Sandra Bullock's Greatest Fear

Don't be fooled by her sweet smile, silly sense of humor and customary cute comedies; Sandra Bullock is complicated, and she's all business. Indeed, Bullock is so ardent and animated as she pitches her way through an interview, one is moved to remark upon the sheer energy she bolts into a room, but one cannot get a word in edgewise.

She's a force to be reckoned with -- not only was she recently named the second most bankable female star (after Julia Roberts) by industry trade The Hollywood Reporter, but Bullock seems to work around the clock -- shouldering the marquee on several films a year as well as running her own successful production company, Fortis Films.

As a producer in her own right, Bullock's get-up-and-go rivals the frenetic pace of The City That Never Sleeps, where Fortis is based. "I love the business and the creative aspects of the business," she says, tipping her executive hat. "I don't know if I always want to be in front of the camera. But I love producing; I love the camaraderie, I love the adventures, I love the stress. It's sort of an investment with the next step of my career, where I want to go."

During the last 12 months alone, Bullock has flexed her creative muscles strenuously -- producing and starring in Murder by Numbers (a psychological thriller directed by Barbet Schroeder costarring Ben Chaplin and Ryan Gosling), lending her voice as narrator to the highly anticipated Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, producing a television program (The George Lopez Show) and beginning to shoot her next film, Two Weeks Notice (costarring Hugh Grant).

Right now she's supposed to be talking about Murder by Numbers -- in which she plays a hard-as-nails detective on the trail of two bored and ingenious teenage boys who've orchestrated the perfect murder (think Leopold and Loeb) -- but her rampant stream of consciousness keeps taking the conversation elsewhere. For instance: In case you were wondering, she's not going to don the golden armor of Wonder Woman on film. "I just don't have the time or the capability to think that I can pull that off," she demures, but suggests she might entertain another superhero. "If they make one who stretches, who's female.

"I came up with an interesting one, what did I call it? Collagen: A woman who fell into a vat of collagen as a child and now is liquid collagen. And Meryl Streep would play my sister who felt the guilt of watching me at the time that I fell into the vat. And all the women of Beverly Hills are running after me, wanting to kiss me because their lips get full. I think Meryl's on board, I don't know."

A little levity is warranted during discussion of a dark film that takes on more than a few serious subjects, including teenage violence and battered women's syndrome. And while Numbers is unorthodox for the actress, as with everything, she went after it with gusto.

"I was looking for a psychological thriller -- not an action thriller, not something that had tools to propel the story but something that was truly an unwinding of the mind, which I find far more thrilling," says Bullock.

"I didn't think I would find one. I've been looking for years. I love the genre, and it's hard to make. It's challenging to pull off. If it's not made well it just doesn't work. Why don't I take the easier road? I don't know; it's just not thrilling to me. Because if it works, you get that much more satisfaction out of it, and when it doesn't work, you of course get slammed for it, but I love the genre and I loved what Barbet executed."

It remains to be seen how the actress's fans will respond to the film -- but if they don't buy Bullock as a homicide detective, her two future films offer more standard Sandra.

"[Ya-Ya director] Callie Khoury forced me to do the film," Bullock says of the mother-daughter saga adapted from the novel by Rebecca Wells. "I had read the book; I loved it. I didn't want to do the film, because I didn't want to ruin our friendship."

"It's her first film [as a director]," the actress says of the Thelma & Louise screenwriter. "There's a lot of stress. I didn't want to be involved. I said I don't want to be the narrator. I don't want to be that person, the storyteller, the boring role. But she puts you in a room with Maggie Smith, Ellen Burstyn and James Garner, and you go, okay, these people know what they're doing."

Two Weeks Notice, a romantic comedy that Bullock describes as "a love story to New York and a love story within New York," is about two close friends (she and Grant) who struggle with stronger feelings for each other.

"Why is it that when you become best friends with someone who could be a partner does the familiarity all of a sudden breed no ground for...breeding?" says the actress, stumbling over her own spontaneous wit. "I think it's because it's easier to be intimate with strangers at first, and then get to know each other."

As for the rumors sparked by Bullock's recent public appearances with Grant, the actress -- who showed up at the Academy Awards with the handsome Brit -- maintains that they're just good friends.

"I couldn't have asked anyone more fun to go," she says. "He is so good at that. He's so smart and witty. And if I get tongue-tied, you know he's going to be great. And I like hanging out with him."

Word is, Bullock's steady beau is sexy Austin-based musician Bob Schneider, with whom she has maintained a quiet courtship for the last few years, and whose career she has championed, resulting in recent films featuring Schneider's rootsy southern songs (including Forty Days and Forty Nights, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Gun Shy).

"As celebrities go, Bob and I have a very low-key relationship," she said when the two began dating. "We live our life together one day at a time."

As she has done in the past, Bullock is threatening to take a year off -- her periods of extreme productivity seem inevitably to signal a necessary time for rest and perhaps reflection. For instance, while the 37-year-old actress admits she needs to get over her well-reported fear of marriage (she has had long-term relationships with actors Tate Donovan and Matthew McConaughy but neither evolved into a trip to the altar), an even bigger hurdle involves exchanging words of love. "My greatest fear is saying 'I love you,'" she admits. "That's why we're making [Two Weeks Notice], and Hugh keeps saying, 'This girl is rather similar to you.' We got as far as looking at each other and saying, 'elephant shoes.' So that's as close as I've got. I have issues. It's something I have to work on."

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