Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes Talk Tapping Into Their Survival Instincts for Netflix Thriller ‘Bird Box’
She’s dodged bombs, saved the lives of beauty pageant contestants, and battled addiction, but now in her latest film, the Netflix thriller “Bird Box,” Oscar winner Sandra Bullock must survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Bullock stars as Malorie Shannon, an expectant mother who is forced to hide out in a house with a group of strangers after a mysterious force starts killing anyone who looks at the sky.
This gripping story is framed by a narrative five years in the future, during which Malorie and fellow survivor Tom (Trevante Rhodes) have formed a makeshift family with two children, simply called Boy and Girl. As resources dwindle, Malorie is forced to take desperate measures. Making things complicated is the fact that they are unable to venture outside without blindfolds.
Bullock and Rhodes recently spoke with Entertainment Voice about working together and how they prepared to play two people who find themselves with great responsibility thrust upon them. Bullock started off by talking about tapping into her survival instinct.
“As a mother, and also as a woman and a human being, I think men and women alike, when we’re forced to deal with tragic or horrific or fearful, it brings out a side of ourselves that doesn’t necessarily get tapped into, and I think women especially haven’t been shown on film [having that side]. We have it; everyone has it.”
Bullock, who has a son and daughter in real life, went on to explain how her own experience as a parent prepared her to play Malorie, a woman who risks her own life multiple times for the two little ones under her care.
“As a mother, I know, myself, how fearful I am, and I know what I would do for my children, and I know what I feel myself doing for my children, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to be how Malorie was was obvious to me. It made sense. Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to protect your child?”
When it came time to cast Tom, an Iraq War vet who finds himself as a surrogate father, not just any attractive, buff actor would do. Bullock explained the importance of finding the right man for this role.
“You want your leading man to be the leading man you want to just ride out in the sunset with, but you also want that leading man to be someone to be someone to whom you go, ‘I trust you with my children. I would trust you with my children, one thousand percent.”
Bullock could not have been more pleased with Rhodes, who was cast following her breakthrough role in “Moonlight,” as is evident from not only their onscreen chemistry, but also from the praise she heaped on him at the Four Seasons.
“I wanted this human being to be my ride or die in this process. It’s rare when you get that, because usually you just get certain pieces of the pie. I can’t be the entire pie. I’d like to be the whole pie, but I’m not as a human being. Trevante is the whole pie… And we work really, really well together… There’s an unsaid ping pong match that happens when you really connect with somebody.”
Added Rhodes, “Like Sandy said, it was a really amazing familial kind of experience, and we had a lot of wonderful actors and people who shared space with us and were available and open, and present. That’s all you ever want.”
To prepare for having their visions obstructed for large chunks of filming, Bullock and Rhodes worked with a visually-impaired coach.
“He walked into my house and said, ‘Your wall is three feet [away]. This ceiling is about nine feet.’ I took him outside; he goes, ‘There’s a fence. There’s some kids’ toys right here.’ I was like, ‘How?’” Recalled Bullock. “What he gave us was the tools and the tricks [blind people] use… Make a sound, you hear the sound bouncing off. Shuffle your feet, you hear what’s close. If you’re in an open field, you can hear that. You can feel it.”
Bullock went on to explain how she wouldn’t let director Susanne Bier physically guide her while she was filming those scenes in which she was impaired, and the same went for the camera operator.
“His job was to just get out of our way should we switch directions, which happened a lot, and Susanne just let it go. I said, ‘If I fall, let it happen. If I hit something, let it happen, unless I stop it.’ I only stopped it once — After I drew blood.”
The actress went on to explain how important trust was between her and her co-stars, particularly Rhodes, when she was blindfolded and feeling crabby and anxious.
“When I was blindfolded, I’m a control freak, and I didn’t have the ability to control things, and I kind of like that. With this cast, you had to trust, [I] had to rely on the fact that I couldn’t communicate to Trey when something was wrong, when something was up. I hoped he sensed it and he figured it out… We had to connect in a way where we couldn’t say a lot.”
Eventually, Malorie and the children are forced to make a dangerous journey down a river full of rapids for a shot at survival. Bullock saw the river as being a metaphor for an important part of both her and Malorie’s lives.
“That river is motherhood. I experience that river every morning. This morning, I wasn’t a great mom. I failed, and I had grief over my failure when I was coming to work, when I all I wanted to do was go to school and take my daughter and go, ‘Okay, give me a do-over, I didn’t do very well this morning.’”
As they experienced such unique challenges with “Bird Box,” one had to ask Bullock and Rhodes if they now feel prepared in the event of a natural disaster, or, say, a zombie attack? Also, what did they learn from the whole process?
“I don’t feel prepared,” said Rhodes. “For me, personally, the best thing I learned from Sandy was just owning your power, in a sense, owning your space. I was taught that growing up, but just realizing it and seeing it in this space, in this industry, her being a woman, it’s been powerful; it’s inspirational.”
Added Bullock, “[Susanne] she set the tone for that. It’s easier to be brave. I always said to Susanne, I said, ‘I feel like the pig roast. Almost every part of the pig is eaten. It’s the first time in my career that I feel like the pig, in a good way, in that every part of me was used.’ She said, ‘You can’t say that! You can’t say that!’ ‘I will say that’ [laughs].”
Bullock went on to further praise Bier for the freedom she allowed on set.
“You just felt drained and happy at the end of the day, because you had someone who allowed you to experiment and try everything, and then she casted an ensemble that was there to support you and make you feel brave. You don’t always feel brave. You don’t always feel like you’re allowed to try things… That’s a rare experience. So what he [Rhodes] is experiencing from me is a rarity.”
“Bird Box” releases Dec. 21 on Netflix and in select theaters.