An Election's High Stakes: Sandra Bullock On 'Our Brand Is Crisis' The Oscar-winner's new movie is set during an intense presidential race ... in Bolivia. She tells NPR's Scott Simon about her role as a legendary political strategist in Our Brand Is Crisis.
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An Election's High Stakes: Sandra Bullock On 'Our Brand Is Crisis'

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An Election's High Stakes: Sandra Bullock On 'Our Brand Is Crisis'

An Election's High Stakes: Sandra Bullock On 'Our Brand Is Crisis'

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Tense presidential race, the gloves come off, the issues fall like fruit from a tree, the campaign goes negative - does this sound familiar? It's Bolivia and the competing advisers for the two campaigns include a legend of a political strategist who looks a lot like Sandra Bullock.


SANDRA BULLOCK: (As Jane) You see when the voters are looking for hope, they always go for the new guy. But when they're scared, they look for a wartime leader. Bolivia is facing the worst period in its turbulent history. This is no longer an election. This is in crisis, and our brand, what we are selling - crisis.

SIMON: The movie, "Our Brand Is Crisis" and in addition to Sandra Bullock, it stars Billy Bob Thornton. It's directed by David Gordon Green. Sandra Bullock joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BULLOCK: Well, thanks for having me.

SIMON: Based on a documentary that's drawn from real events, isn't it?

BULLOCK: We really were drawn to the essence of what the documentary gave you which was, you know, how large corporations can sell just about anything to anyone. You know, and in this case, it's politics.

SIMON: At the same time, it's hard not to look at a well-shaved Billy Bob Thornton and not think of James Carville.

BULLOCK: (Laughter) It's just hard not to look at Billy Bob Thornton period.


BULLOCK: But you are right. That was a surprise to us. And I - you know - if you talk to him, he'll say he wasn't at all thinking Carville because he'd sort of played a Carville-esque character before in a movie. And he just wanted to sort of create a sinister feel for the character as soon as you saw him, and for some reason a shaved head brings that on.

SIMON: Your character battles depression. Is it impossible that politics - and for that matter broadcast and journalism and show business - draw talented people who sometimes have to contend with emotional distress? I mean, I remember we were lucky enough to interview Sir Ian McKellen a number of years ago. You know, he said if you're growing up and trying to work some things out, what better place is there than the stage?

BULLOCK: Oh, absolutely. It is - I think, you know - I think back when I was very small, and we had this bathroom with these sort of paneled mirrors on the side. And I would just sort of sit there 'cause it was the only warm room in the house. And I would - if I was in a bad place, I would go to my imaginary place with these mirrors and, you know, create this entire other world, just sort of help level out what I was dealing with. And I think, yes - I think a lot of actors, comedians, musicians, artists are drawn to this world because you're allowed to excavate whatever it is that you are struggling with and hopefully turn it into art.

SIMON: Do you remember some of what you did in the mirror?

BULLOCK: I remember I would write little scripts. I would write stories. It was just a warm little pocket in the house that just felt very safe. And I do - I remember just having conversations. And I would play one role and do the other role in the mirror and have that time.

SIMON: Your private life has sometimes been thrown open to the public.

BULLOCK: Yeah and very interesting private that even surprises me at times (laughter).

SIMON: Well...

BULLOCK: It's like I'll wake up one morning and I'm like, I'm sorry, I did what? You know, at the beginning you fight it all the time. And now, you just - I don't get so mad anymore because there's nothing I can do about it. You know, it's just - it's fodder, and it's noise. And it - you know - within two weeks ago, it goes away, and something else - and someone else does something or doesn't do something that makes the news. And you just move on. It's just entertainment.

SIMON: Does it give you a sense of sympathy sometimes for the politicians or other public figures whose every word is weighed...

BULLOCK: Oh, completely...

SIMON: ...Or whose lives are thrown open?

BULLOCK: Yes, those who are genuinely there to make change and be a civil servant and you see these seemingly honorable people who want to go into this world of politics which I admire and don't understand at the same time. And you see their lives blown open, and it's heartbreaking. Then you see the other ones who are just definitely in love with the machine or manipulating things themselves, and I have no sympathy for that.

SIMON: Does doing this film in any way sharpen whatever political convictions or sensitivities you have?

BULLOCK: It makes me angrier in the sense that, you know - I've known - it's been like this since politics began I feel, except now the curtain can be more easily moved aside.

SIMON: So this is a film set in Bolivia that you think has something to say about the U.S. election season?

BULLOCK: Well, I don't - it didn't - the reason I took it on wasn't - really politics don't interest me. Government interests me but politics don't. To me, I see a lot of game playing and - but what I loved about this film is that it brought up consequences and sort of our world has gotten to a place where the almighty win has become so powerful. Success at all costs, you know - and we're being sold so much. And I find myself drawn into it. And I think that does lead to depression. I think that does lead to, oh, my God - my life is not good enough. I need to win more in order to be more accepted and more viable. And to me, it's about the consequences of these bigger corporations that come in and use people's lives to make money, but they don't care at what cost.

SIMON: Do people ever come up to you and say I'm glad you got back from outer space?

BULLOCK: (Laughter) They do.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BULLOCK: And they're just - they're a little angry that I left George out there.

SIMON: (Laughter) He was dead wasn't he - spoiler alert. He...

BULLOCK: As far as I know...

SIMON: ...Yeah

BULLOCK: ...The guy was dead. I mean, you know - then you see "The Martian" and you see the movie, and he goes, oh, my gosh. He stayed alive, so why can't George stay alive?

SIMON: Yeah.

BULLOCK: I don't know. This was George's decision. You could never tell George what to do. So if he wants to die, I let him die (laughter).

SIMON: Sandra Bullock stars in "Our Brand Is Crisis." Thanks so much for being with us.

BULLOCK: (Laughter) Thank you for having me.

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