Monday, February 22, 2010

Sandra Bullock, Characters and Likeability

I'm a big Sandra Bullock fan. Ever since she burst on the scene in the fabulous movie Speed (if you haven't seen it go to a DVD rental shop right now and enjoy) I've pretty much enjoyed every movie she's ever made. Loved When You Were Sleeping (one of my favourite rom coms ever). Thought the first Miss Congeniality was a laugh out loud riot. Even her small role in Crash was memorable for her dramatic turn. She is one of the few female actresses that both my husband and I agree on because she's just so gosh darn LIKEABLE. Why? What is it about the characters she chooses to portray - and portray so well - that makes me want to be her BFF?

I just saw THE BLIND SIDE on the weekend and was once again struck by that undefineable likeability she has that translates so well on screen. The character she portrays would not be someone I would normally gravitate towards - rich, opinionated, religious, slightly bullying Desperate Housewives type of personality. BUT. And here's the but - the character is not just that stereotype. As always, Sandra Bullock injects certain qualities into the performance that make us love her character. And every writer should think about these qualities when developing their own main characters because, as we know, we only have a few pages- heck, maybe even just a few paragraphs - to make the reader care about our hero or heroine. So what does Sandra Bullock always have that makes me want to stick around for a couple of hours with her and her character even if the movie isn't perfect?

There's just a feeling I get that Sandra Bullock knows how to laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously. Many of the characters she chooses to portray also have that quality.

The protectiveness for another person or a cause is always there in her movie choices. She cares about others more than herself sometimes.

She walks into a crime-ridden neighbourhood looking for her runaway adopted son. She drives a bus with a bomb on it. You get the feeling that she would do anything to protect the ones she's responsible for.

She'll fight for the right thing - even if her friends laugh at her or thinks she's crazy. Just watch the scene she has with her so called friends at the restaurant in The Blind Side. She never gets nasty or reacts in anything other than a polite, cordial manner. But you know that she has just written them all off based on their response to her decision to become Mike's guardian. She will do what she thinks is right because she believes it is right.

Being the Underdog or Fighting for the Underdog
She's a lowly subway ticket taker who doesn't have a family and is looking for love. She's a nobody bus rider who lost her license for speeding and is now responsible for driving a bus safely through congested Los Angeles by not going over the speed limit of 50. She takes in a homeless, poverty stricken kid from the wrong side of town and becomes his guardian for no other reason except that he doesn't have anybody. Underdog is a big, big likeability factor.

The qualities I've just listed aren't the be all and end all of character traits that a writer should consider when developing their main hero or heroine but boy, you should pick a couple of them because they go a long, long way in keeping a reader engaged and rooting for your creation. It doesn't mean you can't have some unlikeable qualities thrown in there too. Like I said, in The Blind Side Sandra was also pampered, overbearing, and somewhat self-absorbed … BUT she tempered those less likeable qualities with all the ones I listed above.

Now, the tricky thing is how do you hint at all those qualities in less than five pages? Ahh. I think that might be fodder for another blog post...


  1. I'm also a big Sandra Bullock fan, and I think it's for all the reasons you mentioned. There is something so likable about her! I think part of it, too, is that even when she's playing the toughest characters, there's still a degree of vulnerability to her. That's what makes her so sympathetic and what makes her characters seem real.

  2. It's interesting to think how those roles might have been played by other actresses (less successfully I think, casting does require a particular genius...) Nicole Kidman? Michelle Pfieffer? It isn't just the role as written, there is something about the way each lives inside her own skin...

  3. Anna - You're absolutely right. There is a vulnerability to Sandra, a tough but tender aspect that's very appealing.

    Hi Blythe! It's true. All the movies Sandra Bullock was in would be totally different with those actresses embodying the role (I'm very glad they got Sandra though!)

  4. Great post, Nelsa. I, too, was so pleasantly surprised by The Blind Side. Didn't sound like a movie I'd like AT ALL, but heard good things so went and she totally carried that movie. It all hinged on whether you believed her motivations for helping that kid (that they weren't just to help the team) and she made me believe. She also made me believe she questioned her own motivations for a moment when others did. Great job on her part. It was all in the facial expressions.

    I actually saw her up close and in person the night of the Crash premiere at the Toronto Film fest. I was waiting in a huge crowd in the lobby of the Elgin, and was right in front of the elevators. The red carpet stuff was happening about 10 feet away, if that, but I wasn't even trying to see. Too many people and I was more concerned about being ready to make a dash when the opened the doors so I could get a good seat.
    Anyway... some festival volunteers suddenly parted the crowd.. right where I was standing... and Sandra Bullock kind of skittered down the little path through us. Maybe 2 feet from me. She was all dressed up in her red carpet finery... but kind of skittering, grinning at everyone she passed, saying, "gotta pee, sorry, gotta pee, excuse me, gotta pee."
    It was so Sandra Bullock. Cool to see she was that nice and self-effacing in real life, too.

  5. Maureen: What a great story! I can totally see Sandra Bullock doing that 'pee dance' and being her always likeable self.

    And you're right. She totally carried that movie (which had some problems). Without her, it would never have been so popular.

  6. Fabulous information - a great reminder on really thinking about your chacters. Thank you.

    I'm definitely a Sandra Bullock fan but have not seen the Blind Side yet and really want to. Soon I hope.

  7. I loved Speed! And your list is right one. Main characters should have bad qualities but some of those qualites must shine through for the reader to like them. Finding the balance in the opening pages is the challenge!

  8. Hi Blee Bonn: I hope some of the things I've outlined here migh might help when thinking about character development. Hope you enjoy the movie!

    Hey, Laura: I know - showing off a character in five pages or less is one of the hardest parts of a book. I spend way too much time on that but it's so important!