Alfonso, can you talk about some of the challenges you faced when striking the right balance between the sound, visual design, the atmosphere and the storytelling?
Alfonso Cuarón: Well all of those are the tools for the same thing, to convey the emotional journey. I think that each one of those tools on their own, they are meaningless. They can be cool, but they don’t convey the emotions you want. The script was in many ways solid in terms of the structure. From the moment that we finished the first draft, pretty much nothing changed in terms of each one of the moments and the set pieces. What changed quite a lot was with the involvement of Sandra and George because suddenly it was the clarity of this emotional journey and how we were going to convey those emotions.
In many ways that was the big hanger on which all these other elements start to hang from. It was very strange because as technological as this film sounds, it was a big collaboration between artists in the end. Everyone was trying to make life easier for the other part, knowing that the essence of this was the emotional core that happened with the collaboration between the actors.
Steve Price (the composer) was collaborating with the sound designers, and they are usually always fighting in the mixing room because the composer wants the music to be heard and the sound designers want the sounds to be heard, but here they were working together on all of this stuff. But that started early on with the selections of moods and music that Sandra had in each one of the scenes when she was performing. It was a very holistic process in many ways.
Sandra, this had to be a very emotionally grueling role for you. Is there something that you learned about yourself that you have taken with you from this experience?
Sandra Bullock: Well I’m sure. I mean you never quite know what the change is until one day you wake up and go, “Wow! I’m reacting to things differently. I feel differently.” I have always said that the experience of meeting an artist that you are in awe of and hope to create with one day is usually disappointing because you put them up on a pedestal and then you’re like, “Wow, that’s not a nice person” (laughs). But the exact opposite was true in the meeting with Alfonso in that I got to meet a human being whose evolution as a human being is so bright. There was just the level of kindness and collaboration and I think the general sense of the unknown bonded everyone together on such a human level. If you have an experience that spoils you, it ruins it for a lot of other people and I can honestly say that that happened.
What was it like to be the only actor onscreen for most this movie?
Sandra Bullock:I never thought about that. I never thought about being the only person onscreen. You had this story, the elements that Jonás and Alfonso wrote. That technology was a constant character around you. I always went back to what was in their heads that I need to honor and help execute, so I never once thought that I’m the only person because there’s George who is a vital part of this film and who represents life and this outlook on living that, if you don’t have that, this film could not exist. So I never thought of it until I started doing press and now everybody’s freaking me out going, “How does it feel that this rests on your shoulders?” But I still don’t think about it because I feel like I’m third or fourth on the list of characters before the story, the emotional visuals, the sound and the experience of what they created.
What kind of research did you do for this role and did you ever talk to anyone at NASA?
Sandra Bullock: We had a lot of technicians around us that helped me literally with knowing where buttons were in the ships and what I would do. I was more concerned about body work and how it worked in zero g and there’s no one to ask because you have people explaining what happens and it just wasn’t registering. My brother-in-law was hanging out with a friend of his at this wine packaging place and the guy said his sister was an astronaut, and my brother-in-law said that my sister-in-law is getting ready to be an astronaut. So he got my number to Katie (Coleman) who was at the ISS (International Space Station) at the time, and she called and I was able to literally ask someone who was experiencing the things that I was trying to physically learn about how the body works and what do you do. What do I need to reteach my body physically to do that cannot happen on earth that we need to get the puppeteers and everyone together on the same page so that we think this way on earth? It’s just the oddest thing to reprogram your reactions. It was just a really coincidental, fortuitous thing that happened over wine that got me the final piece of information that I needed.
In your conversations with Katie Coleman, what fascinated you most about her job and the psychology of being an astronaut?
Sandra Bullock: We had only one phone conversation. Apparently they are not allowed to just accept calls whenever you feel like calling the ISS (laughs), and our work schedule was crazy so our connection was just like ships passing in the night. My character wasn’t an astronaut. My character wasn’t someone who wanted and aspired to be an astronaut. All those questions were for George and that was the research he had to do. My character was just someone who happened to be in a position where it was easier to train her to just execute this one mission and then go home. But I think what I did learn from them which was so beautiful, and which again applies to George, is just their emotional point of view on life; why they go up there to see how things operate in space so we all benefit from it when they get back.