From the randy musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Thelma & Louise and her Oscar-winning role in Dead Man Walking, actress Susan Sarandon has amassed a wildly diverse—and impressive—résumé by not shying away from challenges or kowtowing to the Hollywood machine.
So, it comes as no surprise that the five-time Oscar nominee would accept a starring role as the lonely mother of two lost souls—Jeff (Jason Segel), an idealistic 30-year-old stoner who lives in mom’s basement, and Pat (Ed Helms), a douche-y, selfish ass—in filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass’ splendid indie comedy-drama Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Sarandon, in her juiciest role in years, does a masterful job embodying a desperate woman who’s searching for a meaningful life of her own amid trying circumstances.
The seemingly ageless actress is, at 65, also not afraid to speak her mind.
In a candid interview with The Daily Beast, Sarandon opens up about motherhood, marijuana, her split from longtime partner Tim Robbins, why America needs birth control, why we should think twice before going to war with Iran, and much more.
What attracted you to this tiny indie feature shot in Louisiana?
I’ve been very lucky every time I’ve filmed in Louisiana, with The Client, Dead Man Walking, and Pretty Baby. The movies have all turned out to be well received. My character was very accessible and very identifiable, and I think there have been many women who have been Wendy to Peter Pan for way too long and have been run down, lost their sense of humor, and thought their lives had shrunk to nothing. Also, because of the economy, everything is up for grabs, and for better or worse, there are a lot of kids who are forced to go back and live at home. Then, you’re in a weird relationship where your kids are reduced to being your kids again.
You have two sons: Jack Henry and Miles Guthrie. Would you kick their asses out of the house if they were living in your basement and taking bong rips at 30?
No, I would not. I don’t think weed is such a horrible thing if you’re doing your job. It’s unfortunate that it’s illegal, but I think it’s one of the least offensive drugs that people use. Drinking can be much worse. Weed is barely a drug. I know a lot of artists and directors that are very high-functioning potheads.
“I just have to believe that the GOP just wrote off this time and said, ‘We don’t care. Anybody can run!’ ’Cause this can’t be the best they can do.”
As you’ve aged in Hollywood, how has the transition been from being the sultry love interest to more “motherly” roles?
I think the larger transition is that there are fewer movies where women carry the film after a certain age. I guess the last screen person that I played that was not a supporting part was Bernard and Doris (2007), and that happened because we developed it and it was made for $500,000 and bought by HBO. With the exception of Meryl Streep, who has found some characters to develop and has Harvey Weinstein finding some for her, I think it is harder for women to find those leading parts.
I read that you said something to the effect of you “felt like a failure” after you split from your partner Tim Robbins.
Every relationship starts out with a dream of what you think it’s going to be, and you either have the tool kit when you get to the hard spots where you’ll make it through, or you need to move on. I think there’s always the temptation to see what you weren’t able to work through as a failure. But with Tim and I, we’ve had an enormous amount of success with our work, our activism, and our children. Those definitely outweigh any sense of “Could I have done it better?” I try not to linger there. I see my life as a work in progress. And we continue to have a relationship; it’s just different. Eva’s [Eva Amurri, Sarandon’s daughter] wedding was very warm, and he was incredibly generous in his speeches to her biological father and to me. It was a beautiful opportunity for everyone to be at their best, so we continue to have a beautiful relationship, just in a different way.
There were all those rumors that you were dating your much younger business partner, and it’s interesting, because there does seem to be a major double standard when older women date younger men.
Well, there’s a double standard in terms of every aspect of sexuality as far as women are concerned. I remember talking to my sons in high school about how girls that were engaged in risky sexual behavior with young boys were immediately labeled “sluts” and the guys were “players.” If you look at [former Italian prime minister Silvio] Berlusconi’s career in Italy, yeah, a lot of people disapproved, but at the same time they were like, “Wow! Look at what he’s getting these days.” We see it a lot in this country too, for sure.
Yes, it really seemed to rear its ugly head with the Sandra Fluke–Rush Limbaugh “slut” controversy.
What a Barnum & Bailey showman he is! Limbaugh will just say anything to get his ratings up. He doesn’t care who he endangers or what it means. Are the Republicans suggesting that they take care of all the children that are born when you don’t have birth control available to you when you’re a poor woman? Do these guys not understand what it takes to raise a child, financially and timewise? They sound like complete idiots! Does Rush Limbaugh have children? I mean he certainly isn’t against drugs! He’s just somebody who’s trying to get ratings by saying the most outrageous things possible, and unfortunately, there are a lot of nonthinking people who are affected by his theatrical carrying on, and he incites them to very dangerous positions.
And what do you make of the whole birth-control issue?
I don’t understand how you can be so anxious to populate the world with children who can’t afford to get an education or are going hungry. It’s wonderful to have a family, but it takes money. We’re in an election right now where there’s a lot of talk about how the government is not supposed to make it easy for you to get health care, education, food, or any of the things you need to give a child a chance to be a contributing member of society. I don’t understand how that works? If you don’t have control over your reproductive system as a woman, then who steps in to help you? Clearly, abstinence doesn’t work, and we’re living in an age where a lot of gentlemen don’t take responsibility for the children they’re so happy to give to women. So who helps?
There’s been a lot of talk from the GOP presidential hopefuls about going to war with Iran, and you were one of the first celebrities to really speak out against the war in Iraq.
We were so battered psychologically by the shock of 9/11, and I was hoping that my representatives were more searching in terms of rushing into that war. It was clear that there wasn’t enough information, and now, in hindsight, everybody sees what’s coming down. I feel a vague similarity with this push towards Iran now and the fact that they have these resources. I hope we learned from the last one that war isn’t something you just go into simply and eagerly and that it costs an enormous amount. I hope that public opinion isn’t so easily coerced this time.
What are your thoughts on the GOP’s field of presidential hopefuls?
I’m finding them incredibly amusing. They’re so ridiculous that it’s entertainment. I can’t imagine that America would be that insane to put any of these people in [the White House]. I just have to believe that the GOP just wrote off this time and said, ‘We don’t care. Anybody can run!’ ’Cause this can’t be the best they can do.
Lastly, what’s going on with the crazy, gender-bending blockbuster project Cloud Atlas by the Wachowskis [The Matrix movies]?
They called me and asked me to work for a week in Berlin, where all these fabulous people are jumping genders and periods. As much as it scares me, I’m going, and I’ll put those contacts in and be a man in different time periods. I think I play four or five different men, and everybody was just jumping around like crazy. Who knows how the hell it will turn out, but it was really fun to be a part of. It was like a Cirque du Soleil or something! For me, it’s all about stretching yourself, staying flexible and adaptable, and trying on different personas. I don’t mind that my career now has a lot of those smaller parts that are fun for me.