The key to the success of Gravity lies in its two leads. Director Alfonso Cuaron knew he had his first star with George Clooney, but there was pressure to cast the second astronaut who gets stranded in space as a man. Cuaron balked, he wanted not only a woman… but specifically Sandra Bullock.
“I wanted the character to look almost androgynous in a way, because she had experienced such loss in life,” Cuaron said to Movie Fanatic at Comic-Con. “I wanted her to have a body of someone who didn’t want to remind herself of what she lost, almost like a robot. And that fits Sandra.”
The pressure was immense to cast a man, but Cuaron never wavered.
“When I finished the script, there were voices that were saying, ‘Well, we should change it to a male lead.’ Obviously they were not powerful enough voices, because we got away with it,” Cuaron said and smiled. “But the sad thing is that there is still that tendency.”
Bullock was not surprised that Hollywood executives had that opinion for a based-in-space thriller, teased so brilliantly in the Gravity trailer. “Making this character female was hugely brave. It's not that you're going, ‘Oh, here's a woman in space.’ It's just a person,” Bullock said at her first Comic-Con.
“But the situations, I think, will feel fresh in a way that you haven't experienced before. The elephant in the room is that roles for women haven’t been as vast and many as the men have. But I do feel that there is a definite shift that has happened. In the end it's about making money, and if studios see that a female can bring in audiences, they're going to make movies with that person, and hopefully that will become the norm.”
Bullock relished finally working with Clooney in Gravity, after knowing him well for decades.
“I’ve known George before the world knew handsome George and the same person he was then is the exact same person he is now. He’s the ultimate team worker,” Bullock said.
Given the brilliant list of co-stars Bullock has starred across, there have been many frogs, and few princes. “You never know when you’re dealing with someone who’s had the level of success that he has. But, all he cares about is, how can I help? You’re always grateful when you’re working with George because he wants everyone else to look better.”
Cuaron, best known for his work helming Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, welcomed an artist who is also an Oscar-winning actor and an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker. “He could have just done his job and left, but when he realized we were struggling, he offered to help. He even rewrote one scene,” he said. “He’s always looking out for everyone.”
As Clooney is notorious for pranks on set, were there any on Gravity? “There was a truce,” she said and laughed. “This film was so hard -- pranks had no place. We had no downtime. How are you going to prank someone who's hanging from a scaffolding where 12 wires are rigged up all day?”
Bullock, showing how serious she was for the picture, met with astronauts to ensure as perfect a characterization as possible, given the extreme nature of the film in terms of the danger of their job. “They were so excited about the vantage point that this film was taking -- which was the same that they have -- which is a great love for the program. That is because of what they get to see and admire about our planet and the universe around them,” Bullock said.
“It's such an organic love that they have. It's not just adventurers going up in pods and they just love the technology. They have a deep, deep love for our planet and civilization and what we're wasting. Those were the nice conversations to have that gave it an emotional gravity.”
Cuaron once dreamed of being an astronaut and that affinity is all over his film. But, having made Gravity… does he still feel that way? “I remember when I realized being an astronaut was not going to be an option, I remember I said, ‘Well, then I’m going to be a director of films of space,’” Cuaron said. “However, after having done Gravity, I will never do another film in space.”