Se­crets of suc­cess

Ev­ery­thing is just as it should be for vet­eran ac­tor Su­san Saran­don, writes Neala John­son

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

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.’’

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