the mainframe

Trust That No One Loves The Net (or Sandra Bullock) More Than Carl Reiner

Sandra Bullock in The Net. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Back in 1995, during the nascent days of the internet, Sandra Bullock starred in the cyber-mystery thriller The Net. In the film, the world of online is a place where you can both order pizza with a few button clicks and succumb to vengeful hackers hellbent on destroying your life. Nearly 25 years later, with our Domino’s Pizza Trackers and semi-regular data breaches, reality isn’t much different.

Another thing that hasn’t changed? Comedy legend Carl Reiner’s fervent love of the film and its leading lady. Reiner is known for his 70-plus-year career, which includes creating The Dick Van Dyke Show, directing movies like Oh, God! and The Jerk, acting in the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, and maintaining a comedy partnership and friendship with Mel Brooks, among many other accomplishments. But another thing for which he’s drawn attention lately — at least, among his loyal Twitter followers — is regularly tweeting about The Net.

In The Net, Bullock plays systems analyst Angela Bennett, a shut-in whose entire life is digitally erased by hackers after she stumbles upon a partnership between cyberterrorists and the film’s version of Norton Antivirus. Combining tropes from Golden Era Hollywood (Bullock is seduced and then stalked by an homme fatale) and early internet culture (chat rooms, robotic text-to-speech, and LOTS of close-ups of Bullock furiously hacking), The Net serves as a great counterpart to Hackers, the other 1995 film about digital identity manipulation. Whereas that film is now ironically lauded as a cult classic, The Net has endured as more of a straight foretelling of the many privacy issues that continue to plague humanity.

On a whim, I reached out to see if Carl Reiner would like to chat about The Net. And reader, he did. Joining him in this conversation about the utter gift that is Sandra Bullock, the technology of Pizza.net and mainframes, and why young comedians can and should make mistakes, was Lawrence O’Flahavan, his publisher at Random Content publishing, who just happened to be with him at the time of our phone call.

Thank you so much for doing this interview.
It’s my pleasure. I really adore that girl [Sandra Bullock].

I’ve noticed over the years that you really love this movie.
I must’ve seen The Net three or four times and it’s because it’s one of the great comeuppance movies ever made. I put it in a class with The Count of Monte Cristo. There’s a few movies like that where the comeuppance of the villain at the end … her performance is so winning and you get into her mind. You know, just her sitting at that little computer, the close-ups of her face thinking and of her writing — her thoughts are so clear and so fascinating. I’m always amazed at her talent and beauty. And of course, she did other things too. Miss Congeniality. But there was another movie she made that was very good. I can’t remember the name now.

Maybe Speed? The one where she and Keanu Reeves are on a bus?
Yeah. She’s a force of nature. Oh, The Proposal! That’s the other one.

When The Net was released in 1995, that was around the time the internet first entered mainstream American culture. I’m curious, were you yourself around online in 1995?
I don’t think so.

Do you remember when you first went online? Did a friend or a grandchild show you?
Well, I have a guy here, Lawrence O’Flahavan. He’s my publisher. And he’s responsible for anything I put on the internet.

Lawrence O’Flahavan: What we did was, he wanted to write a book, I Remember Me. And I thought, “Man, the best way for us to market this is to get Carl to tweet.” And Carl said, “What’s tweet? What are you talking about?” And I said, “Carl, it’s like having an audience. You walk onto a stage and talk into a microphone. And we broadcast.” And that’s how we began his whole online presence. He had his email, he had his basic things, but his social-media presence was not active.

Did The Net in some way scare you off from using the internet? Because as a child, The Net made me scared of going online — that it was going to erase all my information.
Reiner: No, not at all. It made me a big fan of Sandra Bullock! No, every time she puts her face on screen, you know you’re gonna see something good.

I know that you filmed a scene with Sandra Bullock for Ocean’s Eight that was unfortunately cut. I’m curious, was your character originally in the script or did you pull some strings so you could reprise your Ocean’s Eleven character with Sandra for a day?
O’Flahavan: It was in the original script. Carl was excited to meet Sandra.

Reiner: I told her, I said, “You know, you did a couple little moments that are unforgettable.” When she’s in The Proposal, that’s one of them, where she’s faking the fact that she’s engaged to someone rather than getting thrown out of the country because she wasn’t a citizen. The attitude she did and the way she touched her boyfriend was so funny! Tried to look lovey-dovey. It was one of the really funny moments.

Photo: Walt Disney Studios

Action, comedy, romance, thrillers like The Net. She can do it all.
Oh yeah. She can do it all. There’s no question about it. What was her other one? Two Weeks Notice? That was a goodie. She’s never done anything that didn’t work. Even the bus thing she did.

O’Flahavan: What was it like meeting her for the first time on the set [of Ocean’s Eight]?

Reiner: I was so thrilled that I got to meet her because I wanted to tell her how I felt about her work.

O’Flahavan: And what did she do when she saw you?

Reiner: I don’t remember.

O’Flahavan: She knelt down, remember?

Reiner: Oh yes! That’s right. And I knelt down to her! Oh, I couldn’t believe that. I didn’t even know she knew me.

O’Flahavan: We wish we could see what that scene looked like. We’ve never been able to get a copy of it, of Carl and Sandra. We would love to be able to see that. Put that in the article, by the way!

I’ll make sure some of the higher-ups at Warner Bros know that Mr. Reiner needs that scene.
Reiner: I also love the fact that she adopted a child, a young African-American child, and is a loving, doting mother. By the way, is she married?

She was in a high-profile relationship some years back, but they got divorced. I’m not sure what her current status is.
I just wondered if that little boy has a father, but she’s certainly doing a great job with him, I understand.

Dennis Miller has a brief but memorable role in The Net. These days he’s arguably more famous as a conservative commentator than as a comedian. As an ardent Democrat yourself, what do you make of comedians who defend the policies of the Republican Party in their routine?
O’Flahavan: Carl’s waving his hands as if he’s waving a gnat from his face.

Who are your favorite and/or funniest people to follow on Twitter?
Reiner: Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer. Mel Brooks when he tweets. Rob Reiner, of course. Trump because anything that guy says makes me laugh because it’s just so nuts. He’s not a comedian but it’s just nuts.

In The Net, Sandra Bullock’s life is destroyed when her identity is erased off the internet. But these days, people can have their lives destroyed if something they said is amplified on the internet. For example, a young comedian who tweeted a racy joke in the past will get fired from a job ten years later when that tweet is unearthed. My question is: Are you glad the internet wasn’t around to capture any mistakes you might’ve made as a young comedian?
All my life, I felt like mistakes were gifts of gold. And I feel like because the audience is present, it’s okay to make those mistakes, because it makes the experience even richer. Once onstage, I had to recite a speech as Claudius and was told to memorize it overnight. I got halfway through and couldn’t remember the other half of it. So I just started making up Elizabethan double-talk, which I used later on Your Show of Shows. Anyway, the audience responded so well that after I had it memorized the next night, I didn’t get any applause.

Carl Reiner. Photo: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

So in terms of mistakes, it’s okay to make mistakes. And it’s okay to let the audience in on it. When you make a mistake, let them participate. It’s important for a comedian to make mistakes because it’s not real. It’s always practice. Hey, I gotta go!

Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Reiner.
One thing I know: Anything I say about Sandra Bullock is always checked off and doubled. She’s beloved by practically everyone who’s ever seen her.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad thing about her.
Anything I said positive about her, you can put three stars next to it because there’s no negatives about her! There’s nothing negative about her.

No One Loves The Net More Than Carl Reiner