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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Why Sandra Bullock found this film cathartic

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Sandra Bullock
Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) © 2011 Warner Bros

Sandra Bullock was in New York City on 9/11/01. Perhaps that’s why she jumped at the opportunity to be in Stephen Daldry’s new movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Adapted from the acclaimed bestseller by Jonathan Safran Foer, the story unfolds from the inside of the young mind of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn). The inventive eleven-year-old who, following his father Thomas’ (Tom Hanks) death in the World Trade Center on 9/11, finds a key in his belongings which sets him off on an urgent search to find the lock that it will open.

Bullock portrays Linda, Oskar’s mother, who is not only dealing with the loss of her husband, but her inability to comfort her son.

You were in New York City on 9/11. Is that one reason you wanted to do the movie?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn
Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) and Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) © 2011 Warner Bros

It was a no-brainer in the sense that I’ve always wanted to work with Stephen Daldry, especially after I saw The Reader. I was just completely blown away by it.

I didn’t necessarily want to work at that time that I was approached, but once Stephen came to my home and we talked about the character and what we thought she was and what she wasn’t [I wanted to do the film]. In the book I loved how she was basically regarded just as mother.

She was not given a life, and I loved that because it was through the child’s point-of-view, and often we children don’t appreciate our parents the way we should.

This is your first movie since winning the Academy Award, were you thinking of literally giving up acting and just producing or directing?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock
Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) and Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) © 2011 Warner Bros

I wasn’t thinking about any of that, I was just so happy being a mom, and I’m still very happy being a mom. But I was given an amazing opportunity for myself and for my son, and we had a great time.

It’s no longer a selfish actress having a moment, I wanted to have an amazing time with him and myself, and fortunately Mr Daldry presented it. In every possible way it was the best.

Can you talk a little about playing Linda?

I think when her husband Thomas was alive, Linda was always okay with just stepping back and letting Oskar and his father be a great team together.

But now that Oskar has lost his playmate, the one person who grounded him and who he felt was his intellectual equal, she isn’t sure she can be any of those things to her son.

She’s in the process of grieving too, so she doesn’t have much energy to fight for that connection she so desperately wants with him. She has to struggle to find the solution.

Was it hard to portray her as Oskar sees her?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Thomas Horn and Sandra Bullock
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) and Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) © 2011 Warner Bros

I had to come to grips with the idea that the audience is seeing Linda on the screen entirely through Oskar’s point-of-view, and his view of her is not always very favorable. In some scenes, she can seem to be the opposite of nurturing, yet later it becomes clear what is really going on with her.

Still, I had to be okay with her looking at times like she wasn’t being a good mother to a child who is really in need.

Can you comment on working with Thomas Horn?

You pray that you’ll feel maternal to whatever child you’re working with, and I’ve played moms before, but they’d always been in a lighter context. Thomas really dove into playing Oskar and he was fearless about it. He came prepared, he was steadfast, and his professionalism was impressive. And he’s so smart.

He was wonderful to work with and I admire him a great deal. I loved this experience with him and it made me a better actor playing opposite him. Truly.

You see men in this going through the emotions of 9/11 that often we don’t get to witness.

It’s true. I don’t think we allow that in life or on film and I think it goes back to what I feel this story is about, which is just honoring people’s grief and allowing them to have it, because it’s something that is a part of who we are as human beings.

I think we’re given that gift, yet it’s completely squelched, especially for men and I think it’s so unfair. It’s such a beautiful part of this story. It’s cathartic.

Did doing the movie bring you any closure, or is there just no closure?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Sandra Bullock
Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) © 2011 Warner Bros

There will never be closure for me and I think for so many people. I was there, I saw it. I saw the second plane. I saw people helping people, and that to me is what resonates about the city of New York, is that I saw within a second the city come together and people help each other in a way that they hadn’t the day before.

They hadn’t thought about it, but they didn’t question it when it happened.

I have so many memories and emotions of it, some still don’t register I think because your mind doesn’t let you register why someone would do that. I hope that vibrancy of what happened doesn’t ever leave me, because it made me aware of so many things I wasn’t aware of before. So no closure, but in a good way.

I think that’s what this story is, the allowance to talk about events that have happened in your life that you should be able to grieve.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close had a limited release on December 25, 2011 so to qualify for Oscar nominations. It will get a wider release in the US on January 20, the UK on February 17 and Australia February 23, 2012