Bullock was born in Arlington County, Virginia, the daughter of Helga D. Meyer, a German opera singer, and John W Bullock, a Pentagon contractor, executive and part-time vocal coach from Alabama. Bullock’s maternal grandfather was a rocket scientist from Nuremberg, Germany. On her father’s side, she is descended from a prominent family in early Alabama history for whom Bullock County is named. Bullock lived in Nuremberg until age twelve, where she sang in the opera’s children’s choir at the Staatstheater Nürnberg. She frequently traveled with her mother on her opera tours, and lived in Germany and other parts of Europe for much of her childhood. She retains German citizenship. Bullock studied ballet and vocal arts as a child, taking small parts in her mother’s opera productions.
Bullock attended Washington-Lee High School where she was a cheerleader, participated in high school theater productions and dated a football player. She graduated in 1982 and enrolled in East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. During this time, she worked as a waitress at a restaurant. She later left school during her senior year (Spring 1986), only three credits short of graduating, to pursue an acting career. She went on to Manhattan to pursue auditions and supported herself with a variety of odd jobs (bartender, cocktail waitress, coat checker).
Bullock later completed her coursework and was awarded a bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University. She is fluent in German.