Blind Side: Interview with Writer/Director John Lee Hancock

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John Lee Hancock is the writer/director of "The Blind Side," starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, and Quinton Aaron. The film, which is based on a true story, is being released November 20 by Warner Bros.

The Story

Director/screenwriter John Lee Hancock states, "It really is two different stories, one of which is more of a question: Who is Michael Oher and why did the stars align to shine so brightly on this kid from the projects in Memphis? And then on the other side, it's a great story about how this unique family evolved, and the unconventional mother-son relationship at its center. Sports, specifically football, was the engine that propelled the story forward, but he could have been a dancer or a pianist–it wouldn't have made any difference. The journey that Michael and the Tuohy family go on is the heart of the movie."?

The fact that the "The Blind Side" takes place in the present day also benefited Hancock, who says, "I loved the book and spoke at length with Michael Lewis, who is a fantastic writer, but, if possible, it's always important to meet the real people and hear how they talk instead of just reading it. So spending time with the Tuohys and Michael and being around them as a family was invaluable."?

Casting Sandra Bullock

Hancock remembers, "Sandy liked the script but was having trouble figuring out how to portray Leigh Anne. We would meet and she would ask all kinds of questions, but I wasn't able to come up with the answers she was looking for."

Hancock continues, "I think Sandy was understandably frustrated with my inability to describe the character, but that's because Leigh Anne is indescribable. It's one of the wonderful things about her. Finally I said, 'Sandy, you just have to meet her.' So we went down to Memphis and I introduced her to Leigh Anne. It turned into a full day spent with Leigh Anne and everything that involves: craziness and mayhem and fun and laughter and getting a lot of stuff done in very short order. At the end of the day, Sandy turned to me and said, 'Okay I get it.' She had experienced firsthand the tornado that is 'Tuohy time,' and we were off and running."?

Casting Other Roles

The strength of Leigh Anne Tuohy's personality made casting the role of her husband, Sean Tuohy, in Hancock's words "difficult." The director goes on to explain, "When you're around the Tuohy family, you get the sense that she's the engine, but he is the glue that holds it all together. Sean is completely self-assured and comfortable in his own skin. He has that Southern ex-athlete attitude; there's a swagger there."?

Hancock says they found everything they were looking for in actor and country music superstar Tim McGraw. "When Tim McGraw's name came up, I thought he would be a great choice. I had admired his work in movies and he had all the qualities we were looking for. It felt like a natural fit and he turned out to be fantastic. I loved working with him."

Hancock comments, "The process of casting Michael Oher was long and exhausting; it was a needle in a haystack situation. We carried out a nationwide search, going to a lot of different cities and hiring local casting directors to find actors with the qualifications we needed, both physically and spiritually, for lack of a better word. We were looking for a very specific combination. In short, we needed a gentle giant."

"We looked at a lot of actors who didn't quite fit the bill," Hancock recalls. "When I saw Quinton's tape, there was something about him that was missing in the other ones. Then when he came in the door, my first instinct was to hug him, and it was that quality that first struck me. He also has a face that draws you in; when he's quiet and looks at you with those doe eyes, there's a story there that you want to know. I just had a gut feeling he was our guy…that we were about to change his life in a spectacular way."?

Hancock remarks, "I knew Quinton had played a little high school football, but the concern was that he had to look like he could really handle himself on a football field. We got him involved with trainers, who set him up with a regimen of diet and workouts. He lost a lot of weight, but, more importantly, he started looking like an athlete."?

College Coaches Visit the Set

"It was one of the best days of my career," Hancock declares. "I'm a huge college football fan so getting to meet those coaches and work with them was incredible."

For the recruiting sequence, Hancock directed the coaches to do what they do best: sell. "They are natural born salesmen; it's what they do all the time and they all did very well. Lou Holtz had me wanting to play for South Carolina," he laughs.

John Lee Hancock concludes, "I think it's appropriate that this movie is coming out around Thanksgiving because it is very much about giving thanks. It is about taking stock and being grateful for the things you have. And also being aware of what other people don't have."