Sandra Bullock

Occupation: Actress
Date of Birth: July 26, 1964
Place of Birth: Arlington, Va., USA
Sign: Sun in Leo, Moon in Aquarius
Relations: Father: John (voice coach); mother: Helga (opera singer; deceased); sister: Gesine (lawyer); ex-companion: Tate Donovan (actor); companion: Bob Schneider (musician); former companion: Matthew McConaughey(actor)
Education: Dropped out of East Carolina University


JUST as you'd expect of a woman who's been invariably labeled America's newest "sweetheart" almost from the moment she entered the public consciousness, actress Sandra Bullock made it to the ball with a little help from her fairy godmother. In Bullock's particular case, that would be a fairy godfather, in the person of acceleration auteur Jan De Bont, who went waaay out on a limb to get the little-known brunette cast as the female lead of his directorial debut, 1994's Speed  the film's producers had wanted (don't they always?) to shoehorn a buxom blonde into the high-profile part. The movie was a surprise blockbuster, critics and audiences alike raved about the li'l Miss Thang who heroically takes the wheel of the runaway bus, and the fairy tale was complete just nine months later when our cinematic Cinderella single-handedly made a huge hit out of the formulaic romance While You Were Sleeping. Perhaps Bullock herself best captured the serendipitous essence of her big breakthrough when she said, "Never in a million years did I think a bus movie would open every door I ever possibly wanted to have open."

The half-German, half-Alabaman Bullock was born in Washington, D.C., and raised just down the road in Arlington, Va. The elder of her parents' two daughters, she spent a great deal of her childhood touring Europe with her mother, an acclaimed vocalist whose career in opera offered little Sandra her first taste of showbiz. Of her earliest appearances onstage, she later recalled, "There's always a dirty gypsy child in every opera, and that was me." Life on the road with mom began to lose its luster for the youthful opera-tunist after she started junior high school and was awakened to the importance of participating in the time-honored preteen ritual of "fitting in." Showing flashes of the All-American wholesomeness that would eventually become her cinematic stock-in-trade, Bullock had fitting in down to a science by the time she graduated from Arlington's Washington-Lee High School, where she was a cheerleader and was voted "Most Likely to Brighten Your Day" by the members of her senior class.

Following high school, Bullock enrolled at East Carolina University and immersed herself in the school's drama program. Fame waits for no aspiring actress, however, and in 1985, when she was still several credits away from graduation, Bullock decided it was time to get on with the serious business of starting a career in showbiz. With the blessing of her ever-supportive parents and a notion that opportunity awaited on (or at least nigh unto) Broadway, she piled her possessions into a Honda Accord and migrated to the Big Apple. Shortly following her arrival, she began intensive acting studies under the tutelage of famed dramatician Sanford Meisner, and glibly fibbed her way into a job tending bar. "I said I'd bartended," she later confided to one interviewer. "How hard could it be? You pour some rum and Coke into a glass."

That bit of acting ranked as the rising thespian's most impressive performance for nearly three years, as she dutifully made the rounds at auditions and casting calls and further supplemented her income by taking work waiting tables. Theater critic John Simon stamped Bullock's passport to the big time in 1988, when he included a glowing assessment of her abilities in an otherwise scathing review of No Time Flat, an off-Broadway production in which she'd starred as a sassy Southern belle. With his rave review in hand, she managed to line up an agent, and then broke into television with a small role as a younger-generation bionic babe in 1989's Bionic Showdown: The Six-Million-Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman.

The following year, Bullock jumped coasts to L.A. and its promise of increased film and television opportunities, and landed her first starring gig in the Melanie Griffith role of NBC's adaptation of the hit romantic comedy Working Girl. The show ultimately aired just six episodes, and the transplanted East Coast cutie spent the next several months scrambling to find work. Eventually, she traded the stress of joblessness for the stress of wondering by what miraculous means her career might survive 1992's Love Potion No. 9, an embarrassingly B-grade romantic comedy about lovelorn scientists. Though the film did nothing to improve her professional outlook, it did introduce her to actor Tate Donovan, with whom she remained romantically involved for the next three years.

Months of tireless auditioning paid handsome dividends in 1993, when Bullock landed a slew of acting jobs and appeared in no fewer than five films, most notably as an eleventh-hour replacement for Lori Petty in the role of a plucky cop who locks lips with Demolition Man. Silver liked what he saw, and put in a good word for Bullock with De Bont, a long-time big-action cinematographer who'd been given the director's chair for the first time with Speed. The rookie director knew he'd found the perfect romantic foil for star Keanu Reeves, but his backers balked at the notion of casting an unknown and physically unremarkable actress as the movie's love interest. But De Bont persevered, and following Speed's release, Bullock's marketability went over the moon. The success of While You Were Sleeping, released the next year, served to cement her reputation as the hottest thing going, and she was subsequently offered a seven-figure payday for her supporting performance in the John Grisham adaptation A Time to Kill.

A perhaps inevitable sophomore slump began in earnest in 1996, with the little-seen, critically reviled dark comedy Two If by Sea, which featured Bullock in an unlikely romantic pairing with fast-talking comedian Denis Leary, who'd also had a small role in Demolition Man. The bad press continued with the equally ignored period romance In Love and War, which found Bullock cast as Agnes Kurowsky, the nurse whose brief tryst with a young Ernest Hemingway (Chris O'Donnell) provided the inspiration for A Farewell to Arms. The final straw proved to be 1997's ill-conceived Speed 2: Cruise Control, a monumental misfire of a seafaring sequel that not even Bullock's reliable charm could rescue from the box-office doldrums.

Thereafter, Bullock took matters into her own hands and established her own production company, Fortis Films, with the extensive assistance of her father and sister. The first title released under the Fortis imprint, 1998's Hope Floats, was a modest hit that rescued the golden girl from her string of duds. Her resurgence continued later that same year when she starred opposite Nicole Kidman in director Griffin Dunne's adaptation of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, the story of two New England sisters who practice magic; and lent her voice to DreamWorks' animated Moses biopic The Prince of Egypt. Bullock's 1999 release, the screwball comedy Forces of Nature, paired her in weather-influenced romance with Ben Affleck, and she kicked off 2000 appearing opposite Liam Neeson in Gun Shy, a black comedy that starred the two A-listers as an undercover federal agent (Neeson) and nurse (Bullock) who fall in love under offbeat circumstances. Next up was 28 Days, the story of an alcoholic-addict writer who gets a second chance at life when her partying ways land her in court-ordered rehab.

Ever since she split with the luckless Donovan (who was later dumped by Jennifer Aniston) just prior to the filming of While You Were Sleeping, Bullock's real-life love life has been the subject of ceaseless conjecture, most of which, until recently, centered on her A Time to Kill co-star Matthew McConaughey. Despite having been persistently linked together in the press since they worked on that film, the two managed to remain coy about their relationship, owning up to its romantic nature only after it was over. Bullock is keeping just as mum about her current relationship with musician Bob Schneider.

In the months ahead, Bullock will undertake a starring role in Exactly 3:30, a romantic comedy that follows the travails of a punctuality-challenged working woman.

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