis," Bullock says. "But I can't, so I hang around people like that and kind of stick my toe in the water occasionally. This is the only profession that commends you for being a dark, wild person."
Bullock was born in Germany and lived there until she was a teen-ager, when the family moved to Washington. Her mother was a slightly starchy German opera singer and her father a vocal coach from Alabama. It made for a sort of Bubba uber alles upbringing that left her understandably confused. "My parents kept an incredibly tight rein on me," Bullock says. "People kept telling my mother that I was the devil's child because I would never listen."
When Bullock was cast as an aspiring country singer named LindaLu in Bogdanovich's "The Thing Called Love," she surreptitiously recorded the phone conversations of her father's relatives so she could play a pealing Southern belle. Bogdanovich insisted that Bullock could play the part, over the objection of Paramount executives, who had a specific, and blond, actress in mind. "Peter fought for me, even though I was nobody to fight for and he didn't even know me."
Bullock also wrote, in the space of about 15 minutes, a song called "Heaven Knocked on My Door" for the film. "It was supposed to be a metaphorically bad song, and they were paying talented songwriters all this money to do it," she says. "I told them if they wanted a bad song, they could pay me and I'd write them a terrible song." She learned some guitar chords, also badly, and then sang the song, not very well.
But lousy is one of the few things Bullock doesn't play very convincingly. Invisible is another. Right now she is standing on the corner of Hollywood and Orchid, staring at Hopper's black Mercedes as it rolls slowly up the boulevard in her direction. When Hopper emerges, he is wearing a black shirt, black pants, a black jacket and dark glasses. "Here comes Dennis!" Bullock squeals. "Look at him. He's so Hollywood."
Hopper strides toward her, then passes by without a word, not even a glimmer of recognition. Bullock's eyes have opened wide. "Oh God, he's so intimidated by me!" she says. "Did you see that? He can't even look at me, poor thing. It's sad, really." And it's only beginning.