Sandra Bullock (pictured left) is trapped in a bulky space suit for most of Alfonso Cuaron’s space odyssey Gravity, which has her adrift in space tethered to a wise-cracking George Clooney (right). But the role nonetheless required a dancer’s poise.
Bullock’s Dr Ryan Stone is stranded high above Earth with astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney), when debris destroys their space shuttle. Bullock said last week that she called on her dancer’s training for the role, in which she both spiralled through deep space heavily suited and floated gracefully through a space station in stretch shorts and a tank top.
“Dancing did help. We are operating at very slow speeds, and I’m a fast mover,” Bullock said before the film’s world premiere opening at the Venice Film Festival.
Clooney said moving abnormally slowly to simulate movement in space while speaking quickly “is the trickiest thing you have ever done”, but that Bullock, who started shooting before him and spends more screen time moving freely, had it nailed when he arrived on set.
Much of the film was shot inside a 2.7m x 2.7m box, inside of which the actors were suspended by cables, with their lower halves inside a contraption, while objects were hurled towards them. For Bullock, the conditions created a sense of extreme isolation not unlike that felt by Ryan.
“George and I were rarely together, but If I could hear his voice I would feel better. I was grateful for any human contact, even if it was just a breath,” she said.
Cuaron consulted astronauts and physicists to portray how objects would behave in space as realistically as possible.
Gravity is shot in 3D, which gives depth to the characters’ experience of having debris hurtle towards them or seeing pens, ping pong paddles or statuettes float by.
While the film is a space adventure full of action, Cuaron also said the journey into space was rife with metaphors. Dr Stone, a scientist who is in space to install technology for Nasa that she created, has suffered a tragedy that’s made her give up on life, and retreat into her work.
Bullock said she wanted to portray Stone’s loss through physical perfection: “I wanted to lose everything feminine or maternal about her. I wanted to get the body to be a machine that was effective for her brain,” Bullock said.