Cover Story

Sandra Bullock: What's Next?

Inside the career of the most powerful actress in Hollywood

Sandra Bullock wasn't buying the hype. Speaking to EW last fall, weeks before the opening of a little heart-warmer of a movie called The Blind Side, the actress — who had reemerged earlier that year from a two-year hiatus with her biggest hit ever, the romantic comedy The Proposal — predicted that her newly reinvigorated career would soon cool down again. She brushed off The Proposal's success as a cosmic fluke: ''I don't pump my fist in the air. I don't want anything karmically crashing down on me.'' She dismissed the idea that she might score an Oscar nomination for The Blind Side: ''The stuff that I migrate to isn't the stuff that wins awards.'' And she vowed that she'd be off the public's radar again in no time, holed up at home, with Hollywood at a comfortable distance. ''Trust me, people are going to be like, 'Get her away,''' she said. ''And I will go away. It'll be quiet again after this.''

Yeah, well, so much for all that. The Blind Side became a $256 million smash. Bullock snagged a Best Actress nomination. She kissed Meryl Streep. She won the Oscar. Her marriage imploded. The tabloids went bananas. The public rallied around her. She shocked everyone by revealing she had adopted a baby and somehow kept it secret. She won the Tour de France. She negotiated peace in the Middle East... Whew! What else? Oh, right, and somewhere along the way Sandra Bullock became — against all odds, more than 15 years after she rode that bus in Speed to stardom — the hottest actress in Hollywood. Presumably she was as blindsided by all of this as the rest of us were. Or maybe she just has a different definition of quiet.

At age 46, at a point in her career when many actresses struggle to find decent roles that don't require them to wear mom jeans, Bullock has everyone in Hollywood dying to know what she'll do next. More to the point, they're hoping they'll own a piece of it. Last week, word came that she may star opposite Tom Hanks in a film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The fact that no one seemed surprised to see Bullock attached to a serious-minded piece of awards-season catnip shows how dramatically her Oscar win has altered people's perceptions. After all, aside from a well-received dramatic turn in 2005's Crash, Bullock had always been known for light, slapsticky romantic comedies, and many of her earlier forays into drama had flopped. ''I remember right after Crash, I was pitching Sandra Bullock to a studio for another dramatic role and they went, 'I don't know, America doesn't think of her this way,''' says Crash co-writer/director Paul Haggis. ''Now those same people want her for everything. It's hysterical.''

Movie stars in general may be becoming an endangered species; as no less an authority than Sylvester Stallone said recently, ''an actor is the most disposable component in film today.'' But for the moment, there's a bull market in all things Bullock. ''Every movie you hear of and every script I see, they say, 'We're going to go after Sandra Bullock for the woman,''' says Ben Affleck, who costarred with Bullock in 1999's Forces of Nature. Talk-show bookers are desperately wooing her for postdivorce interviews. Studio executives and film producers are courting her for every remotely suitable starring role available, in projects from a Disney family fable called The Odd Life of Timothy Green to Our Wild Life, a drama about an elephant orphanage. ''Sandra Bullock is the golden girl,'' a top film agent says flatly. ''She's getting offered all the scripts that matter. Everyone is rooting for her. I've never seen anything like it.''

There's just one small question: Why? Is this about Sandra Bullock — or is this really about us?

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