The Sandra Bullock Character in ‘Speed’ Was Nearly a Stand-Up Comedian

And Ellen DeGeneres almost got the part
The Sandra Bullock Character in ‘Speed’ Was Nearly a Stand-Up Comedian

This week marks the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest action movies ever made: Speed, aka The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down. The plot of Speed famously concerns a city bus that can’t dip below 50 mph or a bomb will go off. As if Los Angeles’ public transit system wasn’t off-putting enough.

But what really made Speed work so well was its cast — Keanu Reeves as Officer Jack Traven, Dennis Hopper as the villainous bomber and a young Sandra Bullock as Annie Porter, the passenger tasked with driving the hazardous vehicle. Speed proved to be Bullock’s breakout role, although she had already appeared in movies like Demolition Man and the wildly problematic Love Potion No. 9.

While we don’t get too many details about Annie’s personal life in Speed, early drafts revealed that she was a working stand-up comedian. Why she was on an early morning commuter bus and not sleeping in until 1:30 in the afternoon is unclear. 

The writing of Speed was a pretty arduous process. The project began with screenwriter Graham Yost, before being rewritten by at least one other writer before eventually landing on the desk of Joss Whedon. Yost later credited the now-disgraced Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator with coming up with “98.9 percent of the dialogue," yet Whedon received no credit on the finished film. 

According to Whedon, the draft he received, which wasn’t Yost’s, had turned the Annie character into a stand-up comedian. Why? Because the producers thought they needed to rationalize her clever dialogue, telling Whedon, “If she says something funny, that will explain it.” To be fair, it would clear up why Annie is cracking jokes about the Ford Pinto when most of us would be soiling ourselves in terror.  

But Whedon rejected this idea, believing that audiences wouldn’t “root” for a comedian in that scenario. “They’re all going to die, and she’s trying to get new material? That’s not it,” he explained. Although, in retrospect, it would have been fun to see Speed end with Bullock on stage at the Comedy Store asking the audience, “What’s the deal with exploding buses?”

Eventually Whedon (or some other writer, who knows?) settled on the idea that Annie was a graphic designer working for “Uncle Salty’s Seafood Hut,” although this detail was left on the cutting room floor. 

Regardless of her profession, Annie’s humor was always to be her defining characteristic, which is why Yost wanted to cast an actual stand-up comic in the role: Ellen DeGeneres. Yup, Ellen was the original choice for Speed, a tidbit she once revealed to a shocked Keanu Reeves.

“I wanted someone who was funny. I don’t think it’s as ludicrous as people make it out to sound now because I think she’s incredibly talented,” Yost told Entertainment Weekly, concluding the subject by stating, “I’m not going to go down that long road of defending Ellen DeGeneres as the heroine in Speed.

Maybe in some parallel universe, Speed 2: Cruise Control is the worst thing Ellen DeGeneres ever did. 

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