Secrets of success
Everything is just as it should be for veteran actor Susan Sarandon, writes Neala Johnson
IT’S amazing what you can get done once your children leave home. Or, as Susan Sarandon puts it, ‘‘ when you’re not having to cut their meat any more’’.
Sarandon, 66 next month, has racked up a string of supporting roles, from 30 Rock and Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy to sprawling epic Cloud Atlas and indie flick Robot & Frank.
As a small- business owner, she’s worked on expanding her hot- spot New York ping- pong bar SPiN to Boston, LA and Chicago. She even had interest from Australia – ‘‘ I don’t know what happened to those guys.’’
She’s moved on from her split with long- time partner Tim Robbins, dating SPiN business partner Jonathan Bricklin ( 32 years her junior). And she’s travelled – a lot.
‘‘ I’ve been getting invites for many years from film festivals all over the world to receive lifetime achievement awards and I’ve finally been able to go get them,’’ Sarandon says.
But, she adds with a laugh: ‘‘ I always ask that they be called ‘ Mid- life Achievement Awards’.’’
Alongside 100- odd movies, from Thelma and Louise to Dead Man Walking, Sarandon has dispatched three children to the wider world. Though the kids have moved out, she
says her nest ‘‘ has not been empty’’ with plenty of visits.
‘‘ My kids, when they come back, bring more people. My sister’s son is staying in my daughter’s bedroom,’’ she says. ‘‘ And I’ve had two girlfriends going through changes in their lives who needed a place to stay and I hope they stay forever!’’
Sarandon clearly doesn’t mind a bit of chaos; even in her career. Working with a first- time director on her new film Arbitrage for example, was far from a safe choice.
‘‘ I’ve had a lot of disappointments,’’ she admits. ‘‘ But film is funny that way – there’s so many more reasons for a project to go wrong than there are for it to go right.’’
Arbitrage sits firmly in the ‘‘ right’’ column. Sarandon was first aboard Nicholas Jarecki’s indie, which is winning rave reviews for its story of a big- time hedge fund trader ( Richard Gere) looking to sell his company, hide a bad investment, cover up a car- crash and maintain the lifestyle he and his wife ( Sarandon) have long shared.
Jarecki got lucky with his leads – Sarandon reckons her long- time friendship with Gere brings a texture and believability to their on- screen relationship. Plus, she adds, ‘‘ we’re both pros’’.
Jarecki has called Sarandon sexy, warm and supportive. But he also declared that the veteran is ‘‘ not to be f--- ed with’’.
‘‘ He’s totally right,’’ Sarandon replies. ‘‘ Especially when it comes to this kind of
I’m a hard worker and I want an atmosphere that’s playful
work. Or my kids. I mean, I’m diplomatic, I’m usually the person on the set keeping the peace, but I definitely have a bottom line. If something’s not working I’m gonna try to make it work.
‘‘ I’m a hard worker and I want an atmosphere that’s playful. If I sense that a director hasn’t done his homework, then that’s gonna cause problems.’’
Sarandon has proven her hard- ass capabilities in the past – as a producer on 1998’ s Stepmom she fired the first director and ‘‘ threw out a lot of the script’’. But she hasn’t produced much, preferring to do her talking on set.
‘‘ I’ve always asked questions. It’s just my way of working,’’ she says. ‘‘ I never studied acting, I didn’t come out of Juilliard ( arts school) or have that vocabulary.
‘‘ It’s my job to ask a lot of questions and not necessarily have the answers. Very often it’ll be the third thing – it’s not what the director thought, it’s not what I thought, it’ll be what you come to next. And that for me is what’s so exciting – it’s the collaboration.
‘‘ I demand that everybody be on their game. That’s the way I am in everything and it seems to work OK.’’
Next, Sarandon will take a risk on another first- time director with a comedy called
Ping Pong Summer.
She’s described her part as ‘‘ Mr Miyagi’’ to a kid who picks up a ping- pong paddle.
‘‘ I’m a bit of a ping- pong propagandist,’’ she laughs. ‘‘ I love the game and I love that little girls can beat big guys and you can play it until you’re a hundred.’’
Then she and daughter Eva Amurri Martino ( star of Californication and That’s
My Boy) will re- team for a project filmed entirely over Skype.
‘‘ I don’t know how that’s gonna work out . . . I certainly don’t look very good when I Skype,’’ Sarandon admits.
‘‘ But I wanted to work with my daughter and thought it would be a good little acting lesson. I’m pretty game to try things.’’
That gameness, coupled with her insistence she’s a ‘‘ character actor’’, may be the qualities that have kept Sarandon working in an industry where many women over 40 struggle.
‘‘ If you see yourself as a character actor you have a much broader base to build on,’’ she explains.
‘‘ You see that with the men – Chris Walken, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn. They play leading roles, but they’re able to play something outside of how they’re identified.
‘‘ There are certain actors, and they usually get paid more, who play themselves over and over, and they’re very charismatic but don’t themselves fit the part.
‘‘ Then there are people who play a lot of different characters and I definitely see myself in that mould.
‘‘ Also, it’s easier for women to play supporting parts because we support people all the time in our lives!
‘‘ When men start out as leading men then go into supporting parts, it’s a much more difficult transition.’’
The motto of the story: you don’t have to be the alpha actor to survive.
‘‘ That’s great,’’ says Sarandon. ‘‘ I’m going to steal that.’’