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17 Feb. 2014

Countdown to Oscars 2014


Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock


Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel Ejiofor

We are less than two weeks away–countdown to Oscars 2014, airing Sunday, March 2 on ABC 7p EST/4p PST, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. Congratulations and best wishes to nominees Sandra Bullock (Best Actress “Gravity”), Judi Dench (Best Actress “Philomena”), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Best Actor “12 Years A Slave”), Richard Linklater (Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, “Before Midnight”), Steve McQueen (Best Director, “12 Years A Slave”), Lupita Nyong’o (Best Supporting Actress, “12 Years A Slave”) and the entire class of the 86th Academy Awards.


“GRAVITY” excerpt (from archives)

Oscar winner Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, Crash) can have anything she wants on earth so why not go for the proverbial grail on a new frontier, another dimension.  Among the highest paid female actors on the planet, the congenial, Virginia-born divorced mother stars alongside Hollywood hottie George Clooney in the dramatic, surrealistic, science-based new film, GRAVITY from director Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). 

The 49-year-old Bullock looks amazing in the physically challenging role as Astronaut Ryan Stone, a scientist with a brilliant and accomplished career, off on her first National Aeronautics and Space Administration aka NASA mission.  Dr. Stone’s acumen and training are put to the test; her neophyte status as a space miner puts her at risk.

The film is visually stunning, the plot line compelling.  Paced with well-timed humor from Clooney’s depiction of Astronaut Matt Kowaiski, viewers can commit to their extraordinary journey for the sake of science exploration; likewise, popcorn lovers may find themselves on the edge of their seats at the duo’s unexpected struggles in outer space.

Bullock and filmmaker Cuarón discussed GRAVITY during press interviews in Los Angeles–

Your character is in space throughout the film. Though simulated, the force and pull of gravity, how does one prepare mentally and physically? What does it feel like? Describe the experience in making this film…

Sandra Bullock: Well, if there had been a green screen, it would have been nice; there was just blackness or bright white lights or metallic objects.  Basically, Alfonso said, ‘you had to retrain your body from the neck down to react and move as though it’s in zero gravity without the benefit of zero gravity moving your body.’ Everything your body reacts to on the ground – push or pull — is completely different than it is in zero gravity.  To make that transition seem second nature took training; weeks of repetition and syncing with Alfonso’s camera, the mechanics and the mathematics of it all, then separating that method from your thinking.

Within your head you had to connect with feelings and tell the emotional story; there were various contraptions that existed on the sound stages that you made ‘your friends’ as quickly and as physically as you could.  If you didn’t, they were so confusing and complex you had to figure out how to communicate in a language that you’re not understanding, one that didn’t make sense with my rhythms.  Rhythmically, it was a collaborative experience.

From a dancer’s perspective this is just core strength,  making sure you weren’t going to hurt your body, knowing you have to be very agile to maintain your body given the load it’s bearing, that load being your own body weight for long hours of time. Yes, there were tweaks to this process.

Once I saw the completed film, just watching yourself, hating yourself and picking your performance apart… actually, there was no time to pick apart one’s performance. You were inundated with the extreme beauty and emotion that Alfonso created, visually.

I hate to describe this in technology terms because it sounds as if you’re talking about an inanimate object.  When you go into projects such as this one, technology is heavy; this film was turned into such an emotional and visceral physical experience, I don’t know how they did it. Particularly with sound and effects, you found yourself affected in ways that might not have been affected; I think George and I had the same reaction to the process.


12 Years A Slave excerpt from & Café Mocha Radio Syndicate

You may never be the same after seeing the new movie, 12 Years A Slave, based on a true story about a free black man, Solomon Northup, tricked into slavery in the 1800’s. 

Yes, the story is overwhelming but the bravery and tenacity displayed by Northup delivered via an amazing portrayal by Chiwetel Ejiofor ushered in the pride of heritage to be born black, capable, accomplished and proud in America.  I left the film feeling more determined and focused, refusing to live beneath the privilege that my ancestors fought and died for.

During this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival, I sat with the 36-year-old British born Chiwetel Ejiofor at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. His film credits are nothing short of praiseworthy, among them: Endgame, Redbelt, American Gangster, Inside Man, Kinky Boots, Talk To Me, Amistad, Children of Men, Dirty Pretty Things, Starz Network’s Dancing on the Edge

Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: Congratulations on what is one of your masterful performances. This is an all-encompassing role; were you able to switch gears easily and get back into a normal routine?

Chiwetel: It took me some time. I remember finishing the film and trying to come back to myself because we did go deep down the rabbit hole, we had to, and that was the nature of doing this film. Then it was sort of strange to adjust back to the real world, to sit in Starbuck’s or whatever and read the paper, having come out of an experience like that. I could only equate it to people who go out into extreme situations for a while then come back to normal life and have to readjust. 

It took me a couple of months before I started to feel like I could go out and really see people without them thinking that I was completely crazy.  I actually did that in New York.  I managed to spend a couple of months in New York, I used to live there about eight years ago and still have friends so if I needed to go and see anybody to socialize a little bit I could do that.  I could also take a lot of time to myself.  I did feel that if I had gone straight back to London on the last day of shooting or straight back to L.A., it would have just been too surreal a jump.

 But it’s a part, a character in a story that I think is going to live with me forever– a character that has become part of your life and the way you think about the world.  What Solomon experienced is an experience that has both breadth and depth; there seems to be a number of different ways you can think about it and it still leads you into these other extraordinary avenues of what that experience must have been.

Talk2SV: I’ve thought long and possibly hard about this assertion, given British-born actors such as you, Idris Elba (BBC’s Luther), David Oyelowo (The Butler) and others who did not have the same trajectory as blacks born in America with predecessors who track back to slavery, as we know it. When you play these kinds of roles that are unique to the American black experience, does your background inform what you do, does it make your portrayal a bit easier to transport?

Chiwetel: I don’t know, I mean, it’s a complex thing. My suspicion is that in a project like this or any other, there are always multiple avenues to explore.  When I started to study slavery, I studied it in the international context; the fact that the slaves weren’t from America meant that by definition, it had an international aspect. So I always studied it in that way but also the West Indies and South America… but also the impact in Africa. My family is Igbo (Ibo) from Nigeria.

Hundreds of thousands of Ibo were taken to the south in America and South America and the West Indies. So I always felt legitimate within the telling of the story because in terms of Africa, in terms of the West Indies, the American connection with Britain and America, I felt connected to that experience.  I felt it was part of my experience and my people, so that was one thing but, that’s not to say that I wasn’t aware of the specific nature of telling the story about Louisiana, about the American south, about plantations in America. I was aware of that and in a sense it is something that encourages me; encouraged me to make sure that I engaged fully with this story.

I felt the responsibility of being slightly separate from that direct lineage and that meant that I really needed to give a 100% or why else would I do it. But I felt that I needed to make sure I paid homage, absolutely, and to the best of my ability was able to tell the story historically, correctly.

About the author

Sandra Varner has had her hands on the pulse of the entertainment industry and lifestyles coverage for decades, staying current, always.


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