One of the biggest threats to the best film nominees of next week’s Academy Awards, director Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” tells the heartfelt and powerful story of a mother (Sandra Bullock) who has to summon up enough strength to keep her grieving son (Thomas Horn) going when his beloved father and her adored husband (Tom Hanks) is killed the world trade center attacks on September 11.
Oscar Winner Sandra Bullock, back after a pregnant pause, was only too happy to chat up what she says was “the best” script she’d received since becoming a mother.
I recall you were the first artist to bring a movie to New York City after 9/11. Did it take a lot of convincing for you to do “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? Did doing this movie bring you any closure?
Yes, “Two Weeks Notice,” we came here after 9/11. And it was brilliant. Brilliant. I’m so glad we did.
Second, it was a no-brainer [to do “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”], in the sense that I’d always wanted to work with Stephen, especially after I saw “The Reader.” I was just completely blown away. And I didn’t necessarily want to work at that time that I was approached, but once Stephen came to me home and wouldn’t leave … No, he came to my home, and we talked about the character and what we thought she was and what she wasn’t, because in the book, I loved how she was basically just regarded as “mother.” She was not given a life, and I love that, because it was through the child’s point of view, and quite often we as children don’t appreciate our parents the way we should.
The way that the story was told through the eyes of Oskar — and Thomas, subsequently — allowed me and I think so many people to grieve the event. I don’t think that we, as adults, allow people to grieve. I think it’s so important. When they were explaining what it sounded like at that New York City screening, people needed to talk about it. They should be allowed to talk about it. Thomas has this great scene where he just talks and talks and talks about these events. And Mr. von Sydow as the Renter listens.
There will never be closure for me and so many people. I was there. I saw it. I saw the second plane.
I saw people helping people. And that, to me, is what resonates about the city of New York. I saw within a second the entire city come together and help each other in a way that they hadn’t the day before. Hadn’t thought about it, but they didn’t question it when it happens. So I have so many memories and emotions of it. Some, they still don’t register, because your mind doesn’t let you register why someone would do that!
So in a good way, I hope that vibrancy of what happened doesn’t ever leave me, because it made me aware of so many things I wasn’t aware of before. So no closure, but in a good way. And as long as everyone can talk about it and grieve, I think that’s what this story is: the allowance to talk about the events that have happened in your life that you should be able to grieve.
Where were you when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened?
I’m not going to advertise the hotel, but I had a full view of both towers.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is your first movie since you won an Oscar for “The Blind Side.” Had you been considering quitting acting?
I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was just so happy being a mom. I’m still happy being a mom. That just shifted and became my full priority. I was so good there, and still am very good there, but whatever next opportunity I was given had to be an amazing opportunity for myself and my son. So we had a great time. It was no longer “selfish actress having a moment.” I wanted to have an amazing time with him and myself. Fortunately, Mr. Daldry presented it. In every possible way, it was the best.
Let’s go back. What are your memories of the first time you explored New York?
My father was a teacher here. We’d go back and forth to D.C., and my mother sang opera here. So we were always on the trains coming to New York. My first memory was my mum took me to see “All That Jazz” on Broadway. And at that moment, I knew I wanted to be a dancer. Did I become a dancer? No. I’m a big girl. But one of my greatest passions when I saw “All That Jazz” and I saw the live performances, because all I had seen was opera. It’s always where we went. We had a tiny little studio apartment with a kitchen in the closet. You slept on floors in fold-out beds and couches. As Thomas said, there’s something for everybody. You never feel out-of-place in New York City. That’s a fact, unless you’re a really poorly dressed tourist, with the black socks and the sandals. I think for anyone, no one should wear polyester black socks and sandals. That should be outlawed, nor just in New York City, but everywhere.
The movie allows men to grieve but..
…I don’t think we allow that in life or on film. And I think, again, it goes back to what this story is about: honoring people’s grief and allowing them to have it. “Honoring it,” is I think a good way to say it, because it’s something that is part of who we are as human beings. Even animals get it, but we get on such a profound, vocal, articulate level. We’re given that gift, and yet it’s completely squelched, especially for men, and I think it’s so unfair. We women are expected to drop and grieve, but I loved what it showed: the two generations in pain and showed that and how they healed each other by listening and talking. Like he said, he communicated, and through that there was healing. And it’s such a beautiful part of this story the way Eric wrote it and the way Jonathan wrote the book and the way Stephen [directed it]. It’s cathartic, I think.
Can you talk about working with Thomas Horn, who plays your son?
I’ve played mums before, but they’d always been in a lighter context, something that was very sparkly and “she’s the perfect mom” and “everything’s OK.” There’s conflict, but not depth like this. As an actor and as someone who needed to love him in that way and be frustrated by him was so easy. It helped me do my job. And it helped me be frustrated and angry and hurt. And I just loved building a relationship and character with Thomas. And I said, “Wow, I’m doing this with someone who’s not even a teenager yet.” And his depth and his level and his commitment [were] just exciting— because you worry. They say don’t work with dogs and children. I always seem to work with dogs and children. But I love it. And I loved this experience with him. And it made me a better actor playing opposite him. Truly.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” commences next Thursday