Sandra Bullock reached the pinnacle of her profession on March 7, when she won an Academy Award. Her husband, Jesse James, was by her side. He even teared up when she went on stage to accept the Oscar.
Little more than a week later, amid allegations of James’ infidelity, Bullock canceled a planned appearance at the London premiere of the movie that won her the prize, citing “unforeseen personal reasons.”
But the brand-new Oscar winner isn’t likely to experience any professional consequences from this public exposure of her personal pain.
“If anything, it would engender a massive amount of sympathy toward her, and she’s already exceedingly well liked,” said veteran publicist Michael Levine.
Even the cancellation of her London appearance to promote “The Blind Side” shouldn’t hurt its overseas returns, he said.
“Ironically, it can actually bolster her fame,” said Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California who studies pop culture and celebrity. “She has tried to keep herself out of her career as much as possible. This development, it adds to her image as a sympathetic figure that especially women can relate to.”
Tabloid reports of James’ infidelity surfaced Wednesday and Bullock subsequently canceled her London trip. James apologized to his wife Thursday in a statement issued through his publicist.
“It’s because of my poor judgment that I deserve everything bad that is coming my way,” he said. “This has caused my wife and kids pain and embarrassment beyond comprehension and I am extremely saddened to have brought this on them.”
He added that “the vast majority of the allegations reported are untrue and unfounded,” but offered no other details, saying, “Beyond that, I will not dignify these private matters with any further public comment.”
James did not show up at his motorcycle shop, West Coast Choppers, on Thursday. And he declined to speak to assembled journalists when he returned to the couple’s oceanfront home in Huntington Beach, Calif., later in the day.
Representatives for Bullock did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment Thursday.
Sternheimer, the sociologist, said that the infidelity rumors don’t challenge popular perceptions of Bullock or James, who has cultivated a bad-boy persona since his days on “Monster Garage.”
Marital issues among celebrities “remind us that they’re humans,” Sternheimer said.
“They might not be just like us, but they go through a lot of the same things,” she said, “and it makes people feel all the more connected to celebrities.”
Stories about celebrities’ real lives — especially such a compelling one in which America’s Sweetheart wins the Oscar then gets cheated on by her seemingly loving husband — have lured readers since the first tabloids surfaced nearly 100 years ago, Sternheimer said.
“There’s this insatiable desire to know more about these people who we kind of anoint as having perfect lives, and what could be more perfect than winning an Oscar,” she said.
Add to that the romance of Bullock thanking her husband at various awards shows and calling him “sexy,” while he, the tattooed bad boy in a tux, stood loyally by her side.
“Stories like this suggest that these kind of fantasies might not really be possible, that’s why it’s become such a headline,” Sternheimer continued. “(Bullock) spoke openly about how wonderful he is and how he changed her. It’s the fantasy, the ‘Jerry Maguire’ you-complete-me fantasy, and to have it come crashing down so soon is the drama side of it.”
Longtime Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, however, said the intrigue created by Bullock’s circumstances point to the tabloidization of mainstream journalism.
“I don’t think it’s really fair to her,” he said. “We could have given her at least a month to enjoy her Oscar.”