Sandra Bullock is standing—well, swaying, actually—in the “sexy-time music room,” a cozy space in her L.A. home that boasts modern chairs, sleek lamps, and lots of furry throws. Prince’s “When Doves Cry” is playing in the background. The room’s vibe, she says, “centers around this amazing Shinola turntable I was given by—and I’m gonna name-drop here—Jen Aniston. She’s so effing generous.” Bullock takes a few moments to let herself really feel the beat. “It’s so good, isn’t it?” she asks. “It gets you. There’s nothing like that needle on the record.”
The Oscar-winning actress, producer, philanthropist, restaurant owner, real-estate tycoon, and mom is psyched to be taking a breath again and feeling the music. After shooting films back-to-back, she’s ready to enjoy some downtime with her kids, Louis, 8, and Laila, 5, and her photographer boyfriend, Bryan Randall. “He’s super kind,” she tells me later. “For the kids he’s sort of No. 1.” She raises her hand above her head. “And I’m No. 2.” She puts her hand at chest height. “But I get it because he’s more fun and has better treats.”
We’re here to talk about Ocean’s 8, out June 8, a spin-off of the popular Ocean’s Eleven series. Bullock, 53, plays Debbie Ocean, sister of Danny Ocean (George Clooney). Fresh out of jail, Debbie recruits a group of kickass women to pull off a heist at New York’s Met Gala.
For our chat, Bullock sits cross-legged on the floor in her family room while behind her the March for Our Lives is muted on the television.
Glynis Costin: Back in 1996 you told InStyle that you loved to dance. And you said D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” made you go into “Sandy world.” Are you still dancing?
Sandra Bullock: Always! Well, I’m not at a club hitting it hard anymore, but I was with some friends recently, and we said, “Let’s have a party for no reason. No cameras. Where you can dance like nobody’s watching.” So we found this DJ—DJ Stormy—and she nailed it. And last night we were dancing here. We put vinyl on the turntable and let the kids go for it. We watched them feel the music and do their own thing. I was like, “Please, God, let this never go away!”
GC: Let’s talk about Ocean’s 8. It looks like it must have been such fun to work on.
SB: I always said I want what the guys get to have—whether I’m doing an action movie, a comedy, or a sexy heist film. I’m like, “Why can’t we ladies have that?” I told Jerry Weintraub [the film’s original producer, who died in 2015] I don’t care who it’s with as long as the ladies are all lovers of women and we get back the character Yen [Shaobo Qin, the contortionist from the Ocean’s Eleven films]. I just want Yen.
GC: You’re good friends with Clooney. How did it feel to play his sister?
SB: George and I have known each other since before we had careers. He was always the funniest dude in the room. He would have a little tequila and do a wicked Buddy Hackett impression that would make you wet yourself.
GC: Now, thanks to Casamigos, he can have a lot of tequila.
SB: As he should … [under her breath] billionaire. But, really, all he worries about is “Are you guys getting what you need?” It’s pretty ego-free of him. He had his trilogy. Now he has a new trilogy with [his wife] Amal and two babies.
GC: This is the biggest female ensemble you’ve ever worked with. What was that like?
SB: Awesome. But guys would go to Gary [Ross, the film’s director] and ask, “So what’s it really like with all these women?” They thought we’d hate each other, but the exact opposite was true. We barely let Gary into the makeup trailer. Cate [Blanchett] and I were, like, on the mother ship. We’d be getting spackled in the morning and sharing stuff like, “I need pants for my son” or “Hey, what can I do to get more sleep?”
GC: Sarah Paulson—who you worked with on both Ocean’s 8 and the upcoming Bird Box—told me you made her laugh so hard she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She said, “There is no way to appropriately describe this power of hers.”
SB: With Sarah, it’s like when you’re in school with that friend, and the teacher says, “Stop talking,” and you just start crying and laughing. It’s like a chemical imbalance. We’re each other’s little drug habit.
GC: Speaking of female bonding, tell me how you got involved in Time’s Up and why it’s important to you. I know you donated $500,000.
SB: It’s easy to give money to people who are incredibly brave and outspoken. But Time’s Up is not just about the actors—it’s about the single mom who’s been abused, bullied, and sexually harassed and is just trying to make every day safe. I also love All Raise, which has partnered with Time’s Up to help close the gap on funding for women and minorities in technology. It’s our duty to do whatever we can to help. I can safely say there is not one person I know who hasn’t experienced some form of [harassment] or doesn’t know someone [it’s happened to].
It happened to me when I was 16. And you’re paralyzed to a degree, thinking, “Will anyone believe me?” And at that time? No. Up until recently it was the victim who was shamed, not the perpetrator. But just like with this [points to the TV], we can do peaceful protests and utilize the media. We’re raising our children to be fearless. At least I hope I’m raising my kids that way.
GC: What are Louis and Laila like?
SB: Lou is supersensitive. I call him my 78-year-old son. He’s like Shecky Greene, a Jewish Catskills comic. He’s wise and kind. I saw that when they handed him to me. There was a spiritual bigness to him. I was like, “I hope I don’t eff that up.” And Laila is just unafraid. She’s a fighter, and that’s the reason she’s here today. She fought to keep her spirit intact. Oh my god, what she is going to accomplish. She’s going to bring some real change.
GC: I loved that photo shoot your boyfriend, Bryan, did with you, Louis, and Laila when you first announced you had adopted her.
SB: Yeah [laughs]. He’s a patient photographer who was working with three subjects who hate the camera. Plus, I had to figure out how to hide the kids’ faces because there was a bounty on our heads. When you adopt a child, there’s a placement period, and if something goes sideways, they have the right to take the child away. It’s a tenuous, strenuous six months. We had an allergy scare that sent us to the ER, and we were followed by the paparazzi, so the word was out that I had another child. And everyone wanted photos. It was heartbreaking. Louis would hear a helicopter or drone, and he’d run to get his sister and drag her across the lawn and hide her under the trampoline. So poor Laila had PTSD. But it took the bounty off once we did those official photos. Everything’s a learning experience.
GC: You’re not on social media. Do you ever feel pressure to be part of it?
SB: Oh god, I would have one glass of rosé and be spouting off like [slurs voice], “This is not the truth!” I would have the “nuh-uh” column. I’m not ignorant of what’s happening out there. I look over people’s shoulders, going, “What is that little vignette of a cat on a fan?” I’m just lazy. But I’m going to get on it and troll my friends. Once my kids are using it, I’ll know how to navigate it. I don’t want to be naïve.
GC: Social media can also be another tabloid arena.
SB: This past Oscars I was sick and had allergies, but I was like, “I’m just going to go. It’s part of my job, and I’m happy to be there.” Then the next day they were saying, “Oh, she has cheek fillers and implants.” When I saw the photos and how swollen I was, I got it. But I was like, ‘‘Well, if I got injections, I only got them on the top, which was not very good.”
GC: Do you let that stuff get to you?
SB: I am affected by it because I don’t feel confident when I dress up and go on the red carpet. I’m not that person who knows how to work it. I try to channel Beyoncé. I do the same pose every time. I try not to dread that kind of stuff, but I do get incensed and think, “How can they write this?” But now I’ve distilled it into “If you eff with my kids and you do something illegal, I will go after you.” It’s that simple.
GC: You’re active in promoting adoption, especially for kids in foster care. There are hundreds of thousands of foster kids who need homes at the moment. Is the situation getting better?
SB: Not quickly enough. Look: I’m all for Republican, Democrat, whatever, but don’t talk to me about what I can or can’t do with my body until you’ve taken care of every child who doesn’t have a home or is neglected or abused. It makes me teary-eyed [wells up]. Let’s all just refer to these kids as “our kids.” Don’t say “my adopted child.” No one calls their kid their “IVF child” or their “oh, shit, I went to a bar and got knocked-up child.” Let just say, “our children.”
GC: You’ve said that your mom, Helga, always told you to be original, but you used to fight that.
SB: She did, which made no sense to me because the last thing you want to do as a teenager is be original. You want to blend in. I was very different because of our life in Europe going back and forth, so I was bullied a lot. But in retrospect, I get exactly what she was saying because that’s who I am as an adult. Now if I do things like somebody else, I’m like, “No, no, no, I want to be different.”
GC: Did you learn about fashion from your mom? As an opera singer, she must have had a lot of glamorous costumes.
SB: My mother was so fashionable. She made many of her own clothes during the ’70s and ’80s. She was so sexy. That mortified me as a child because she would make matching minidresses, and we had little gladiator sandals, and she was very overt with her sexuality. Men would whistle at her, and she loved it. I was supposed to be the mini version of her, but I didn’t like that feeling, so I went the other way: I went tomboy—jeans, baseball caps. I skated, rode bikes. I was scared of that sexual energy, so I shut down a lot of that and didn’t come into my own until I was a lot older.
GC: How would you characterize your personal style now?
SB: There’s my morning everyday style—workout clothes—to drop the kids off at school and hit the gym.
GC: Like Yoga Mom?
SB: I wish. It’s more like Aggression Mom. My workouts are not so serene. And then my style is based on what I have to do that day or where I am. There’s California Sandy, Austin Sandy, New York Sandy—they each have different wardrobes. And I love eveningwear. I buy all these cute pieces, saying, “I will wear this when I go out and get sexy,” but in the end I never do. Sometimes my girlfriends call each other and say, “We’re going to make an effort.” And when we see each other and go, “You look amazing,” it’s for each other. I have great girlfriends. We call each other and ask, “How do you detox? Where’s the best facial? What do you do for baggy eyes?” It’s a community. I also have an amazing group of six women in Austin I do group therapy with. We call it the Tuesday Girls.
GC: What are you wiser about in your 50s than you were in your 30s or 40s? What have you let go of or embraced more?
SB: I’ve embraced the inevitable [laughs]. I really value my time now. When I go back and think about all the times I spent climbing up a mountain and then looked down, I realize it wasn’t even my hill to climb, you know? But I don’t regret anything because in the process I was able to build my foundation and go, “This is mine.” On my 50th birthday I was with a bunch of girlfriends in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I sat in a chair, and I looked at the Tetons, and I just went, “Oh my god, I’m here.” And it was, like, this relief and this joy.
GC: What do you do to really relax?
SB: Something that has to do with a house. Like moving furniture or working on one of the properties I’m renovating. It’s heaven. I get up on Sundays, and I’m literally looking at house listings and Remodelista magazine. It’s my porn. I’m not a sculptor or a painter. But I can walk into a building and envision what you can do and go, “Rip this open, make it a pony wall [a half wall that extends only partway from floor to ceiling].”
GC: Where did that love of buildings and architecture come from?
SB: My dad. He’d buy old buildings, and he’d restore them himself from the ground up, and I tagged along. I was like, “Oh, I’ll learn how to do a drywall or install a toilet.”
GC: What else can you do—can you change a tire?
SB: I could in high school. Our class president and I did it once, and we were really proud. I’m not afraid to get into the mechanics of things and get dirty. But with kids now the last thing I want to be doing is ripping out drywall. But sometimes in the middle of the night, I think, “That chair would be so much better there,” and I’ll throw a towel down and start moving things.
GC: What’s next? What are you excited for?
SB: Getting older and watching my kids grow up to be hopeful, grateful, healthy, kind, and safe … and in a bubble with a chip in their head [laughs]. I’ll be right behind them, and a drone will probably be following us.
Fashion Editor: Paul Cavaco. Hair: David Babaii for Lowe & Co. Makeup: Sabrina Bedrani for The Wall Group. Manicure: Betina Goldstein for Lowe & Co. Production: Avenue B.
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 11.