Susan Sarandon on why she’ll keep speaking her mind in Hollywood.
actor “When I started my career, I was told I would be over by 40 – those were the rules”
You are one of the most famous movie stars in the world, but is television where the best roles are for women now? I think TV has more parts for women. When I did the film Bernard And Doris I was older [at 60], and that found its place on [TV channel] HBO and did really well. I think television has more of an imagination these days because on cable, and the newer streaming platforms, the demographics don’t have to be as wide – so you can be sexier, or more violent, or more naked, or edgier than you could on regular TV.
You’re playing legendary actor Bette Davis in your new TV series, Feud: Bette And Joan. How scary was it to step into her shoes? It’s intimidating, because she was so eccentric and idiosyncratic in the way she talked, and everything she did, and that has all been mimicked so much. It wasn’t about just getting an accent right; she stressed very odd words in sentences, and she had a very odd walk. So, the challenge was, how do you take that extreme version of her that everyone is familiar with, ground her and make her a real person? That’s what intimidated me. But I am always drawn to things that terrify me, because that’s the point, right? Did you ever meet Davis? Yes, and she terrified me. She once asked me to play her in a previous film about her, when she was still alive. It was after her daughter had written a mean book about her. I was intrigued, but there was no script and I didn’t have the wherewithal then to make it happen. When [series creator] Ryan Murphy came to me and had reinvented the story to become a more complex, in-depth view of what produced the feud [with Joan Crawford], and what it says about Hollywood and ageing, then it had a context for me that was more interesting. That memoir, written by Davis’s daughter B.D. Hyman, depicted her mother as a vicious alcoholic. Ouch… They travelled together and did everything together – they were more like friends than mother and daughter. Then B.D. got married at the age of 16, became a born-again Christian, had two children and wrote that horrible book. When Davis filmed Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? – the making of which is portrayed in Feud – she was 54, and her career was considered to be over. You’re 70 and still working in Hollywood, so have things got better for older women? When I started my career, I was told I would be over by 40. And that if you got married, and had kids, you were no longer sensual or sexy – those were the rules. But I did Bull Durham over 40. So I think a lot of us have survived and pushed the gate [out] a little bit further, but there’s a lack of imagination in terms of storytelling. You get tons of offers to play people who are dying or losing their mind, but you still don’t have parts for women in their 50s or 60s that are romantic, so that
``I have always regretted what I haven´t said more than what I have ´´
hasn’t changed that much. And I don’t know that the men are getting amazing parts either, but they’re still leads and they’re getting paid more. Did you know your Feud co-star Jessica Lange, who plays Davis’s arch rival Joan Crawford? We’d talked but we’d never worked together before – they usually only allow one woman per film, sometimes two, and then it’s one older, one younger. I’ve been very lucky to do a few other films where there was another woman in the lead, but it’s very rare. That’s why Thelma & Louise [with Geena Davis] was such a big deal, and The Banger Sisters [with Goldie Hawn] and Tammy [with Melissa Mccarthy] – it’s just great to have another woman to play off; it’s a whole different experience. Bette Davis was accused of not having many girlfriends, and she said: “Well, the women at that studio knew each other, and the women at this studio – that’s how they knew each other.” There just weren’t many women. Why do actors marry so many actors? You don’t meet anybody else. Davis and Crawford’s sideswipes at each other were deliciously barbed and bitchy. Is Hollywood too safe and full of platitudes these days? I’m no expert on Hollywood – I’m definitely an outsider – but it does seem to me as though there is an atmosphere of being afraid to speak out, and of just going along with the program. When you’re separated from the herd, for whatever reason, it’s a very uncomfortable life – you think you’ll never work again or that you’ll actually be harmed. I’ve been in that position and it’s hard to survive. So I understand why people are hesitant to go their own way. But I have always regretted what I haven’t said or done much more than I have regretted what I have said. I can either clarify or apologise afterwards – or not apologise. It’s the things you don’t say, it’s the people you don’t defend, it’s the things you don’t do that will drive you crazy.