Sandra was born in Arlington, Virginia on July 26, 1964. Her father was a US Army employee and her mother was a German opera singer. Sandra’s parents met when her father was in charge of the US Army postal service in Europe, based in Nuremburg. Interestingly, Sandra’s grandfather was actually a German rocket scientist.
Sandra was raised in Germany and Vienna, Austria for 12 years, and grew up speaking German. Sandra studied ballet and singing as a child and frequently accompanied her mother on tour, taking small parts in her opera productions. Sandra also sang in the opera’s children’s choir at the Staatstheater Nürnberg.
In her early teens, the family returned to the US, so Sandra could go to high school, where she was a cheerleader and performed in school theater productions. After graduating in 1982, Sandra went to East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, where she received a BFA in Drama in 1987. While at University, she performed in many theater productions.
After graduating, Sandra moved to New York City, with the dream of becoming an actress. But like most aspiring actresses, it was a tough industry to break into. She supported herself working as a bartender, cocktail waitress, and coat check girl, while auditioning for acting roles during the day. For five years, Sandra struggled to make ends meet.
Sandra’s persistence started to pay off when she landed a role in an off-Broadway play “No Time Flat”. The play was not a hit, but the director was impressed by Sandra’s performances and offered her a part in the TV movie “Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman” (1989). This led to her being cast in a series of small roles in several independent films as well as in the lead role of the short-lived NBC television version of the film “Working Girl” (1990). Sandra went on to appear in several films, such as “Love Potion No. 9” (1992), “The Thing Called Love” (1993) and “Fire on the Amazon” (1993).
1993 would become Sandra’s breakout year. She had a prominent supporting role in the science-fiction/action film “Demolition Man” (1993), followed by a leading role in “Speed” opposite Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper. Speed was a huge thriller hit and took in $350 million US at the box office worldwide, taking Sandra to a new level and becoming a widely known actress.
Sandra then had a string of successes during the mid-1990s including the lead role in the romantic comedy “While You Were Sleeping” (1995). The role earned Sandra her first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress. Sandra followed this with several more moderately successful movies such as “The Net” (1995) and “A Time to Kill” (1996), opposite acting heavy weights Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Spacey.
Sandra then was offered a huge paycheck ($11 million US) to make the sequel “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997). The film did not have Keanu Reeves and ended up barely breaking even at the box office. Sandra is quoted saying “she regrets making the sequel.” But her star was not badly tarnished as she was selected as one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1996 and again in 1999.
By this time, the savvy businesswoman in Sandra, led her to start her own production company. One of the first projects was “Miss Congeniality” (2000), which Sandra also starred in. It was a financial success that took in $212 million at the box office worldwide and Sandra received another Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress.
In 2004, Sandra had a supporting role in the film “Crash”, which won the Oscar for Best Picture. The ensemble cast included, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Ryan Phillippe. In 2005, Sandra brought us “Miss Congeniality 2”, but it barely broke the $100 million US mark at the box office. In 2006, Sandra reunited onscreen, with her Speed co-star Keanu Reeves, in the romantic drama “The Lake House”.
In 2009, Sandra starred in “The Proposal”, with Ryan Reynolds. The film took in $317 million US worldwide, and she received her third Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress. Later in 2009, Sandra starred in “The Blind Side”, which she originally turned down the times because she was uncomfortable with portraying a devout Christian. But the film would go on to be a huge box office hit taking in over $300 million US and even earned Sandra her first Oscar statue for Best Actress.
In 2011, she starred in the drama “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” opposite Tom Hanks, but the film did not do well at the box office. The film was still nominated for numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2013, Sandra starred in the sci-fi film “Gravity”, opposite George Clooney. The film received universal acclaim among critics and was called “the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space”. It was a huge box office hit taking in over $700 million US worldwide.
Up next, Sandra is set to star in an all-female spin-off of the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise, titled “Ocean’s Eight” scheduled for release next year. The cast includes Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Rihanna. It should be an interesting mix.
At only 52 years old, I’m sure we will see a lot more of Sandra for years to come.
Fred Jacobs is a full time resident of Puerto Vallarta and the author of three books.