Nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, the film is a story that unfolds from inside the young mind of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), an inventive eleven year-old New Yorker whose discovery of a key in his deceased father’s belongings sets him off on an urgent search across the city for the lock it will open. A year after his father (Tom Hanks) die on 9/11 in the World Trade Center on what Oskar calls “The Worst Day,” he is determined to keep his vital connection to the man who playfully cajoled him into confronting his wildest fears.
“What I find so moving about Oskar is that he feels there has to be an answer, but there is not always a clear ‘why’ or a ‘because’ to a situation,” Bullock says. “And sometimes the answer you get is not the one you expect, which is something Oskar has to discover for himself.”
Unlike Oskar’s father, his mother, Linda (Bullock), has always found it tough to reach her son, and that only seems to increase by a factor of 10 when her husband is no longer there to bridge the gap. Yet, much as she seems lost in her own private realm of grief, Linda is connecting to Oskar in ways of which he is not even aware.
Director Stephen Daldry felt there was an organic empathy in Bullock that would allow the role to work. “Sandra is a first-rate actress who really took her role to heart,” he says. “She looked after Thomas very well and formed a strong relationship with him that translated to the screen. She was able to bring a gravitas that was entirely appropriate but also a real charm.”
For Bullock, the intriguing part was playing a mother who has to work at bonding with her son and forging her own route back into his world after his father’s death. “I think when her husband was alive, Linda was always okay with just stepping back and letting Oskar and his father be a great team together,” she observes. “But now that Oskar has lost his playmate and the one person who grounded him and who he felt was his intellectual equal, she isn’t sure she can be any of those things to her son. And she’s in the process of grieving too, so she doesn’t have much energy to fight for that connection she so desperately wants with him. She has to struggle to find the solution.”
Given the subjective, first-person viewpoint of the film, Bullock also had to play her character the way Oskar perceives her – which was especially difficult because Oskar does not see the full picture of his mother. “I had to come to grips with the idea that the audience is seeing Linda on the screen entirely through Oskar’s point of view – and his view of her is not always very favorable,” she explains. “In some scenes, she can seem to be the opposite of nurturing, yet later, it becomes clear what is really going on with her. Still, I had to be okay with her looking at times like she wasn’t being a good mother to a child who is really in need. Part of it is that what Oskar sees is her grief, which is ugly and imperfect, but also very real. But what Oskar doesn’t know is that she is also very worried about him and that causes her to really try to think like he does.”
To explore Linda Schell’s experience more deeply, Bullock listened to recordings of phone calls and voice-mail messages left by those trapped in the World Trade Center for their families. “That was very hard for me,” she says. “But what floored me was to hear people giving comfort to those they were leaving behind. You really understand that the pain of hearing that is something that could never go away.”
Opening soon across the Philippines, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.