Just when Sandra Bullock thinks she's out, she gets pulled back in.
In 2002, after snagging the ultimate romantic-comedy catch (Hugh Grant) in "Two Weeks Notice," the actress decided it was time to kiss off an increasingly cliché-riddled genre.
"They're not funny, they're not romantic, they're not written well for women anymore," she says, explaining her decision in typically no-bull fashion. "It was basically all crap. I did the last good one. I'm done."
It had been a passionate box-office affair that began in earnest with the charms of 1995's "While You Were Sleeping." It lasted through the supernatural high jinks of 1998's "Practical Magic," the mild diversions of 1999's "Forces of Nature" and the good-natured goofiness of 2000's "Miss Congeniality."
But Bullock, whose 45th birthday arrives next month, made it clear she wanted a clean break from the laugh track and instead flirted with Oscar-worthy drama (2004's "Crash") or wistful fantasy (2006's "The Lake House"). Even the 2005 sequel to "Miss Congeniality" ditched any romantic elements.
But then she received a proposal. Or rather, "The Proposal," opening next Friday (sneak previews started Saturday). The role of Margaret Tate, a high-maintenance book editor from Canada who blackmails her put-upon assistant into marrying her to avoid deportation, proved to be an offer that she couldn't refuse. But only after she turned it down more times than Doris Day rejected Rock Hudson's advances.
"Finally, someone said, 'Look, you can't say no if you haven't read it. Just read it, and then we can pass,' " she says. Surprisingly, "It piqued my interest."
For one thing, Margaret wasn't another girl next door. She's more an overbearing ogress in the corner office you secretly covet. Her cutting remarks, such as telling an INS agent that he has "a roomful of gardeners and delivery boys to tend to," have caused audiences to gasp.
As Bullock observes, "Being nice and adorable isn't funny. I enjoyed being a b****. Everyone does. They are always better written and it's a relief."
Little by little, other pieces fell into place, and the actress realized she'd been seduced — not unlike how husband Jesse James, 39, her heavily tattooed motorhead husband of nearly four years and onetime host of the Discovery Channel's Monster Garage, wore down her resistance to his rough outward appearance with a series of courtly e-mails.
She kept waiting for something to go awry, and it never did. First, friend Ryan Reynolds ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine") was mentioned as the male lead. "That's when you go, 'I don't want anyone else to do it,' " she says. "Then I was sure that they would screw up the rest of the casting. And they didn't. Then they said, 'Here's this woman director we like, Anne Fletcher. Can she come and meet you?' I met her and within five minutes, she said the word 'vagina,' and I'm like (her voice rising giddily), 'I love her.' "
The feeling is mutual as Fletcher notes that Bullock, still adept at physical humor as her dockside descent down a rickety wooden ladder in nosebleed-high Louboutin heels in "The Proposal" proves, has yet to be replaced in Hollywood's pantheon of top funny ladies.
"She has charisma and likability that you can't buy or learn," she says. "The soul of who she is as a person comes out on screen. She doesn't mind looking like a fool if it's best for the movie."
A Breath of Fresh Air