Oscar-winner breaks the mold
Interview / Susan Sarandon
The great thing about being in the arts," says Susan Sarandon, "is you can use all that experience, all those roles, and spin it right into gold. That's the seduction of any of the arts."Skip to next paragraph
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As she sits on the couch, the late afternoon sun pours through the windows of her Manhattan living room. "My career has brought me much more than an Oscar [1995's 'Dead Man Walking']. It's given me an insight into other people's lives."
In recent months, she has played a Wisconsin housewife who feels that she and her teenage daughter, portrayed by Natalie Portman, are being stifled by their small-town life ("Anywhere But Here"). In her current release, "Cradle Will Rock," she's cast as Margherita Sarfatti, Mussolini's mistress. In a future film, "Joe Gould's Secret," she plays painter Alice Neel. She describes that role as "an hors d'oeuvre of a part - just seasoning for the movie. Again it's a period film, and it was an honor to work with [veteran actor] Ian Holm," who plays Joe Gould.
Obviously, Sarandon enjoys variety. "It's only in the last two movies [that] I got to wear makeup." It was without makeup, playing a nun, that she won a best-actress Oscar in 1996 for "Dead Man Walking," directed by her companion, Tim Robbins.
She had been nominated four times before - "Atlantic City" (1980), "Thelma and Louise" (1991), Lorenzo's Oil" (1992), and "The Client" (1994).
Sarandon stands up and begins to pace back and forth as she discusses her recent films. "Cradle Will Rock," set in 1930s New York about the art and theater world, was also written by Robbins.
"I didn't know that much about Sarah Bernhardt or that era in the theater," she says. They discussed several roles she could play, but she selected Margherita Sarfatti. "It was such a thrill to wear the wigs, the period [clothes], the high-button shoes, the whole thing," she says.
The part was a challenge. Sarfatti, a former mistress of Mussolini, used her charm as an art broker in New York. She raised funds for fascists by selling masterpieces to Nelson Rockefeller (played by John Cusack) and other men of great wealth.
One would have thought she'd choose the role of an actor campaigning for freedom of expression, for keeping the federal theater project open. "No, been there, done that," the actress acknowledges. "I only take parts that frighten me. Otherwise, I'd just get lulled into some kind of complacency."
Her best friends advised her not to do "Anywhere But Here," her other current release. They kept asking, "Why do you want to play this obnoxious character?"
When Sarandon read Mona Simpson's book, "Anywhere But Here," she immediately recognized the mother-daughter relationship. "This character wants all the right things for her teenage daughter, but for all the wrong reasons. When I did the movie, I thought, 'I'll practice making all the mistakes on film, so I won't make them in real life.'