At this moment in time, it's pretty much impossible to imagine anyone else other than Sandra Bullock portraying Dr. Ryan Stone, the first time astronaut who must navigate the treacheries of outer space when she is disconnected from her space shuttle. Her performance in Gravity is arguably the best of her career, and could very likely net her a second Oscar (a nomination is all but guaranteed), but she was not Alfonso Cuaron's first choice for the role, nor was she the second, third, or fourth. When you put it that way it makes it seem far worse than it actually is. In all honesty, this is an all too familiar tale in Hollywood, especially with big budget risk takers such as Gravity.
This story all really starts at Universal Studios, who were initially going to produce the film. As these things typically go, Universal hit a bit of a box office slump a few years ago. A risk like Gravity just wasn't financially feasible then, so they had to let the movie go. Of course, Alfonso went to Warner Bros. next, whom he had worked with previously, most notably on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Following the huge successes of the Harry Potter and Batman franchises, Warner Bros. was simply in a more secure financial position to take a risk on Cuaron and his passion project, therefore this is why the film took four years to reach screens. Of course, you might be wondering who the other actresses were that were initially supposed to play Sandra Bullock's role?
While we have yet to see the long term impact of Gravity, as the film exists now, I would safely call it an instant classic. This will be a film long remembered for not just its technical precision, but its moving story. Given that the film has already found so much success, I think it is entirely worth looking at all of the different scenarios that could have been had any of these other actresses played the part. Therefore, in turn, I will take a look at all of the different, potential casting scenarios and break down how they would have impacted not just the film, but potentially even box office take and critical reception. For starters, I'll ponder the simpler question, what would Gravity have been like had Robert Downey, Jr., played the role of veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski, rather than Clooney?
There's no denying the fact that Angelina Jolie is a movie star and a huge celebrity, I mean, just look at the countless tabloid headlines in the grocery store, but I don't think Gravity would have been as successful starring her. Here's the thing that Sandra Bullock brings to the role, an innate likability. This is something that most other actors struggle with. This is just Bullock's essence. She's the type of person that what you see is what you get, and there are no false pretenses about her, and people like that. She's not afraid to be emotionally vulnerable or to do something that might seem goofy or silly because that's just who she is. Someone like Angelina Jolie takes themselves more seriously than is needed (as a matter of fact, most of the other actresses up for the part all do in some way, shape, or form). There and again, I do think the film would have more than likely been at least financially successful starring Jolie, especially if paired with Downey, Jr., but I don't think the film would have resonated enough with audiences emotionally to have played like it has so far. Then there's the simple fact that Jolie was asking for a $20 million payday, which would have ballooned the already risky budget even higher, making it harder to recoup its costs. Now, what about the other actresses?
There is no denying that Cotillard is a very talented actress, and I do think that had Cotillard played the part it would have given the film a more international flavor because Cuaron would have probably let her play the part as French. However, like Jolie, she tends to take herself very seriously, and while she is old enough to be credible, like Lively she is not a big box office draw, therefore it just would have not worked with her in the role. Of course, I think the real question is whether or not this film would be getting any of this Oscar buzz had any of these other scenarios played out?
Ultimately, it's hard to tell whether the film would still be considered a major Oscar player had any of these other scenarios played out. For one, because had any of these other scenarios played out, the film might have come out last year or the year before, and I don't know if it would have looked as impressive going up against some of the Oscar films of the past few years. Personally, I think it still would have at least been a contender in terms of Visual Effects, Cinematography, and Sound. As well, I think Alfsono Cuaron would still be in talks for Best Director, given that he'd have called all of the same shots and still made many of the same directorial, stylistic decisions that make Gravity what it is, but would he be the frontrunner? Now, that is the more interesting question, because while a director does call the shots, there is no denying the impact of the right actor or actress to elevate the director's work and give it emotional resonance.
Overall, Gravity is one of those films where everything came together the right way, at the right moment in time. Had the film been made earlier, it more than likely would have not been as emotionally resonant, considering the myriad of other casting choices. This is a film, that as it exists now, is one of the best movies I've seen in a long while, and is definitely the best movie I've seen in 2013 so far. This film deserves every accolade it has received thus far, and deserves a great many more that are sure to come. Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, are all serious possibilities at all of the film awards' shows coming up, most notably the Oscars. I would not be surprised at all to see Alfonso Cuaron accepting an Oscar come next March for this film, and that isn't me making a bold prediction or nothing, it's just stating the fact that Gravity is that good.
If you haven't seen Gravity already, I urge you to see it, preferably on the biggest screen possible. This is one of those movies that, while it will more than likely play well on a TV screen, just has to be experienced on the big screen to get that full, all encompassing experience that only seeing a movie on a three story tall screen with surround sound can give.