Before the world was turned upside down by a global pandemic, Sandra Bullock and Liza Chasin were on the hunt for hidden gold. A script that had been sitting on a shelf for seven long years had just come into their possession. And while not perfect, something shiny and vital was glittering under the surface.
“We knew there was a reason it was sitting on a shelf,” Bullock says. Then came the lightbulb moment. “Oh my God, I see it! I see it! I know what it should be,” she declares. “Then you get really excited, then you panic because you’re absolutely convinced that there are no writers out there that can then bring it to the level we had in our head.”
Luckily for star and producer Bullock and co-producer Liza Chasin, that writer did in fact exist, and her name is Dana Fox. Working on the Oren Uziel script, and from a story by Seth Gordon, who is also a producer on the film, Fox was soon holding virtual meetings with Bullock and Chasin, going through the pages, and helping shape a vision for The Lost City.
When we catch up with Bullock and Chasin, they’re excited to be in the home stretch and only a matter of weeks out from their SXSW world premiere where they’ll debut the film alongside directors Adam Nee and Aaron Nee, who also worked on the script. As Bullock exclaims, “This is fun!” This being the first time the star is able to talk about the movie she and Chasin worked so hard to bring to audiences. It’s a journey that felt special and unusual in the landscape of Hollywood.
“Being allowed to do that is very rare, we always have to fight for things,” Bullock says. “But for a while, we were left alone to see if we could bring this movie to where we wanted to and get it greenlit.”
Crafting the story of reclusive author Loretta Sage (Bullock) and her unexpected adventure to the mythical city she’s famous for writing about was an inspiring process for the creative team. It allowed the lead actor the space to “vomit out” all the things she always wanted to see in action comedies. And when it came to excavating the truth of their own life stories for laughs, Bullock and her co-star Channing Tatum were fearless. “We used a lot of real-life stuff, we don’t care,” Bullock laughs. “Channing and I have no shame!”
With Fox on board, Chasin and Bullock also began to dig into Sage and the journey she’d go on throughout the film. Though audiences meet her as a romance novelist, that wasn’t always the case for the character. Once a historian with an archeologist husband, Sage is passionate about preserving the past. But, as Bullock explains, “Sex sells! That wasn’t sexy enough, so she put in a little sex, and you have a romance novel that has some secret history surrounding it.”
Struggling between her passion and profit, Sage quickly became even more intriguing and funny to Bullock.
“To me, funny isn’t funny unless it’s someone between a rock and a hard place,” Bullock says. “Funny isn’t funny unless you have the balance of pain and loss to show you, ‘Oh, this is funny, because that was so tragic.’”
So what did the creative team behind the film decide was the best route forward for Sage? “We put her in the jungle with a cover model,” Bullock laughs. That cover model is Alan (Tatum), who graces the front of Sage’s novels as the romantic hero Dash. “Imagine the pairing of somebody who’s stuck in their head,” Chasin says, “and somebody who’s just completely stuck as far away from their head as they can be. It’s a recipe for success.”
Though, as Bullock points out, what’s hilarious for us is a recipe for disaster for the characters, and that’s the point. “We all love to see people fighting, people who shouldn’t belong together,” says the star. That element of the unexpected fish-out-of-water buddy comedy—which both Bullock and Tatum are so adept at bringing to life—looks to be at the heart of The Lost City.
There was another aspect of the project that appealed to both Bullock and Chasin: being able to make an original movie not based on another property. Both are clear that the film has what Bullock calls “sentimental tentacles” back to other adventure movies, most notably 1984’s Romancing the Stone. However, The Lost City is an original, non-franchise story, which feels like it’s almost a rarity in 2022.
“I don’t think that freedom comes easy,” says Chasin. “You elbow your way through the rooms a bit to get to the point where you can prove it. There’s a lot of fear around originality.” The producer was also quick to note that they’re happy The Lost City pays homage to the great movies that came before, films that the pair both clearly love. And to the women behind the film, the time is right for another such story. “We haven’t had something like this for a while,” Chasin tells us.
But the journey to The Lost City was longer than expected, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the world as we knew it. For the team behind the movie, it didn’t stop them or their passion for the project. “We got even more motivated,” Chasin says.
It was exhilarating for the team to envision The Lost City as a journey audiences could go on after the devastating toll of the pandemic. So they made sure that their movie got made. “We were the only film at Paramount that didn’t shut down that year,” Bullock says, “because we ran a tight ship.”
Crafting their comedy action-adventure movie thus became a fittingly outrageous caper all of its own. Even though COVID-19 was kept at bay, they faced their own health crisis when a large swath of crew members was struck by a parasite while shooting the film in the Dominican Republic.
“We almost lost our first AD!” Bullock exclaims. “Channing and I were on IVs. People were crapping themselves, and it was just horrible! Yet everyone got up every day really happy because we were working, we got to interact with each other, and we were on a little adventure that we just really hoped and prayed worked out.”
That shared passion was driven by the connection between Bullock and Chasin.
“Liza is such a badass at what she does,” says Bullock. “It’s such an honor to work with people who, when they open their mouths, experience and knowledge come out.” The feeling is clearly mutual, as Chasin describes their relationship as that of an old married couple. Between the two, the film was clearly in good, if competitive, hands.
“If you put two Type-A workaholic driven perfectionists together, it doesn’t stop.” Chasin shares. During production, the pair would often compete to see who’d stay up later and who’d be on set last, with their colleagues regularly wondering, ‘’Oh, who’s gonna win?”
In spite of that friendly competition, they had a rule about the production that was intentional, important, and should be a lesson for others.
“What’s in the sights all the time is making a great film and making sure people have a good experience,” Chasin explains, “Leave a place better than we found it; make sure people arrive home safely, the way they left their homes.”
That holistic approach to production was also of vital importance in approaching The Lost City‘s impressive cast of characters, beginning with Sage and Alan.
“You have two human beings that are on a ride and who come out the other end having grown and been validated as human beings rather than it being about boy saves girl, girl falls in love,” Bullock says. “I’m not a damsel in distress. I would love to be that, but I honestly can’t. So what I loved about this was the roles were reversed. And nobody but Channing could have stepped into that role and accepted it with such honesty and genuine love.”
After years in varying stages of isolation, both Chasin and Bullock are cautiously optimistic about the notion of people getting to watch The Lost City together in a theater. They’re both lovers of the cinema experience, with Bullock recalling her last pre-pandemic viewing of Magic Mike XXL, with rowdy friends and champagne bottles included. Bringing that special kind of popcorn movie joy to audiences is exactly what both women hope for. “We’re not going to be embarrassed that we want you to feel good,” Bullock smiles. “There’s no shame in that! I’m not cynical anymore! We just need a nice warm hug, we need to laugh our asses off, and we need to just have some fun!”
For Bullock, who has deep connections to Austin as a longtime resident, bringing The Lost City to SXSW for its world premiere is nothing short of a dream made real.
“It’s the best!” Bullock enthuses about her current hometown. “It’s a community of awesome, excited film-loving people who just come ready to have a good time. The industry has really exploded and belongs there because there’s such an appreciation for film current and past.”
Though her reverence for SXSW is clear, it might come as a surprise that cinema heavyweight Bullock was legitimately worried about not getting into the festival. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. “It made me so happy when we got in,” she says. “And we’re really excited.”
So what is it about SXSW that Bullock loves so much? It’s all about the magic of movies and the intangible enchantment of being around like-minded people.
Says Bullock, “You go to Austin for the love of film—the excitement of film, the love of having conversations about film—and the town just gets engulfed in the spirit of it.”
The Lost City premieres at SXSW on Saturday, March 12, and opens nationwide on March 25.