The Lost City began filming in the jungles of the Dominican Republic in May 2021. That is less than a year ago. But considering how different the world was even 10 months back, it may as well have been a lifetime for star, producer, and overall Lost City champion, Sandra Bullock. It’s easy to forget now, but the vaccine rollout was still in its early fitful days during the movie’s pre-production phase, and until those cameras rolled the process was its own desperate escape.
“You just shot me back trying to find a vaccine,” Bullock says when we mention the remarkable time period that The Lost City was made during. “I mean, I was running around trying to find one. They were not available. By the time we had gotten there for the scout, they were becoming more available, but I felt like I was on the black market, you know? Just give me something!”
It’s a different world now when we speak with Bullock and co-star Daniel Radcliffe the day after The Lost City’s opening night premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. And given the glow on both stars’ faces, the euphoric reception provided by the film festival crowd was still lingering. In that way, The Lost City’s singular production also retroactively looks like kismet.
Says Bullock, “Had this film been released before the pandemic, there would have been a cynicism about it, I think, that has been eliminated. There is no reason we can’t enjoy things like this when we’re there to simply entertain you and make you laugh.”
Radcliffe agrees by adding, “I also think that obviously there’s huge value in making incredibly worthy, hard films. I think also one of the noblest things cinema can do is give escape and just make people laugh for a couple of hours.”
The escape Bullock sought to create in The Lost City is one that is designed to be a throwback. The appeal of an adventure-comedy where movie stars—namely Bullock and Channing Tatum here—get lost in the jungle spoke for itself when Bullock and fellow producer Liza Chasin first discovered an early draft of the film’s concept.
But getting to go out and make that, and really lean into actual location shooting as the pandemic continued, was one of the great appeals to both Bullock and the directors she ultimately partnered with on the project: Aaron and Adam Nee.
“It was October of 2020 and we had been locked in our houses for a long time,” says Adam, “and we were all feeling that isolation, and this script came to us about a woman who is basically cocooned in her life that gets ripped out into an adventure and realizes that there is more real life adventure and joy to be had. So for us, it was something we responded to so much as people who desperately want to go on adventures.”
Adam’s brother agrees while noting where they and Bullock really connected was in distinguishing this as a true throwback to Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone, as opposed to elements from the romantic comedy genre Bullock might be more associated with in audiences’ minds.
Says Aaron, “She didn’t want to make just another rom-com. Not to diminish the rom-coms that she made, but she’s done it, she’s excelled at it; she wanted to explore a new way of approaching this stuff. So our vision and hers was the same. Let’s take the adventure side just as seriously and really take the audience on a ride.”
The key difference, then, between this and, say, Romancing the Stone is that none of the characters should be in that jungle. There’s no Indy; no virile Michael Douglas. Rather the film pivots around Loretta Sage (Bullock), a reclusive romance novelist who rarely leaves the house. That changes when she’s kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Radcliffe) who is convinced her novels about jungle adventures hold the key to a lost treasure—which he’ll find, assuming Loretta’s bumbling cover model (Channing Tatum) doesn’t actually manage to rescue her first. (Hint: He might also need rescuing!)
For Bullock, the fun was getting to actually lean into her own life—or at least how it is perceived by some corners of the tabloid press—by making Loretta an introverted celebrity who gets ripped into the kind of movie that used to be Hollywood’s bread and butter in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“There’s a lot of real life that’s in this film, at least for me,” says Bullock. “So I just lean into what’s already being said about me or has been said about me.”
But as the story goes along, slowly Loretta and Tatum’s Alan transform into the type of characters they dream about–and which nostalgically look like the type of old school Hollywood entertainments your Zemeckis or Spielberg might’ve turned in 30 years ago.
“We were doing subtle things that maybe viewers on a second viewing will notice,” says Aaron. “We withhold saturated blues and greens at the beginning of the movie to give this sort of Wizard of Oz experience that you’re in one kind of world. Then as the movie moves forward, we pull you into the technicolor world where now these new colors come in and you’re immersed in the jungle and that adventure.”
Adam adds, “We wanted that on a character basis, too, where you had these characters who are truly the last people you would expect to be on this kind of adventure, but by the time you get to the end of the movie they start to resemble those adventure stars. We kind of strip them down to the point where they start looking like the action heroes from a romance novel or one of these films from the ‘80s.”
And it again provided a respite for the cast and crew to make such a throwback in such a singularly modern moment.
“It did feel like a kind of escape from [the pandemic] at times,” Radcliffe says. “And it’s always nice to just throw yourself into work or something like that rather than sitting at home, stressing about whether you’re going to get the virus. It’s at least nice to be doing something.”
Producing that experience, and bringing those people together, is also a source of pride for the movie’s star.
“Just to say something, our industry got people back to work,” Bullock says. “They figured out how to responsibly do it and keep people safe, and get people back into their work, paying their bills, keeping their families afloat, and as much as we like to make fun of Hollywood, I was really proud to be in the business when we could see that we could keep people safe yet still able to create.”
She even got to work like an old colleague: Brad Pitt. In a glorious, extended cameo, Pitt plays a real honest to goodness he-man who gets roped into Loretta and Alan’s adventures. And, according to her directors, it was Bullock as well as hair stylist Janine Thompson who similarly roped Pitt into the project while he was working on his own starring vehicle, Bullet Train.
“Sandy and Brad have obviously known each other for a very long time, and are like brother and sister, and just giggling and having a fun time,” Adam says. “[But] we talked about him early on, and we all decided that was a pipe dream. So we started talking about other people, and then when Sandy did Bullet Train, they happened to share a hairdresser, Janine Thompson, and I think she just started to [help] make this deal happen.”
Both brothers go on to give a lot of credit to Thompson, with Adam adding, “She should be making that agent fee. Just putting that out there.”
The inclusion of Pitt’s heroic badass coming to both Loretta and Alan’s rescue also raises an intriguing question: In real life would you rather have Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum be the one to rescue you from the jungle?
“That’s going to cause some discord,” Bullock says with a hesitant laugh. Luckily her co-star has an out.
“In real life, I have never met Brad,” Radcliffe says. “I didn’t get to work with him… So I’m going to say Channing. I also think Channing could genuinely do a pretty good job of rescuing someone.”
Perhaps more diplomatically, Bullock evenly answers, “I’m not going to say which ‘he’ I’m talking about, but the he I would have come rescue me is very capable. He is a survivalist, is very compassionate, has lots of experience, and has a tremendous amount of empathy for the victims.” She then adds with a chuckle that it’s up to you “to figure out which one that is.”
Meanwhile Adam doesn’t mince words as he comes to a concrete conclusion.
“Look, you’re putting us in a tough position, because the only person who would ever watch us do an interview would be Channing,” the director laughs. “So Channing is actually a friend because of this experience, and I love him dearly… but Brad’s just so cool! And he makes you feel so safe, and I just trust him to get me through that jungle adventure. He’s going to flip his hair, he’s going to push me in a wheelbarrow, I don’t know, I gotta go with Brad.”
Aaron retorts, “Well, Channing and I will have fun on our own!”
The Lost City is in theaters now.