The heroine of this article admits that “she did everything wrong” in her film career. She refused roles in blockbuster films, preferring to work on movies that were interesting to her; she became known relatively late, after she turned 40 years old; she stopped shooting at the peak of her career to become a mother. But, all of the above did not prevent her from becoming a successful actress. Susan Sarandon has appeared in over a hundred films. In the 90s, almost every year, she was nominated for the “Oscar” and for the “Best Actress” award, to finally earn the most prestigious film award, in 1995, for the movie “Dead Man Walking”.
Now she is 66 and she continues to act and to produce, and does not exclude the possibility to try herself as a film director. At the same time, she travels the world visiting festivals and getting film awards, which she carefully stores on a shelf in her bathroom.
Let’s start with the “Oscar”, which you have received. Was playing Helen Prejean, in the movie “Dead Man Walking”, the most difficult and exhausting role in your life?
Yes. It was very difficult because I had a responsibility to her as a living person that I cared about. I don’t usually have that if I’m playing a character who isn’t actually a real person . But “Dead Man Walking” was about existing people with their own stories and characters. I was also afraid that the audience might get bored because there were so many scenes with just Sean Penn and myself. Also I was trying not to become competitive as an actor with Sean, which can happen, so it was very difficult. I was nominated a few times [for an Oscar] and if I was to win once, I was happy it was for that one for sure.
Some time ago, you starred in the TV shows “The Big C” and “You Don’t Know Jack” with Al Pacino. Do you think contemporary television and TV shows are gradually winning back the audience and are rising in popularity over full-length movies? Please, don’t respond with the usual actor phrase: “I just pick roles”.
I never give the usual answers so don’t worry about that. I think, the problem is that there are interesting films being done, but they can’t get distribution usually. That’s the problem, you can make unusual, challenging films but they have no means of distribution. Right now Hollywood is very unimaginative and has been for a long time, and even if you get a film, they don’t even know how to release it and I think that very often if a movie is made with a very low budget, then they just drop it. They have three different kinds of films that they know how to distribute, and anything that’s outside of those big blockbusters has a very difficult time in its advertising campaign. However, now the situation is changing. Social media has become so sophisticated, that blogs and the Internet help in keeping films alive. I think what’s going to happen is what happened in the music business, that it’s reinventing itself and a lot of things will go, and will be delivered through the internet. People will start watching interesting films more often at home than in the cinema.
Besides its blockbusters, Hollywood is also known for romanticism. American producers especially enjoy creating love scenes. Tell us about the other side of the coin. How does it feel to participate in these scenes? In one of the latest movies, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”, your character dreams of a kiss under a waterfall. Have you ever had such a desire?
I have a feeling that that’s one of those things that looks romantic and is really
uncomfortable [crowd laughs]. Like making love on the beach is not really fun
in the water. Burt Lancaster, when I was asking him about that famous scene
with Deborah Carr, on the beach , in the movie “From Here to Eternity” (the picture was nominated for 30 “Oscars” and received 8), replied that it was hellish. They were drowning as the waves were pounding them. So no, I never envisioned kissing under a waterfall. Maybe close to a waterfall but not right under a waterfall. It wasn’t even that comfortable kissing underneath during the shooting of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”, because the water that was coming out has some chemicals in it, so my eyes were stinging and it wasn’t that cool.
Can you play the same role twice? How do manage to keep an interest in the character which you will have to interpret?
It’s very important for me not to take the same kind of role. I don’t even like to repeat a day of my life again. I want to make sure that every day is different or else I’ve wasted it. Usually when you’re successful, you are being asked to play similar roles. After Pretty Baby I was offered all prostitute roles. After Dead Man Walking I was offered lots of nun roles. I just say no. That was not because I didn’t like the characters, but because I have done it before. Hollywood stars, who get paid a lot more money than I do, usually repeat themselves over and over and over again and that way they get paid more money because whoever is paying them knows exactly what they’re getting. I see myself as a character actor and so I try not to play myself over and over again.
You own various film awards. Where do you keep them?
Usually people are very surprised to hear, but all of my awards are in the bathroom. I didn’t really have anywhere to put them. My children call it “the famous bathroom”. So all my future awards will actually go there next to the Oscar, so that way they can all keep each other company and they’re not so lonely.
You mentioned your sons. Tell us about your family. Actually, Jeff, Who Lives at Home brings up the very relevant, not only for America, issue of grown-up kids that do not want to leave their families and are not hurrying up to live their lives. What your opinion is on these kinds of relationships in a family?
My daughter, Eva Amurri, is 27. She is an actress and she lives on her own. I also have a son, Jack Henry, who is 23. He finished college and came back home for a little while. My second son, Miles, just turned 20 and he’s still in school. My youngest always comes around with a bunch of friends and, so I always have about 7 or 8 kids at my house sleeping.
I think that living with children is a great opportunity to get to know them as adults, and for them to get to know you as a person because most children think you came into existence when they did and they don’t see you as a person. But I think what’s difficult is that you have to change the dynamic and stop treating your children like children and they have to stop treating you as someone who’s picking up their clothes, and doing their laundry and cooking their meals, but if you can find a way to change the dynamic I think it’s fabulous. I’m at the point now where my kids are educating me and they show me art and they turn me onto new music and I’m re-reading the books I read when I was younger with them, and we talk about it and I’m very moved by the opportunity to have them at home, except, when they leave their stuff all around, and when their friends expect me to pick up their beer bottles. It’s difficult, but I think that there are many families, in which, children are forced to come back home to their parents.
The big problem is making sure you don’t fall into the same relationship that you had when they were small. I think it’s a pretty interesting exchange when you can have the opportunity to get to know your children when they’re older.
Do your sons criticize your acting?
Well for the longest time they never saw my movies, they weren’t interested. About ten years ago I had a retrospective at Lincoln Centre which was a very big deal. That was the first time they saw a lot of little tiny pieces of my films. My son who was 10, said “Did you never think you might have children?” and then my son who was 7 said “no I liked it mum, but it was scary” because of the sex scene with Catherine Deneuve. There was no nakedness, but there was kissing and they were very upset about that. And I said, “No I never thought I would have children, sorry” [laughs]. But they are great, they are totally supportive, and now they have more to worry about with their sister, because she is naked more than I am. She did a season of Californication where she was a stripper and they refused to watch that.
You produced several films. What is the difference between working in front of the camera and behind it?
Producing a film is really fun and not that difficult but getting it sold and getting it distributed is where most directors have the most problems: how your film will be perceived and how it will be presented. I produced a number of films without credit. I produced Dead Man Walking, and it was fun to cast, and to choose people who were going to be doing the costumes and the sets. The thing that thrills me most about working in film is collaboration. I come from a large family, a chaotic large family, and I’m the oldest of nine children, so it seems totally understandable for me to live in chaos. I love collaborating and I love the fact that as an actor you’re very much dependant on the focus puller, as much as the director and the costumes person. Everybody has to work together and I love that about making films. So the production just isn’t that difficult, but the afterwards tries my patience more.
With your work experience in cinematography, would you like to produce your own film?
This is the problem. At the end of the day at around 8 o’ clock I really don’t care what the extras are doing in the back of the frame. I think you need to possess a little obsessive-compulsive disorder to have the energy that it takes to direct a film. I like working with actors and I like working on a script, and, maybe, I will try… My children are almost grown up and I am thinking about starting to work in documentaries or in the theatre. Maybe I will be working on a film with a producer who will be responsible for the shooting and I could take care of the acting because I love actors.
What can you suggest to young people who dream of becoming successful actors?
I’m the last person you should ask about that. I’ve done everything wrong. I’ve taken movies that everyone said I shouldn’t, I’ve taken years off to have children, I’ve been outspoken politically. So there is no explanation of why I’m still around. I think you just have to follow your heart. I think that as an actor it is important to embrace what is special about yourself, and then have the confidence to pretend. It’s really not that complicated, anyone can do it. The hardest thing about acting is learning how to pack to go places and surviving in a business that really doesn’t encourage you to get old or fat. The rest of it is not that difficult.