While Sandra Bullock would eventually fall in love with Bird Box—a Netflix horror-thriller based on a novel by Josh Malerman and directed by Susanne Bier—the Oscar winner had quite a different reaction to the material in her first interaction with it some years ago.
“I thought it was intriguing, but there was something about it that didn’t click,” she told Deadline’s Pete Hammond during the Netflix film’s panel at Deadline’s The Contenders award-season event Saturday at the DGA Theater. “I don’t relate to someone who doesn’t want to be a mother; I don’t relate to someone who isn’t warm and can’t love freely. Then I read it a few years ago and it hit me in a way that I can’t explain.”
Directed by Bier from Eric Heisserer’s script, Bird Box follows Malorie (Bullock), a woman who joins a pair of children in making her way through a dystopian setting along a river—all while blindfolded. In this post-apocalyptic world, to take the blindfolds off would be to risk insanity and even death.
Interestingly, what was initially so distancing about Malorie for the film’s star—her cold indifference to the children in front of her—became the part of the character that drew her in later on. Reluctant to be a mother, it’s Malorie’s self-centered approach to survival that offers a starting point for the character to transform.
“To have someone who’s that cut off then be forced to be the sole caretaker of human beings that she didn’t want to begin with, what does that bring out of you—and what is family?” the actress posed, appearing onstage along with Bier and co-star Trevante Rhodes. “I think that’s the beauty of this. It shows you that family is who shows up and risks themselves to make sure the people they love are OK. “
A film using the senses for its own cinematic devices, Bier’s latest has naturally elicited comparisons to A Quiet Place—another film represented at The Contenders LA today. In John Krasinski’s thriller, it’s sound that will do you in; in Bird Box, it’s a different sense altogether.
Was Bier aware of A Quiet Place, and the connections that would be drawn? “Yes, of course I was aware of it,” she said, stressing that in truth, these two films couldn’t be more different.
“I really enjoyed A Quiet Place. [But] I want to say there’s a part of me that feels that the comparison actually has much more to do with having two female leads in a world where there are very few female leads,” the director said. “There are themes of motherhood, themes that are distinctly feminine, and therefore those movies tend to get put in the same category.”
Like Bullock, Bier was compelled by the story’s presentation of motherhood, its attention to unconventional families, as well as its unique cinematic resonance.
“What attracted me was that image of a woman blindfolded in a very hostile environment, having to protect two kids. I thought that was such a strong, intriguing, weird image—and actually, Sandra playing that woman and navigating that hostile landscape just confirmed at every point the strikingness of that image,” the director said.
Joked Bullock, “It made her very happy when I was blindfolded, running into the camera.” Funny but true—the actress filmed most of the project blindfolded, learning to act without the gift of sight, with the help of a specialist. “I asked him what is it that the [blind] community wants from this film,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I want people to see what we’re capable of. It’s a lot more than what’s been shown on screen.’”
Joining Bullock and Rhodes in Bird Box’s stellar ensemble are Sarah Paulson, Rosa Salazar, BD Wong, John Malkovich, Machine Gun Kelly, Tom Hollander, David Dastmalchian, Danielle Macdonald, Jacki Weaver and Lil Rel Howery. Produced by Chris Morgan, Dylan Clark and Clayton Townsend, the film premieres at AFI Fest on November 12, hitting theaters on December 14, and arriving on Netflix shortly thereafter.