The story centers on a brilliant crossword constructor who, after one short date, decides that a CNN cameraman is her true love. Because the cameraman’s job takes him hither and yon, she crisscrosses the country, turning up at media events as she tries to convince him they are perfect for each other.
Crossword puzzle constructor Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is smart, pretty – and a natural disaster that shakes news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper) to the core. Set up on a blind date with Steve, Mary thinks the chemistry is undeniable and just knows she’s found her soulmate. She decides to do anything and go anywhere to be with him.
Mary’s escalating infatuation is encouraged by the self-serving actions of news reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church) who enjoys torturing his insolent cameraman at every opportunity. As the news team crisscrosses the country covering breaking news stories, Steve becomes increasingly unhinged as Mary trails them.
About the Film
There definitely was something about Mary (Horowitz) that garnered Sandra Bullock’s attention when she first read Kim Barker’s screenplay for ALL ABOUT STEVE. At the center of the comedy was the peculiar crossword constructor who seeded the story with heart and a raucous bite. As both an actor and producer, Bullock is known for her discerning eye for good material – witness her recent role in the comedy smash “The Proposal” – and she sparked to the idea of a comedic character that harkened back to the type of roles she relished. ALL ABOUT STEVE’s Mary Horowitz is truly unique. “Mary is this incredibly brilliant person whose been raised in this bubble by her loving, overprotective parents,” Bullock explains. “So she’s grown up to be exactly who she’s supposed to be without any outside influences – and that’s the problem.”
Bullock says getting into character wasn’t always easy. “At first, I didn’t know whom to model Mary after, so I had to start taking pieces of people whom I knew,” she recalls. “I took a three and a half year old. I took Kim Barker, our writer. I took myself at my most amped and manic. Then I just pieced it all together.”
The world isn’t too accepting of a true individual like Mary, and the film’s comedy reflects that with absurdity and brazenness at every turn. “What’s exciting about ALL ABOUT STEVE is finding the right balance of comedy styles,” says Bullock. “It’s pretty true to life and it can be cruel. We’re pushing the comedy envelope. It’s edgy, and I like that.” Adds screenwriter Barker: “There are so many Marys in the world. They may not be the popular kid at school; they may not have tons of friends because they’re not ‘normal.’ Mary is different from most because she happens to be extremely intelligent. She hasn’t managed to find other people like her. I enjoyed embracing those differences.”
Barker’s interest in creating a story built around a crossword constructor didn’t stem from an interest in puzzles. She was more intrigued by the type of person who possessed the abundance of information necessary to generate the intricate wordplay.
“I’m not really good at crossword puzzles unless it’s the online version, which tells you instantly what answers you’ve gotten wrong and then you can fix them,” Barker admits. “But to take pen to paper, I just can’t do them.” Nonetheless, Barker began a daily regimen of crosswords and visited several websites and message boards, gaining additional insight into the realm of the professional crossword puzzle creators. Barker’s research reinforced her initial thoughts about shaping Mary Horowitz into a one-woman storehouse of information on innumerable subjects.
With the socially-challenged cruciverbalist at its center, Barker’s script for ALL ABOUT STEVE mixed classic comedy elements with dramatic and offbeat situations. This mix appealed to Bullock and her frequent producing partner Mary McLaglen, who has enjoyed a longtime collaboration with Bullock, beginning almost ten years ago with “Hope Floats.” “For me, the great draw for this script was the Mary Horowitz character, which is so quirky and is all of a sudden thrust into a world where she feels she needs to fit in. Everybody can relate to it on a certain level,” McLaglen comments.
During pre-production, it became evident to Bullock, McLaglen and director Phil Traill that Bradley Cooper, (“The Hangover,” “Wedding Crashers”) fit the bill as the handsome cameraman Steve, who elicits a passionate response from Mary during their very brief first date. Cooper’s rugged good looks, innate charisma and impeccable comic timing, most recently on display in his lead role in the blockbuster comedy “The Hangover,” proved to be an irresistible combination. “When I saw Bradley in ‘Wedding Crashers,’ I said to myself, ‘That is Steve,'” says Bullock.
Cooper says the feeling was mutual and taking on the role was an easy decision. “The draw for joining the project was Sandy [Bullock],” he recalls. “The prospect of working with such a wonderful actress was enticing, and I thought it would be a great experience.”
ALL ABOUT STEVE director Phil Traill, who was born in the U.S. but raised in the United Kingdom, brings his own brand of offbeat humor to the project. His comedic sensibility – evident in his directing of the popular British sketch comedy series “Snoops” and for his award-winning short film “Dangle” – was certainly a good fit for ALL ABOUT STEVE. But it was a marathon conversation with Bullock that sealed the deal for him to tell us…all about Steve. “Sandy [Bullock] and I were on the phone for three hours,” following a weekend reading of the script, recalls the director with a laugh. “It was just so easy to talk with her about the film, and I had quite a lot to say, actually. Sandy made it so easy for me; she had thoughts to which I would feel comfortable enough to reply, ‘I wouldn’t do that, but I would do this.’ Everything just fell into place, and then we pretty much rolled into making it.”
“I knew Phil could do ALL ABOUT STEVE, based on his short films and his TV show,” adds Bullock, “but the first conversation I had with him clinched it for me. He just got it.”
With Traill aboard, casting became the top priority. Barker’s locker room-tinged repartee between the other principal characters – the pompous reporter Hartman Hughes, the impudent cameraman Steve and the beleaguered field producer Angus – leapt off the page, and the filmmakers wanted to ensure that whomever they cast could rise to the challenge. Bringing together actors Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, and Ken Jeong proved to be a combination of kismet and lots of hard work.
The role of Hartman Hughes had originally been scripted as a suave, effete Pradawearing reporter. But once Academy AwardÂ® nominee Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) appeared on the filmmakers’ radar, they quickly realized the 6’2″ tall Texan could give the character an element of machismo- upping the ante on the gamesmanship between Hartman and Steve.
“Thomas is brilliant,” says Traill. “He brought this aura of an arrogant, camouflage-wearing combat reporter with the wind-blown hair to the table for Hartman. His charisma on camera and off is compelling.”
Convincing Church to consider the role after he had completed filming and promoting two physically challenging films – the blockbuster hit “Spider-Man 3” and the critically acclaimed television movie “Broken Trail” – took some time. Bullock worked her magic, perhaps channeling Mary Horowitz’s off-kilter strategic thinking. Recalls Church, “My agent called me and said, ‘Sandra Bullock has gotten a hold of your phone number, and I think she’s going to call you.’ And sure enough, one day I was going through my caller I.D. and there was a call from [Bullock’s husband] Jesse James. I put it together, called her back and we talked for two hours.” Conference calls between Church and McLaglen, Traill and Barker followed; several days later, the filmmakers locked in Church to portray Hartman.
For the role of harried field producer Angus McCormack, Bullock, Traill and McLaglen cast comedian/actor Ken Jeong, whose breakout role in the Judd Apatowdirected comedy smash “Knocked Up” had impressed the three filmmakers. Jeong continued to make audiences laugh with his roles in the Apatow-produced “Pineapple Express” and “Step Brothers,” as well as in the comedy hit “Role Models” and the recent smash “The Hangover,” in which he played the part of a crazed crime boss.
ALL ABOUT STEVE’s offbeat comic sensibilities appealed to Jeong, whose fresh-faced field news reporter Angus doesn’t quite fit in with veterans Hartman and Steve. “They treat Angus pretty much like an intern,” says Jeong with a laugh. “Angus desperately tries to fit in with them, often to disastrous results.”
Jeong notes that he was as attracted to the film’s theme as well as its humor. “It has a universal message about being comfortable with what you are, and I think that resonates with almost everyone,” he notes.
Jeong, Church and Cooper settled quickly into an easy, bantering off-screen relationship, which was often reflected on-camera. Their immediate chemistry was not lost on the actors. “I don’t know how they did it, but Phil, Sandy and Mary definitely got three people who jelled right away,” says Cooper. “It was a blast and Phil let that play itself out on film.” The actors’ uncensored, testosterone-fueled bits occasionally enhanced the scripted dialogue. “We had this beautiful script that we all loved, and actors who love to adlib,” McLaglen comments. “As much as you want the written word to keep your story line going, we let Bradley, Thomas and Ken go as much as possible.”
Bullock’s loquacious puzzle-head character Mary has rapid-fire dialogue exploding with facts and figures, so veering off the page was done judiciously. “You can’t improv a lot with Mary,” she explains. “When I did attempt to improv, I’d have to know the origin of the word, every definition, and three different language versions of that word. So I’d have to pick a subject that I’m very familiar with, and just ramble. I was able to do it a couple of times. It was very challenging.”
Cast as endearing oddballs who welcome Mary into their tribe are DJ Qualls (“Road Trip,” “The New Guy”) as Howard, who sculpts – from apples – likenesses of famous peoples’ heads; and newcomer Katy Mixon as Elizabeth, a sweet, fashion-challenged young woman who lives to embrace “worthy” causes. As Mary’s partners in crime, they hit the road with her in search of Steve. The friendships Mary builds with them enable her to accept and even embrace her own idiosyncrasies and foibles.
Veteran actors Howard Hesseman and Beth Grant portray Mary’s parents, Albert and Layla Horowitz. The senior Horowitzes, who are nothing if not eccentric, provide invaluable, hilarious insights into how Mary became, well, Mary.
While exploring the numerous idiosyncrasies of Mary, her clan and her friends, Barker’s script takes a caustic look at the all-too-prevalent media blitzkriegs triggered by stories of personal calamity. Barker says she was inspired to incorporate this element by the super-saturation of coverage surrounding a few hot-button stories happening at the time. “The media just latch on to these stories and won’t let them die. It often gets to the point where they start doing montages of their own coverage. It just gets ridiculous.” While watching TV “talking heads” endlessly pontificate, Barker also took notice of the hundreds of people who rally around such causes celebres – and who always seem to have an opinion to share on camera.
Barker’s examination of press/spectator circuses intrigued Thomas Haden Church. “What really appealed to me about the script is its commentary on the media,” he recalls. “It’s something that Phil (Traill), Kim (Barker) and Sandy (Bullock) continued to discuss in depth. The script turns the idea of media manipulation on its head, in that the manipulators become in some way entrenched in their own machine.”
Helping bring to life the story’s confluence of disasters – media, natural and character – are ALL ABOUT STEVE’s behind-the-scenes team, including cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt, ASC (“Little Miss Sunshine”), editor Virginia Katz,
A.C.E. (“Dreamgirls”), production designer Maher Ahmad (“Miss Congeniality 2”) and Academy Award-nominated costume designer Gary Jones (“The Talented Mr. Ripley” – and who previously worked with Bullock and McLaglen on “Two Weeks Notice” and “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”).
Embracing the spirit of the open road, the production hit the asphalt for much of the shoot. Various Southern California locations stood in for everything from the lush mountains of Colorado to the parched desert highways of rural Texas. The suburban communities of Lancaster, Santa Clarita-Newhall, Valencia and Irvine provided the bulk of ALL ABOUT STEVE’S locations during the 10-week schedule. The production endured weeks of record high temperatures topping 115-degrees (F.), as well as rattlesnakes and wind-whipped twisters of dirt aptly named “dirt devils.” Everyone persevered, barely.
“Unless you’ve experienced these extreme conditions, you can’t describe what they feel like,” says McLaglen. “We just had to endure it. Those of us working behind the scenes were fine, but to keep the actors cool was a challenge. Then to add to it, we had strong winds pelting us with dirt. They were all such troupers. They would just stand there, suck it up and take it in.”
The interior sets provided a welcome refuge from the rigors of the road. Not that the work was ever less than challenging. Production designer Maher Ahmad and his art department, along with video supervisor Todd Marks, created the bustling news center of the story’s fictional cable news company CRN, which rivaled those of its real life counterparts. Ahmad and set decorator Gene Serdena also faced the Herculean task of visualizing Mary’s eccentric style by crafting together an eclectic mix of academia and obscure pop culture references in the bastion of all things Mary – her bedroom. The set was a veritable road map through the jungle of her highly evolved, if off-center sensibilities.
The last weeks of filming were spent on soundstages just south of Los Angeles, shooting the film’s final act, which had Bullock and Church mucked up in the damp, muddy, often-claustrophobic set of an abandoned mine.
Costume designer Gary Jones gave Bullock’s Mary her iconic red boots, which take the character through her journeys across the nation. The footwear is wildly inappropriate for most situations – making it a perfect “fit” for Mary. “Mary loves her boots,” says Bullock. “It’s like when you’re a teenager and you get locked into that one outfit that you think makes you special or even super human. Mary just never outgrew that feeling. She stayed in that bubble of what made her special, and it was her red boots.”
Initially, the boots were made of rubber – “like the gardening boots I wear in real life,” says Bullock – but the idea of her trudging through 114-degree weather in rubber boots was not to anyone’s liking. In the end, Mary’s boots were found online, for about $14.99. “Those boots were unusual enough, but they also had a style to them that made sense.”
The boots, and everything about Mary, are not easily categorized, much like ALL ABOUT STEVE itself. “The film has different facets – there are a lot of stories going on,” says Bullock. “It’s about being unconventional, it’s about the media, and it’s about a world that exists outside of the big cities, a world where people are true to who they are. But all the stories come down to the fact, that not fitting often means you’re really standing out.”
All About Steve (2009)
Directed by: Phil Traill
Starring by: Sandra Bullock, Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Katy Mixon, Howard Hesseman, Keith David, Beth Grant, Holmes Osborne, Delaney Hamilton, George Sharperson
Screenplay by: Kim Barker
Production Design by: Maher Ahmad
Cinematography by: Tim Suhrstedt
Film Editing by: Rod Dean, Virginia Katz
Costume Design by: Sandra Berry, Gary Jones
Set Decoration by: Susan Emshwiller, Gene Serdena
Art Direction by: Austin Gorg
Music by: Christophe Beck
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including innuendos.
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: September 4, 2009