Sunday, August 22, 2010

Susan Sarandon

World Famous People

Susan Sarandon

World Famous People - Susan Sarandon is an object lesson in how to do stardom properly. In her career she has been a stupendous success. She's impressed in comedies, thrillers, psychological dramas, literary pieces and children's cartoons. She's been involved in some of the most controversial movies of her time, but never been seen as scandal-merchant. She's shown more skin than many deemed to be soft-porn actresses, but is never taken less than seriously. She's a 5-time Oscar nominee (one win) and, along with Helen Mirren, is soon to prove that 60 can be sexy.

And she spoke out. A true daughter of the radical Sixties, she has involved herself heavily in politics, daring to hound President George W. Bush and engaging in a long running battle with New York's mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Having decided early on to use her fame for the public good, she has placed her weight behind hundreds of good causes, promoting civil rights and providing for the needy, sick and dying.

And then she goes away. Having become a mother at 39, and bearing her last child at 45, Sarandon would also properly dedicate her life to her children, keeping them rooted in normality by stepping out of the spotlight wherever possible. Her own personal fame was clearly not the main spur for her - she wanted far more, and got it.

She was born Susan Abigail Tomalin on the 4th of October, 1946, in Jackson Heights, New York City, an area of Queens near La Guardia Airport. She'd grow up, though, some 30 miles to the south-west, in Edison, New Jersey, the oldest of nine children born to Catholics Phillip Leslie Tomalin and his wife Lenora Marie Criscione, giving Susan a combustible genetic mix of Welsh and Italian. She would learn how much is possible from her father, who'd been a big band singer before becoming a TV producer and then an advertising executive.

Being Catholics, the Tomalins would favour religious education for their kids and Susan would attend an all-girl, all-white elementary school, run by nuns, before moving on to Edison High School where she'd be a cheerleader. She was a good pupil, though one nun famously noted that she had "an overabundance of original sin". After graduation, in 1964, Susan would move on to the Catholic University of America, situated in Washington DC. Here she'd live off-campus with her grandparents while studying an extraordinary mix of English, philosophy and military strategy. To support herself she'd work as a secretary for the drama department, as well as cleaning apartments. On the side, she did a bit of modelling, once appearing in a brochure for the soon-to-be infamous Watergate Hotel. She certainly had the body for it.
At college she was still a skinny one, struggling to raise her weight over 100 pounds, and of course she was in possession of those soon-to-be famous breasts.

. For a laugh, though she had no interest in an acting career, she took part in a freshman show by the drama department and caught the eye of Chris Sarandon, a graduate student, four year her senior. Sarandon was a fascinating character. He'd already featured in a rock band that had toured with Bobby Darin and Gene Vincent and was now taking a masters degree in theatre. To Susan, "he seemed to know everything... He played a huge part in my decision to become an actress".

Susan would change her major from English to Drama and she and Chris would move in together. As this was seriously frowned upon by the Catholic establishment, they would be married in September, 1967, by the priest who was head of their department, just before her final year. These were heady times. Susan had always had an advanced social conscience and had already been arrested on Civil Rights marches. Now there was Vietnam to rail against.

Once graduated, Susan continued modelling for cash while Chris found work in regional theatre around Washington. Deciding that New York was the place he'd best hone his thespian talents, he went seeking an agent, taking his wife with him as someone to act against in the audition. They were shocked when the agent decided to take them both on. Susan's career had begun. And there was more good fortune to come in the scoring of her first feature role. As well as the second Kennedy assassination, and riots and demonstrations in Paris, London and Mexico, 1968 had seen the Democratic convention disrupted by youthful protestors. Film producers, keen to tap into this new youth market (they'd be even keener after the next year's smash hit, Easy Rider), began to make moves. A call went out for the kind of young people who'd made trouble for the Democrats and Chris and Susan attended the auditions. He was an actor, she wasn't. But she was a bona fide demonstrator and director John G Avildsen (later to hit big with Rocky and The Karate Kid) picked her out of the patchouli-scented throng.

The result was 1970's Joe, a complex examination of contemporary morality that won an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. Set in Greenwich Village, this saw Susan as the hippy daughter of an executive who disappears into the counter-culture when her dad kills the dope-dealing boyfriend who led her to overdose. Dad then meets up with blue-collar uber-bigot Peter Boyle and the pair go desperately seeking Susan, winding up in the midst of a free-love orgy. Like most movies of the type, it ended in violence.
For the Sarandons, it was really going well. In 1969, Chris had been hired to play dark, handsome charmer Dr Tom Halverson in the long-running soap A Guiding Light, a role he'd keep for four years. 1970 would see Susan briefly join him in soap, when she became Patrice Kahlman in A World Apart. Typically, considering Susan's politics, this was a different sort of soap, one dealing with the differences between races, genders and generations. Teenage pregnancy and cult brain-washing would be dealt with. TV audiences were not ready - it would last just one season.

Still, the film roles kept coming. 1971 saw her in the French-Canadian production Fleur Bleue about a guy drawn into crime by his girlfriend's brother. Taking a legitimate job on an ad shoot, he falls for the glamorous Sarandon and tries to leave his former life behind, only to have it creep back and destroy everything. Not only would the movie deal with French Canadian economics and politics, it would also, controversially, feature much nudity. Her next feature, La Mortadella, would be very different. Here Sophia Loren would travel to America to meet her Italian fiance, only to be stopped at customs due to a big sausage she's carrying. Refusing to compromise, she's held by the authorities, becoming a media personality through the efforts of reporter William Devane. Susan would appear in a small role, as would Danny De Vito, as a congressman.

In 1972, having appeared in a TV ad for Magic Lady Panty Hose, Susan returned to soap-world, actually in the big daddy of them all, Search For Tomorrow which, since 1951 had seen Mary Stuart dealing with the often tragic super-realities of life in the mid-American town of Henderson. This would last for a year, and keep Susan in money as she pursued experience in New York's theatreland. Now she was really busy, and much of her work would come to the public's attention in 1974 when, along with several movies, some of the plays she'd performed in were filmed and shown on TV.

The first of these was F. Scott Fitzgerald And The Last Of The Belles, timed to ride the wave of Robert Redford's The Great Gatsby. This saw Richard Chamberlain and Blythe Danner as Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, on their return from Europe, when the writer was blocked and Zelda was obsessed with ballet. Their struggles would be placed against the action of his new novel, where young WWI soldiers court the Southern belles of Alabama - Susan playing the main belle, flitting from man to man and, affected and beguiling, being something of a Scarlett O'Hara.
She'd be even more flighty in June Moon, a TV screening of Ring Lardner's 1929 hit Broadway play, where Sarandon was a jaded vixen, sinking her claws into a young songwriter making his way on Tin Pan Alley. Beside her would be stage legends Estelle Parsons and Stephen Sondheim. Though now 27, she was still youthful enough to play a wanton, capricious schoolgirl in The Rimers Of Eldritch, concerning racial upheaval in the Sixties, where a small town is torn apart following the rape of a crippled teen and the murder of the chief suspect.

Next she was back on the Silver Screen in a sure-fire hit, Lovin' Molly. At least, with Sidney Lumet directing, Anthony Perkins and Blythe Danner starring and a script by Larry McMurtry, then red-hot after The Last Picture Show, it looked like a sure-fire hit. Set on the Texas Panhandle, it would see Perkins and Beau Bridges both in love with the free-spirited Danner, Perkins attempting, in true Texan fashion, to be honourable with his young wife, Susan, and his life-long love. Unfortunately, it didn't come off, and much was written in the Texas press about how Lumet had corrupted the story by making the protagonists arable- rather than beef-farmers. This was not the Lone Star state, it was the Mississippi Delta. Interestingly, also working on the movie were Marilyn Burns and Paul Partain, soon to become the chief screamer and wheelchair victim in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Having appeared with Bridges again in The Whirlwind, one episode of the well-respected Benjamin Franklin miniseries, she moved into even more illustrious company with The Front Page. A remake of the 1931 classic, this was directed by the legendary Billy Wilder and starred the odd couple themselves, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Lemmon's a Chicago reporter who wants to retire and marry Susan, Matthau's his devious editor, keen to have him interview a criminal just escaped from Death Row. This fantastically productive year would end with one of ABC's Mystery Movies, The Satan Murders. Well, a girl's gotta take work where she can. Another achievement of note: 1974 would see Susan appear on the Tonight With Johnny Carson show for the first time. Over the next 10 years she'd make another 20 appearances - proof positive of her immediate popularity with media and audiences alike.

1975 would be another extraordinary year, with two major roles coming her way. One saw director George Roy Hill and superstar Robert Redford, recent Oscar winners with The Sting, re-team with William Goldman, the guy who'd earlier written Butch Cassidy for them. The other was a low-budget musical involving Transylvanian transsexuals, for which she would be paid next-to-nothing. Guess which one was the hit.
The Great Waldo Pepper was actually an excellent film, set just after WWI with Redford as a pilot travelling the middle states, earning money by barnstorming, stunt-flying and giving the locals rides. What he really wants to do is be first to complete the ultimate stunt, "the outside loop" and needs to build a special new plane. Thus he teams up with rival Bo Svenson and his girlfriend Susan to create a high-earning daredevil act - an act that ends in tragedy when Susan is swept into the ether, leaving Redford banned and struggling to make a living in Hollywood.

As said, it was excellent - excellent performances, thrilling effects, good strong story. Susan was great - feisty, sexy, perfect. Trouble was, as Goldman stated in his later memoirs, she was TOO good. They recognised it in the reactions of the first test audiences. Everyone loved the movie, right up until Sarandon was killed, then they just didn't care anymore. Not even Redford could win back their affections. Disastrous.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was another flop. To begin with. Based on Richard O'Brien's defiantly tasteless stage show, this saw Susan and Barry Bostwick (later the president in Spin City) as a newly engaged couple whose car breaks down in a storm. Seeking refuge in a nearby castle, they are drawn into the lair of Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite weirdster creating the perfect man for blatantly sexual purposes. Naturally, he seduces both of them, before everything dissolves into gaudy, hilarious tragedy.

It was her friend Curry who persuaded Susan to play Janet Weiss (Dammit, Janet!) and it was a brave decision to make. It could so easily have descended into abject farce. Beyond this, Susan had never been a singer, as the movie proves. Thing was, her frail, unpractised tones were perfect for a woman finding her own voice. And the lyrics - "Touch-a, touch-a, touch-a, TOUCH me! I wanna be DI-IR-IRTY!" - well, they did as much as any amount of screen nudity could to turn her into a sex siren. Famously, Rocky Horror flopped badly in the States. And everywhere else. But later it became a hugely popular late night screening, and a major worldwide cult formed around it. It wouldn't make Sarandon any money, but it would help greatly to make her a star.

But Rocky Horror would not help till later. Right now she'd had four cinema flops in succession. Meanwhile, her husband had scored big time, winning an Oscar nomination as Al Pacino's street-smart and unashamed transsexual "wife" in Dog Day Afternoon. How quickly their fortunes would change. Soon they would drift apart, finally divorcing in 1979. Chris, a theatre actor by inclination, would then pop up only occasionally - as the charming vampire in Fright Night, the rogueish royal in The Princess Bride, and as the voice of Jack Skellington in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.
For now, though, it was Susan who was struggling to find good material. 1976 saw her in One Summer Love, again with Beau Bridges, where Bridges checks out of a mental institution and looks for his family, befriending cinema-worker Susan while he's at it. Then the movie dumps her and Bridges moves on, leaving behind Susan and, once again, the audience's interest.

The next year came Checkered Flag Or Crash, cashing in on the success of Death Race 2000, involving a 1000-mile winner-takes-all off-road contest, Susan being joined by Joe Don Baker and, building a prototype for JR Ewing, Larry Hagman as an unscrupulous promoter. This would be followed by more controversy with Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side Of Midnight. This saw Marie-France Pisier as a French girl in love with WW2 pilot John Beck. When he leaves her and marries a successful Sarandon, Pisier becomes a Hollywood star, hooks up with a powerful Greek tycoon and plots revenge. She also - and this was the main source of the controversy - induces a miscarriage while in the bath. From now on, all of Sheldon's books would be turned into miniseries rather than movies.

1978 would bring more controversy and a very definite change in fortunes, when Susan took the lead in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby. Malle, prime mover of the notorious French New Wave, had caused obscenity trials in the US with his 1959 classic Les Amants. He'd added incest to his list of sins with 1971's superb Le Souffle Au Coeur. Now came his American debut, set in a New Orleans brothel, where Susan is working towards a better life and her 12-year-old daughter, Brooke Shields, is raised into prostitution, her virginity being auctioned to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, photographer Keith Carradine is hoping to take the youngster as his wife.

Next up was The Great Smokey Roadblock, one of the first tie-ins with the current CB radio fad. Here Henry Fonda would play an aging trucker out for one last run across the States. As a favour to a local madam, he transports a bunch of hookers (including Susan) across the state line, naturally being pursued by smokeys and bears and other assorted members of the constabulary. Then came King Of The Gypsies, reuniting her with Brooke Shields. Here Eric Roberts abandons his gypsy tribe to seek a life in New York, then is called back by his fortune-telling, tea-leaf mother Sarandon to save sister Shields from an arranged marriage, and has to battle with enraged dad Judd Hirsh, Hirsh's dying father having stated he'll pass the kingship on to Roberts. She'd end the decade with Something Short Of Paradise, a talkative, Woody Allen-style comedy that had her as an unconventional journalist vying with a French film star for the affections of cinema manager David Steinberg.

Now in a relationship with Louis Malle, 14 years her senior, Sarandon would begin the Eighties by starring in his acclaimed Atlantic City.
Susan would play a dreamer who's married a scumbag to escape Saskatchewan and is training to be a croupier, hoping to find employment and culture in Monte Carlo. Meanwhile, she's inadvertently stolen the heart of Burt Lancaster, an aging petty crook who, seeking redemption and attempting to impress her, gets involved with her husband,a drug deal and, eventually, heavy-duty criminals and murder. It was tremendous stuff, with Malle, Lancaster and Sarandon all being Oscar nominated. Her relationship with Malle, though, would not last. By the next year he had taken up with Candice Bergen, who'd stay with him until his death.

. As ever refusing to conform, Susan did not make the most of this new acclaim. Nor the attention she received when Playboy readers voted her mammaries Celebrity Breasts of the Summer of 1981. Of her breasts she simply commented "It must seem to a lot of people that I am always naked or making love in my films. I think it's very hard to be in a scene and not be upstaged by your nipples". Instead, she went for a wild variety of roles, clearly seeking a challenge rather than fame and fortune. She began with an acclaimed comic stage performance as a repressed housewife in A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking. Next came the romantic comedy Loving Couples, where Shirley Maclaine and James Coburn decided to spice up their lives by swapping spouses with Susan and Stephen Collins. Then came the wonderful oddity Who Am I This Time?, directed by Jonathan Demme and based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story. Here shy Susan joins an amateur dramatics troupe and becomes enamoured of an even more reticent hardware store worker Christopher Walken. Unable to voice their desires in a normal manner, they woo each other while playing Stanley and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. Perhaps even odder was Paul Mazursky's Tempest, a sort of prequel to the Shakespeare play where architect John Cassavetes leaves unfaithful wife Gena Rowlands and takes off for a Greek island with brattish daughter Molly Ringwald, picking up night-club singer Susan on the way. Then Rowlands shows up, demanding her due.

As you'd expect, Tempest was not a big hit, but it did win Susan a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival, and it introduced her to her next love, second assistant director Franco Amurri. Amurri had recently worked on Fellini's City Of Women and would soon be a director himself. In 1987 he'd deliver Da Grande, quickly remade as Tom Hanks' Big, then he'd come to America for 1990's Flashback, where agent Keifer Sutherland was won over by super-hippie Dennis Hopper. By then, he and Sarandon would have split, but not before he gave her a first child, Eva, later to become an actress herself and appear in several of her mother's flicks.

Still pushing at sexual boundaries, after Tempest Susan appeared in The Hunger, Tony Scott's deconstruction of vampire films, and famed as one of the first MTV-influenced movies.
Here Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie played a vampire couple in New York, all going very stylishly until Bowie discovers he's beginning to age rapidly. He seeks help at a gerontology institute, but doctor Susan can't see him so he goes home to collapse into decrepitude, a crumbling corpse that cannot die. Now finding time, Susan goes to visit him and is happily seduced by Deneuve. Like the others before her, Sarandon believes they'll be lovers forever, not realising she'll spend most of eternity as a quivering blob.

. As ever, Scott's direction saw the film panned as style-over-content, but it was a beautiful picture, wonderfully textured, and contained some gratifyingly horrible moments. It also, fact fans, saw Susan playing alongside Cliff DeYoung, who'd played Brad in the Rocky Horror follow-up Shock Treatment. She'd move on to The Buddy System, a rom com where she played a single mum falling into a relationship with Richard Dreyfuss, a man investigating her for sending her son to a school outside her district.

1985 saw her in the epic miniseries AD, co-written by Anthony Burgess and following Roman court intrigue from the death of Jesus to the demise of Nero. Joining an all-star cast, Sarandon would play Livilla, sister of Claudius, who murders her husband and, refused permission by James Mason's Emperor Tiberius to marry her Praetorian lover Ian McShane, plots his downfall. Unfortunately, she's found out and locked in her room to die, the door being guarded by her own mother. Those Romans, they knew how to punish a girl.

The same year brought more sexual shenanigans in Compromising Positions, where suburban dentist Joe Mantegna, a philanderer who takes Polaroids of his lovers, is found murdered. Susan, an ex-journalist and now bored housewife, begins to investigate, hoping the story will win her job back. Then came another historical miniseries, Mussolini And I, where Susan played Edda Ciano, daughter of Bob Hoskin's bald dictator and wife of Anthony Hopkins, an aristocrat trying to force Mussolini out. As things gradually turn sour for the Italian fascists, Sarandon is forced to strike a deal with a psychotic Hitler to protect her exiled family. Obviously, it didn't turn out very well. Neither was the miniseries successful. Dealing with split loyalties and the various faces of patriotism, it was fascinating but deemed too slow for American audiences, being hacked from 4 hours to 2. Susan moved on to Women Of Valour, concerning US army nurses imprisoned by the Japanese in the Philippines during WW2. Susan played the group's leader, bravely attempting to coax some mercy from the commandant and being forced to slug it out with Kristy McNichol for the pleasure of the guards. It was appropriately harsh stuff.

Now began a rollercoaster ride that saw Sarandon experience big hits, narrow misses and the love of her life.
1987 brought The Witches Of Eastwick, adapted from the John Updike novel, where Susan, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer played bored New England singletons who, in jokingly attempting to conjure the perfect man, succeed only in calling forth the Devil himself. This is Jack Nicholson, who introduces the ladies to the delights of extreme sensuality and makes them his harem, before they rebel and secretly devise a plan to send him back to Hell. The three actresses worked brilliantly together, but there was an undercurrent of bitterness. Susan had originally been offered the part of sculptress Alexandra, but ended up as cellist Jane as the producers sought to attract Cher, then hot after Mask and Silkwood.

. The Witches Of Eastwick was a big hit, but her next movie, Bull Durham, provided her with both a new partner and her favourite film role. Despite still living in Rome, Susan saw the script and, for the first time, decided to chase it. She flew herself back to LA, met with Kevin Costner and the producers and, as she later admitted, kissed some ass. And she got it, the part of Annie Savoy, the free-spirited intellectual who each year takes a member of the Durham Bulls baseball team into her confidence and her bed and makes of them a better player and a better man. This year she chooses Tim Robbins' Nuke LaLoosh, a super-fast but wild pitcher who's being mentored by veteran catcher Costner. At first Costner disapproves of Annie's tactics but gradually the couple move towards a mature and deep form of understanding.

With filming completed, Sarandon returned to Rome and Robbins to New York. But something had happened during filming and, though she was his senior by 12 years, Robbins knew it. Soon they would hook up in a relationship that still continues. Son Jack Henry would be born in 1989, Miles Guthrie three years later. Together the couple would become their profession's foremost liberal activists. In 1989, along with Christopher Reeve and others, they would help form The Creative Coalition, a group from the arts and entertainment communities focusing on abuses of the First Amendment, and social issues. In time, Tim and Susan would go much further.

Onscreen, Sarandon followed Bull Durham (for which she'd won a Golden Globe nomination) with Sweet Hearts Dance where she and Don Johnson played High School sweethearts married happily for years. Suddenly, Johnson ups and leaves, their break-up and reconciliation being balanced with friend Jeff Daniels' new thing with Elizabeth Perkins. Written by Ernest Thompson, an Oscar winner for On Golden Pond, it was a tad slushy but touching nonetheless. Next came The January Man where, chasing a serial killer in Manhattan, mayor's assistant Harvey Keitel has to call upon his brother, Kevin Kline, for help. Kline is an ex-cop, fired from the force, and demands in payment a dinner date with Susan, Keitel's wife and Kline's one true love.
At least, she's his one true love till he meets the mayor's daughter Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. It was well played, but all a bit of a mess, not quite a comedy, romance or thriller, despite the author having just won an Oscar for Moonstruck.

. Better, and much more up Sarandon's alley, would be A Dry White Season, concerning apartheid in Seventies South Africa. Here Donald Sutherland would play a teacher whose gardener's son is disappeared by the police, the gardener's subsequent murder pushing a hitherto reluctant Sutherland into exposing the killers. Marlon Brando would play a lawyer who knows that little will change, while Susan was a liberal reporter who helps Sutherland in his investigations.

Oddly, as so many complain that Hollywood has no parts for women over 40, that was more or less Susan's age when she really took off. The Witches Of Eastwick and Bull Durham started it, now came White Palace where she cemented her reputation as the sexiest "older woman" around. Here James Spader played a wealthy ad executive grieving for his dead wife. Meeting waitress Susan, he's at first taken by her upfront nature then sexually smitten. She helps him to live again but both must face the fact that she does not fit into his social group. Once again, she was questioning sexual and social traditions and, as usual, turning the audience on, to boot. Another Golden Globe nomination came her way.

Now came another biggie - Ridley Scott's Thelma And Louise. Here Sarandon was another waitress, this time tired of small-town life with boyfriend Michael Madsen. With her downtrodden housewife buddy, Geena Davis, she plans to sneak away for a few days but, after an attempted rape and successful shooting, the couple are forced to go on the run, trying to survive in a wilderness of sexist truckers and wayward Brad Pitts. The freedom they find with each other, breaking through the controlling clutches of men, made the movie an action-packed feminist epic and Susan's feisty performance won her a second Oscar nomination. And it might not have happened at all. Originally the project was intended as a vehicle for Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep, but they chose to make Death Becomes Her instead. Then it was to be Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster, but the timing was wrong. Finally, with some degree of poetic justice, Cher had been offered the part of Louise, but turned it down. Enter Susan, and history was made.
Once again, Sarandon kept her roles varied. Next she appeared in Paul Schrader's Light Sleeper, a movie echoing his Taxi Driver and American Gigolo. Willem Dafoe would play a reformed addict still dealing to the wealthy, unable to break out of the life. Susan would be his supplier, well-organised, smart and, as he begins to slip, wholly loyal to her friend. She'd show further loyalty by popping up as a newscaster in Tim Robbins' directorial debut, Bob Roberts, where Robbins played a folk-singing right-winger smearing his political opponent, Gore Vidal. Vidal had earlier stood as godfather to the couple's first child.

Next, Sarandon would return to her Witches Of Eastwick director, George Miller, for Lorenzo's Oil. This would pair her with Nick Nolte as a couple whose young son contracts ALD, causing fatal degeneration of the brain. There is no cure, and very little research being done, but the couple battle with the authorities, challenge alternative therapists and do their own painstaking research, eventually coming up with the successful serum of the title. Susan was again superb - strict, relentless and loving - and won her third Oscar nomination.

There'd be more kid stuff in her next effort, mainstream hit The Client. Written by John Grisham and directed by Joel Schumacher, this saw Brad Renfro as a kid who witnesses a suicide and can thus bring down some very powerful people. Seeking help, he goes to Susan, a world-worn lawyer who's lost custody or her own kids years before. Together, they try to uncover the buried truth, pursued by gangsters and corrupt politicians, and the pair would act together quite brilliantly, Susan being Oscar nominated yet again. Far more sedate would be Little Women, where a family of female see out the Civil War in 1860s New England. Susan would play the mother of Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes and Samantha Mathis, screening their suitors and, bringing a modern Sarandon-like touch, forcefully encouraging them to become more than just wives.

The same year, 1994, brought Safe Passage, a tough family drama that saw Sam Shepard as an inventor who suffers periods of psychosomatic blindness, Susan playing his wife, who's brought up seven sons and is threatening to leave. When one of their boys is apparently buried in a middle-East bombing, love and loyalties are tested to the max.

Now came the next landmark. Sarandon had for some time been interested in the story of sister Helen Prejean, a nun who, while visiting a man on Death Row, had been forced to balance her sympathies for the killer and the family of his victim. Susan had taken it to her partner Robbins, but he'd done nothing about it. Until, that is, she told him she was going to take it elsewhere. Then he worked, and worked, and produced the superb Dead Man Walking, with Sarandon as Prejean, and fellow maverick Sean Penn as the condemned criminal. It was brilliantly obseved and played and at last, at the fifth time of asking, Susan won her Oscar.
Having provided a particularly sexy and dangerous French voice for the spider in the excellent animation James And The Giant Peach, then spent a couple of years with her young children, Sarandon returned with Twilight. Here Paul Newman played an ex-cop and major loser who lives on the estate of actor friends Gene Hackman and Susan. In doing a job for them, Newman is drawn into a blackmail and murder case and, as Hackman is diagnosed with cancer, he begins to wonder what really happened to the first Mr Sarandon. Meanwhile, Susan's coming on to him big time, as she revels in her first major femme fatale role in years.

Next came Illuminata, directed by John Turturro, where Turturro was a playwright in turn-of-the-century New York, trying to stage a production that's intended to be a vehicle for the woman he loves. Enter Susan as an aging diva, an incompetent but very popular actress who offers him an easy ride if he'll work with her. A total ham, she acts at all times, even in the bedroom. It was a small role, but a stand-out, as was that of her former co-star Christopher Walken, as Bevalaqua, the jaded homosexual critic.

Now Susan did something new - well, new for her - a big budget weepie. Stepmom saw her divorced from nice guy Ed Harris and sharing custody of the kids. When he starts seeing Julia Roberts, Sarandon is immediately hostile, and the children follow her lead, despite Julia's best efforts to please. Then Susan gets a fatal illness and comes to see Roberts as the mother her children will soon need. Though Sarandon brought a much-needed reality to the picture, she was undermined by some very crass directing, particularly by a crudely manipulative dance sequence. Still, she was nominated for another Golden Globe.

1999 would bring Earthly Possessions, a TV movie where preacher's wife Susan is kidnapped by Steven Dorff during a bungled bank job. On the run, she realises how much she's enjoying this new adventure and the couple become a kind of Bonnie and Clyde. Having before played Mussolini's daughter, now she played his sexy, vampish mistress Margherita Sarfatti in Tim Robbins' Thirties-set satire, Cradle Will Rock. She'd move on to play another frustrated lady, this time the single mother of Natalie Portman out in Wisconsin. Suddenly deciding she's going to be a teacher and Portman a star, she throws everything, including her daughter, into her old Mercedes and takes off for Beverly Hills. It was another great performance. Set against Portman's straight, serious teen, Sarandon was a wildly optimistic dreamer, borderline manic. Other actresses would have simply made Adele August a flake, Susan made her a far more attractive, but disturbed personality.
Her next role was a small one, and probably done as a favour (many of her roles are, these days). In Joe Gould's Secret, directed by Stanley Tucci, Tucci played a New York journalist who writes about the city's many characters. One of these is Ian Holm's Joe Gould, an apparent dosser who cadges off everyone and claims to be writing a million-word oral history of the city. Investigating, Tucci discovers that Gould is a hit among the local intelligentsia, having befriended Ezra Pound, EE Cummings and the figurative painter Alice Neel, played by Susan. Neel believes she's inspired by Gould and says the city's unconsciousness speaks through him. So much for the dosser theory.

Having found TV success with Emmy nominations for appearances in Friends and Malcolm In The Middle, she also provided another sexy French accent to Rugrats In Paris and lent her voice to the huge hit Cats And Dogs. 2002 then saw her in another indie success, Igby Goes Down. The movie would open with Kieran Culkin and his older brother Ryan Philippe attempting to poison, then suffocate their own mother, played by Susan. It's actually pretty funny. Then the film travels back to see how it ever got that far, Culkin's Igby using his step-dad's money to wander aimlessly through a succession of sexual adventures. He doesn't get much support from a sharp-tongued, perfectionist Susan, who believes his failures reflect only on her. She's so bad that he claims he calls her Mimi "because Heinous One is a bit cumbersome". So bad, so good. A seventh Golden Golbe nomination came her way.

Now she was busy. Next came The Banger Sisters, with Goldie Hawn as a former groupie and longtime bartender at LA's Whiskey. Suddenly sacked, she takes off for Phoenix to look up her old friend and partner in sexual exploits, Susan, now living an uptight apple-pie life with husband and two spoiled daughters (one being played by Eva Amurri). Hawn's appearance gradually changes everyone's opinion of Sarandon and causes the woman herself to recognise the lie she's been living. This was followed by the fraught Moonlight Mile, where Jake Gyllenhaal's girlfriend is accidentally killed in a diner shooting and, with nowhere else to go, he movies in with her grieving parents, Susan and Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman is finding it hard, burying his sorrow under a pillow of niceness and a series of obsessive-compulsive disorders. This enrages Susan, who needs to unleash her anger and pain. Again it was well played and, inspired by director Brad Silberling's own experience of his actress girlfriend being killed by an obsessed fan, it should have been truly moving. Sadly, like Silberling's earlier City Of Angels, a remake of Wings Of Desire, it was a tad cloying.

Susan moved on to another epic miniseries, Children Of Dune, adapted from Frank Herbert's Dune Messiah and Children Of Dune. This saw original messiah Paul Atreides disenchanted and civil war on the way.
Amidst much galactic court intrigue, the Corrino house is looking to regain control of the planet, setting space-age witch queen Susan against an equally powerful Alice Krige, a tremendous matriarchal 15-rounder. Susan would visit another inhospitable environment for her next role, in Ice Bound. Here she played Jerri Nielsen, a real-life doctor at the South Pole. Unable to leave till the end of winter, she discovers a lump on her breast and, via an internet connection, must learn to diagnose her problem and begin a makeshift course of chemotherapy. It was another sterling effort, with Susan this time moving from stand-offish newcomer to saintly survivor.

. 2004 would bring a rush of roles. Noel, Chazz Palminteri's directorial debut, saw several New Yorkers trying to fill voids in their lives in the days running up to Christmas. There's a bad-tempered cop losing his girlfriend Penelope Cruz, another cop who thinks the first is his dead wife reincarnated, and Susan, purposefully cheerful but seriously lacking love. After this came Shall We Dance?, a remake of a mid-Nineties Japanese hit. This saw Susan and Richard Gere as a comfortable, happily married couple whose lives are altered when Gere spys dance instructor Jennifer Lopez at work and joins the class. Susan thinks he's having an affair and sets a PI on him, while Gere discovers the thing that's missing in his life - not J-Lo, but the passion of dance. This was seriously light entertainment, much in need of Sarandon's gravitas.

Next came Alfie, a remake of the Michael Caine classic, with Jude Law as a cockney limo driver in New York, turning seduction into an art form. Marisa Tomei, Sienna Miller, no woman can resist his charms, and all of them risk heartbreak. Except, naturally, Sarandon, the older woman who's using him, just as he uses the others. It's amazing to think that Susan had played a similarly irresistible older woman a full 14 years earlier, in White Palace. That overabundance of original sin had served her well.

Still sticking to "interesting" projects, she now returned to John Turturro, appearing in his wildly inventive musical Romance And Cigarettes, set in Bensonhurst, New York. Here James Gandolfini was forced to choose between wife Susan and mistress Kate Winslet, the two no longer being able to tolerate one another's existence. Throughout, the characters would lip-synch to appropriate tracks by artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Nick Cave.

2005 would be another typical Sarandon year. First she'd appear in Bob Balaban's The Exonerated. This had sprung from a series of interviews with Death Row inmates who'd finally been found innocent. Balaban had taken the material to the likes of Sarandon, Robbins and Richard Dreyfuss back in 1998, and they'd read the transcripts at a series of benefits, making $300,000 for the victims. Then Balaban turned the material into a drama and staged it as a play in 2002, with an ever-changing celebrity cast.
Now he'd take it to the Silver Screen with Susan, of course, onboard. And, she'd follow it with Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, where a suicidal Orlando Bloom travelled back to his Kentucky home for the funeral of his idiosyncratic patriarchal dad, falling for air hostess Kirsten Dunst on the way. At home, aided by mum Susan, he must deal with the outrageous funeral and find a new reason to live.

. That's Sarandon all over, bringing her high levels of thespian ability to popular entertainments, and raising the public consciousness, too. She's brave when it comes to that. To the right wing she's a hate figure, appearing with Robbins, Penn et al on The Weasels pack of cards, claiming to feature traitors to America, after she protested against the war in Iraq. This was the same traitor who appeared with Robbins in the play The Boys, about and for the fire-fighters after the events of September 11th, 2001. The same traitor who works as a UNICEF Special Representative, who campaigns to rid the country of guns, cystic fibrosis, bigotry against gays, products made in foreign sweat shops, nuclear waste and draconian drug laws, who battles for civil rights, Nicaraguans, the YMCA, Meals on Wheels, voter registration and flood relief, who used an Oscar appearance to protest on behalf of Haitian AIDS victims imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Susan Sarandon is no traitor. In the eyes of the world, she is clearly struggling to change America into the country it always dreamed it could be. And, on top of all this, 2005 would see her taken on as a spokesperson for Revlon. At the age of 59. Really, she's some woman.

Dominic Wills

 Susan Sarandon, world famous people, actress, biography


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