'The Blind Side': Making This Season's Surprise Box Office Smash Hit

Director John Lee Hancock dishes on casting Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw in movie.

December 24, 2009, 4:18 PM

Dec. 24, 2009— -- Hollywood loves a success story -- and they have it with "The Blind Side," the tale of football player Michael Oher's path from poverty and homelessness to NFL stardom.

The movie "The Blind Side" has become the season's surprise hit, raking in more than $150 million at the box office and earning a Golden Globe nomination -- and Oscar buzz -- for its star, Sandra Bullock.

Director John Lee Hancock told "20/20" he had only read a few chapters of Michael Lewis's book "The Blind Side" when he decided that he wanted to write and direct the movie.

"This was really a terrific story, and it was kind of more of an unconventional mother/son story than it was a sports movie. So about fifty pages in, I was in," he said.

Hancock said he also knew that Sandra Bullock would be the ideal actress to play Oher's adoptive mother Leigh Ann Tuohy.

Watch "The Blind Side: The True Story Behind the Movie" on a special edition of "20/20," Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 10 p.m. ET

"Everybody knows her for her comedy skills and her behavior comedy, and her sharp tongue, and those are formidable skills, but I didn't think that she'd been given the chance to...show off the really great dramatic talent that she has," Hancock said. "I knew that she could pull it off."

Next, the director said he had to find an actor to play her husband, Sean Tuohy.

"I cast Sandy and started thinking about it, I sort of, I realized that there would be a lot of actors that would become wallpaper quickly," Hancock told "20/20." "I needed someone that was comfortable in his own skin, and had the kind of a self-effacing sense of humor."

Country music star Tim McGraw came on board despite initial reluctance to appear in a sports or family movie after his roles in "The Rookie" and "Flicka."

"I read it and just fell in love with the ...characters and the people," McGraw said, "And I gave it to my wife to read, and she loved it as much as I did. It's just rare that you come across a story...that moves you that much."

Click here to see Tim McGraw talk about his 'Blind Side' role.

For Hancock, it turned out that enlisting A-list stars was the easy part. He said the real challenge came when it was time to cast an actor to play Michael Oher -- the "gentle giant" on whom the film centered.

Casting the Role of Michael Oher

"It's literally a tall order," explained Hancock, "I had seen hundreds and hundreds of tapes and thought, these guys just aren't quite right physically...or they don't have the quality...the movie needed."

At 6 feet 8 inches and 450 pounds, Quinton Aaron was dreaming against all odds of becoming an actor. However, he found very few auditions requiring someone of his stature, other than type roles for bouncers or security guards.

Aaron happened to be working as a security guard in real life when his mom found a casting call online for "The Blind Side." After reading the role description, they instantly felt he would be perfect.

"They was basically looking for a quiet gentle giant. You know, he didn't really say much, he didn't really have a lot of friends, but he was like -- you know, even though he was big, he wasn't -- you know, a beast. He was, like, calm inside and warm-hearted, and that kind of fit well with who I was," Aaron said.

After watching Aaron's audition on tape, Hancock flew him out to Los Angeles for a meeting. It was Aaron's first plane flight and his first time in L.A.

"I was ecstatic about the whole thing," he said. "I was mainly like, 'Oh, now, man, I hope they like me, I hope when they see me, they just say, you know, we're making you Michael.'"

But Aaron knew that despite his hopes, his chances were slim to none.

Hancock says that after their meeting, "[Aaron] reached in his wallet and pulled...out a card, and he said, 'I know this is the longest of long shots, that I'm probably not going to get this movie, but I do security guard work, and if you guys need a security guard on the set, I would love the job, and I need the job.' I took the card and I said, 'I'll keep that in mind, Quinton. I'll be in touch.'"

Click here to see Quinton Aaron tour his Bronx neighborhood.

A year would pass before casting was complete, and in that time, Aaron's life spiraled downward. His mother died. He couldn't pay his rent. Like the real Michael Oher had been, Aaron was in dire straits.

"We didn't have lights, we didn't have money for food...," Aaron said. "And I just kept telling myself I know something's gonna come up... I just kept believing that."

Quinton Aaron Gets Big Break

Just days before he was to be evicted, the phone finally rang. Aaron got the part.

"It was unexplainable, but it was like my heart was pounding. I almost teared up a little bit, you know, but it was cool 'cause it -- it's something I was waiting on for such a long time," he said.

The first step for Aaron would be a physical transformation. "This was a role that I would have done anything for. And I kind of proved this by losing 100 pounds in three months," he said. "You know, I was determined to do -- anything I could to be the perfect guy they needed for the role."

Emotionally, Aaron was already in touch with his character's dramatic arc.

"He and Michael [Oher] had things in common," Hancock said. "They were on a parallel track in many ways. From an actor standpoint, he gets to draw on some of those feelings, and perhaps that's why they seem so real in the movie."

While their home situations may have drawn some similarities, one would think from watching the movie that their early athletic abilities also had parallels.

"In the movie, when they showed me the...practice scenes," said Aaron, " and [Michael] doesn't really know what to do, he's doing everything wrong, it's a lot like how I was on the football field, which is why I didn't follow a career in football...I was bad. "

But Oher told "20/20" that the way the movie portrayed his early athletic ability wasn't on point.

"It wasn't like that...I've always known how to play football," Oher said. "You know, it's Hollywood...that's what they do. But...at the end of the day, it's still a....good story."

Sean Tuohy, Oher's adoptive father, who also understands the responsibility of Hollywood, thinks the story about him and his family has been portrayed well.

"You have to take liberties in a movie, and truth is, if a movie isn't entertaining, people won't go to see it," he said.

There is "an added responsibility when the people you're portraying are alive... you owe them kind of, as honest a portrayal as you can," Hancock told "20/20."

And although Hancock said "Job one is to tell a story that entertains," he is pleased that some audience members have been inspired by the story.

"The movie was never made to be a call to arms in any way for charity ," said Hancock, "but as a byproduct, it's a pretty nice one to have."

In a competitive season for films, people are still flooding the theaters for "The Blind Side." A month into its release it remains in the top two. And as the total earnings continue to grow, so do Aaron's future ambitions.

"Hopefully, a job with Denzel," he said with a laugh, "You know, a house of my own, with me and my brother, And never be in a...situation that we were in prior to "The Blind Side."

Watch "The Blind Side: The True Story Behind the Movie" on a special edition of "20/20," Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 10 p.m. ET

CLICK HERE to visit "The Blind Side" official Web site.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events