TALKING MOVIES
Legendary Lady
Karl Rozemeyer
Friday, September 21, 2012

After making her screen debut 42 years ago, Susan 
Sarandon sustains a long career in Hollywood by continuing to mix and match her roles, being 
rediscovered so many times and in so many personas

“I am very susceptible to inertia,” Susan Sarandon admits. The confession seems at odds with the passion and ferocity with which the 65-year-old Oscar winner has approached not only her four-decade acting career but also a variety of 
political and human rights causes. 
Actually, she says during a telephone interview from her New York home, it’s the acting that has compelled her to be the broad, wide-ranging person she has become. “I wouldn’t know what it’d be like to be a baseball groupie or to learn how to bat on my own,” she says. “Or to find out what it’s like to live 
in New Orleans with the poor and to understand the mechanism of the death penalty. Or to learn about Wall Street and how it works.”

Playing Annie Savoy in Bull Durham (1988), a performance which crystalised her image as a screen sex symbol at 42, taught Sarandon about baseball. Playing Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking (1995), directed by Tim Robbins, her former longtime significant other and the father of her two sons, let her learn about the workings of the death penalty in Louisiana and earned her an Academy Award as Best Actress. Now, through Arbitrage, due 
for release this month, she has had 
the opportunity to explore the inner workings of high finance and the 
economic meltdown.

“I think that a film at its best 
challenges your framing of the world,” Sarandon says, “and it does that by 
having you assume the perspective of a person that you normally wouldn’t maybe see at all. With (Arbitrage), I thought it was just so rare that you ever come across those kinds of financial exposes that in any way tell you what is going on with the family or from the woman’s point of view. That really 
appealed to me.”

Arbitrage casts Sarandon as Ellen, the wife of Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a Wall Street hedge-fund guru who is clandestinely scrambling to complete the sale of his trading empire before the authorities uncover the massive fraud on which it has been built. On the eve of this crucial transaction, Miller flips his car. He survives, but his mistress (Laetitia Casta) is killed. Faced with the greatest crisis of his life, Miller’s moral fibre is put to the test as he fights to protect his wealth, his reputation and his marriage, as well as his relationship with his daughter (Brit Marling), who is also his business protege. None of which sits well with his loyal wife.

“Once you involve the family, that is a deal breaker where she is concerned,” Sarandon says. “After 35 years, it’s not so much the affairs or the sex that’s the deal breaker, because ... Oh my God, I think, if you are friends with somebody and you’re together that long, there have to have been some give-and-take situations, and the important thing is that you 
have something that’s very profound and special with that person.”

Gere and Sarandon previously starred in Shall We Dance (2004), and she says that he “has a certain amount of veritas,” the result of which is that Miller “doesn’t come off as a slimy person who you just assume is always a little bit out of the confines of what is right... He does something that isn’t so horrible in business practices by today’s standards, but he gets caught because it doesn’t quite work out. He extends himself in a way that isn’t 
really by the rules, but at the same time probably would work out ok. It wasn’t something like a pyramid scheme, like the (Bernard) Madoff thing, where he knew he was ripping people off.”

Sarandon is clearly fascinated by business titans who seem incapable 
of cutting their losses even when 
confronted by near-certain disaster.

“I think what’s interesting about those guys that have so much power is that, if they keep getting away with it, they feel that the end justifies the 
means and that they know what’s best for people,” she says. “And they get 
addicted. It’s a gambling problem.”

Arbitrage is writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s feature-film debut. Earlier this year, Sarandon appeared in Robot & Frank, another film helmed by a first-time director. Some actors shy away from first-timers, but Sarandon has a weakness for them “because they’ve been dreaming about that film for years, sometimes, and they know that film.”

First-time filmmakers, she points out, put her through her paces on Bull Durham and on another critical favourite, Igby Goes Down (2002). “But, on the other hand, sometimes first-time directors get chewed up or back down from their vision,” Sarandon says. 
“You can have a disaster from a 40th-time director too, so it depends. I think that their first film isn’t as much of a risk as their second film.”

Sarandon’s own screen debut is the stuff of Hollywood dreams. The process of her audition was, she recalls, “very quick and very unorthodox.”

It’s been widely reported that she went along to offer moral support to her 
then-husband, Chris Sarandon, at a 
casting call for the film Joe (1970) — and ended up landing a major part while he struck out. Sarandon is quick to set the record straight, though, noting that her husband already had a thriving stage 
career and was starring in the soap opera The Guiding Light (1969-1973).

“Poor Chris keeps sounding like he didn’t get the job,” she exclaims. 
Sarandon goes on to recall that she had just graduated from Catholic University in Washington, and had no plans to 
become an actor. Her husband, who had been doing theatre, was asked to audition for an agent and needed someone to do a scene with him. He asked her, and both of them impressed the agent, who asked them to return in the fall to perform the scene again for director John Avildsen, who was casting for Joe.

In the meantime, however, Chris 
Sarandon was cast in the Broadway 
musical The Rothschilds (1970) and was unable to do the film. Avildsen cast Susan as the female lead in his thriller, and a legendary career was born.

The quirkiest flick on her filmography is probably The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), the cult film of all cult films. Based on a 1973 English stage musical, it was made on a shoestring 
by producers who wanted someone who could bring humour to the play’s boring ingénue, Janet. The only problem was, Sarandon was no singer.

“I always had a phobia about 
singing,” Sarandon confesses. “They said ‘Oh, yes, you can!’ And I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but somehow I’ll find a way’.” The film flopped upon release, but in 1976, art houses started showing it as a midnight movie, first in New York and then in other American cities. Audience 
participation became part of the 
experience, and soon it was a cult 
classic — much to the amusement of Sarandon, who by then had moved on to a series of mainstream dramas that would include Pretty Baby (1978), 
Atlantic City (1980), The Hunger (1983), Bull Durham, White Palace (1990), Thelma and Louise (1991) and The Client (1994), all of which 
showcased her unique brand of intellectual sensuality.

“I was discovered so many times and in so many personas,” she says, laughing. “I was launched in a few different genres.” In recent years, the actress has continued to mix and match her roles, from unabashedly heart-wrenching soap operas such as Stepmom (1998) and Moonlight Mile (2002) to goofy comedies such as The Banger Sisters (2002) and Mr Woodcock (2007).

Next up for Sarandon is a small role in Cloud Atlas, co-directed by the 
Wachowskis of the Matrix movies and German director Tom Twyker of Run, Lola, Run (1998). The film was shot in Berlin and, to judge by her account, was a shoot like no other.

“It was like Cirque du Soleil acting,” Sarandon says. “Everyone was putting on noses and contacts and hair and 
different… everything. So the spirit of adventure and risk was just profound, and I was very happy to be even a tiny, tiny part of it.”

— New York Times Syndicate

 

 

DVD reviews: New releases in stores

Person Of Interest: Season 1 (2011)

The highly-acclaimed CBS television drama unfolds its first season — and you can see why Person Of Interest, despite being only one season old, has notched up such high ratings globally. Jim Caviezel plays John Reese, a former CIA agent, who has mastered the technique of “pre-crime” in New York City, and is called in to get to the bottom of murderous suspicions before the bodies actually start piling up.

Duration: 43 minutes x 23 episodes

Genre: Action/Thriller

What’s good: Compelling screenplay and characterisations
What’s bad: A tough act for Season 2 to follow — let's hope it can live up to such (and exacting) standards

Cast: Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Taraji  P Henson

Rating:  4/5

 

Dark Shadows (2012) (PG-13)

 

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), turned into a vampire by his jilted lover Angelique (Eva Green), is buried alive for 200 years before being accidentally set free. He returns to the Collins mansion only to find Angelique's desire to destroy him hasn't waned in the least (despite the long time no see) -— and a family that couldn't be more dysfunctional if it tried.

 

Duration: 113 minutes

Genre: Comedy/ Fantasy

What’s good: Excellent casting and performances — especially Depp, who is comical in his signature unassuming style

What’s bad: Can take a while to warm up to the theme

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Rating: 4/5

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