Susan Sarandon on Her Love Affair With David Bowie, Woody Allen’s Creepiness, and Psychedelics
Few actresses have bitch-slapped Father Time quite like Susan Sarandon. The outspoken star on her latest film, The Last of Robin Hood, profound drug experiences, and more.
Susan Sarandon is a total freak of nature—and I mean that in the best way possible. One of the biggest issues plaguing Melissa McCarthy and co. on the set of the recent film, Tammy, was how the hell to make the stunning 67-year-old actress look, well, not so stunning. “Susan looks too good!” the cinematographer complained ad nauseam, according to McCarthy. “Susan seems to be glowing from within.”
In person, you can see why it proved such a gargantuan task. Few actresses—nay, people—have bitch-slapped Father Time quite like Sarandon. Combine those age-defying looks with stellar acting chops and a no-bullshit attitude and you’ve got a woman who marches to the beat of her own drummer—dating thirtysomethings and remaining prolific in ageist Hollywood.
Interviews with Sarandon are always fun, too, because she doesn’t regurgitate those same, awful canned answers. You know: “I just loved the script…” “It was a joy every day being on set,” yada yada. Her latest film is The Last of Robin Hood. In the film, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash West, she plays Florence Aadland, the kooky stage mother to Beverly (Dakota Fanning)—a 15-year-old who enters into a torrid love affair with 48-year-old film icon Errol Flynn, played by Kevin Kline. It’s based on the true story of Flynn’s final days.
I heard you went to Burning Man last year, but sadly couldn’t make it this year.
It’s fabulous. I can’t go this year because my daughter’s having a baby around that time, so I don’t think I’d feel very free to indulge if I was waiting for a message to see if she’s gone into labor. I went all around on a Segway and a bicycle, which was great, and even though people sometimes recognized me and said, “Oh, it’s so cool you’re here!” it wasn’t like walking the streets of New York. The art was amazing. You’ll find fantastical stuff like four-story women, and when the light comes up, a half-naked woman with a parasol. Despite the fact that there was more of a police presence there, it was a lot of fun and I’d definitely go back.
Did you take any psychedelics? You kind of have to, right?
Well, it’s pretty psychedelic to begin with. But, yeah, I’m not new to the idea of mushrooms. I don’t really like chemical things, really. Timothy Leary was a friend of mine, so that acid was nice and pure, but I’m not really looking for chemicals, and I don’t like to feel speedy. But I’ve done Ayahuasca and I’ve done mushrooms and things like that. But I like those drugs in the outdoors—I’m not a city-tripper. My attitude about marijuana or anything is, “Don’t be stoned if you have to pretend you’re not,” so I’d never do drugs if I was taking care of my kids. I like doing it in the Grand Canyon, or in the woods. You want to be prepared and not have responsibilities. It does remind you of your space in the universe—your place in the universe—and reframe things for you. I think you can have some very profound experiences.
The late Steve Jobs said taking LSD was a very profound experience, and one of the most important experiences of his life.
But it didn’t make him a kinder person. It’s not going to solve all your problems. But, yes, I’m totally supportive of that means to reframe your universe.
And marijuana was recently decriminalized in New York.
It got decriminalized in small amounts. It will be legal everywhere, and that will cause a very interesting tipping point. Certainly, if more people were smoking instead of drinking, people don’t get mean on weed, don’t beat up their wives on weed, and don’t drive crazy on weed. They just get hungry, don’t go out of the house, or laugh a lot. I think it would make for a much more gentle world.
Although edibles are sort of a different ballgame. If I was driving and munching on a brownie I’d stand a really good chance of putting my car into a ravine.
Well, it needs to be treated as a controlled substance in that you don’t give it to kids, and you don’t drive. Certainly, liquor has caused many more deaths. There’s never been a death by marijuana. And the money spent to incarcerate people, the money spent on the drug war, and the fact that cartels are running wild, it’s crazy.
The Last of Robin Hood concerns a couple with a huge age disparity—your daughter in the film is 15 when she meets Errol Flynn, who’s 48.
Well, Charlie Chaplin married someone that was 15 around that time. I think she’s very mature, which happens when you have alcoholic, non-functioning parents—they grow up very quickly, learn how to take care of themselves, and navigate the waters of life in a different way than normal, functioning parents. And I think that Dakota plays her in a graceful, non-Lolita-ish way. Clearly he was besotted with her, and from the interviews I heard with my character, Florence, she insists it was a legitimate love story, that he wanted to marry her, and that he tried to take care of her in the will.
But you wouldn’t want your 15-year-old daughter dating some 48-year-old.
I wouldn’t want my 15-year-old daughter having sex! But for some reason, age difference is more accepted in cultures when the man is older and the woman is younger. My grandmother on my mother’s side was an Italian immigrant in New York, and her mother died when she was 10. She’d had 10 children, seven of whom had died by this time, so she had an older sister and a younger brother. This 21-year-old guy moved to the apartment next door and knocked her up at 12. She lied and said she was 15 to marry him—because you could marry at 15 in New York back then. So, things happen. And he was not a movie star.
It’s interesting that this film is coming out at the same time as Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight. Many writers have taken issue with the age gap in that film—since Emma Stone is 25 and Colin Firth is 53. Do you think it’s healthy to keep portraying the May-December romance in films?
You know, films are great when they reframe reality and cause conversations and dialogue. I’m much more bothered by violence in film—especially violence that’s connected in some way to be sexy. For me, that’s always been more problematic when I was guiding what my kids were looking at. And again, it has to do with the people. Emma Stone is very together, very centered. I have issues with Woody Allen… but that’s another story. But that’s always been accepted in films, that guys are with younger women.
What are those issues?
I think he really tore that family apart in a way that was horrible, and hasn’t really dealt with the aftermath. He’s always had a reputation for being with younger girls—I mean younger girls. And also, that young woman [Soon-Yi] was very vulnerable, and I think it was very hard for the siblings, and certainly for Mia. You just don’t go there. You don’t go there.
Last of Robin Hood also centers on a young woman who falls for a rakish older movie star. Have you ever had a wild love affair with a big celebrity?
There was a 14- or-15-year difference between Louis Malle and I. We met on a set. That was such a learning experience because he was French, had a truffle farm, and I really hadn’t spent a lot of time in Europe. That was really valuable. But in terms of hooking up with movie stars, I got married really young, which knocked out most of my 20s to be fucking around. There have been a couple of famous, pretty interesting ones. One rock star, and another actor. But I’m pretty much a nester and tend to be monogamous.
Who was the rock star?
Get out. That man is a legend. Did that happen around the time of The Hunger?
Yeah. He’s worth idolizing. He’s extraordinary. That was a really interesting period. I wasn’t supposed to have kids, and I’m the oldest of nine and had mothered all of them, so I wasn’t ever in a mode to where I was looking to settle down and raise a family, so that definitely changes the gene pool you’re dipping into. But Bowie’s just a really interesting person, and so bright. He’s a talent, and a painter, and… he’s great.
Agreed. That Thelma & Louise reunion selfie you took with Geena Davis really broke the Internet.
There was a whole photo session and then they do this interview, and then I just thought, “Let’s take one of us.” It was very spur of the moment. And you know what? My dog tweeted it.
Your dog tweeted it?
Yeah. My dog, Ms. Penny Puppy has a site, and she tweeted it. And we had no idea that it would do that. We had none. It was just a joke!
Thelma & Louise was really ahead of its time. Ridley Scott’s always been great at creating badass women with agency on film.
He’s also very good at creating a very heroic setting. The movie wasn’t written with this iconic feel to it—it could have been just a little, tiny movie that was very mumblecore. The joke after awhile was that we were just going to be a voiceover on all these amazing shots we were getting every morning and evening.
Is it crazy to see Brad Pitt be one of the biggest movie stars on the planet now?
I love him. He’s a kind, thoughtful guy. Everyone thought, “Wow, he’s really cute,” on set. He said that I made him really disciplined or more professional somehow, but I don’t know what he’s talking about because I don’t remember it that way at all. I remember him being really cute, funny, and professional. When I saw an early cut and saw the scenes at the police station where he’s teasing, which he added, I thought, “This guy is something special.” When he added that, I thought, “This guy is a character actor hidden in this gorgeous body.”
The last time we chatted you were all about de Blasio because it was just prior to election, and told me to vote for him. How do you think he’s doing?
I think he’s doing pretty well!
Has he actually done anything, though?
All his push on education and low-income housing. He canceled his trip to go and take care of the NYPD choking case with Eric Garner. I saw the video. And he’s going to stay on that, whereas when Giuliani was in, there was the Amadou Diallo shooting, and he didn’t even want to talk about it; he just made sure that everyone didn’t talk about it. It’s going to take time, but I believe in his programs. And he’s so accessible that he makes people feel like they have a say in their city again, which I think is a very good thing. So, we’ll see. We have to stay on Cuomo about fracking. I’m worried about the natural gas pipeline that’s going in all the way down the West Side Highway, as well as another in Brooklyn. They’re so dangerous.
What are your thoughts on the Eric Garner choking video? It’s really horrifying.
Yeah, it is. Being a policeman is a very difficult job and people get frightened and he was a big guy and whatever, but the training has to be changed. The cop was obviously really scared, but that’s no excuse. That was a big mistake, and when someone dies, they’re gone. And they had been harassing him for selling untaxed cigarettes for a while. There are bigger fish to fry. So, perhaps one answer is putting policemen in neighborhoods that they know, which happens in other countries.
You’re also serving as editor-in-chief of an issue of Time Out New York on Aug. 13. What are we going to see in there?
I’ve been working a lot on the issue of homelessness and the hidden homeless in New York, and some of it will be about the hidden homeless, and trying to dispel myths of who’s homeless and how they got there. The first cause is the lack of low-income housing, the second is health care, the third is domestic violence, and the fourth is mental illness. And then it’s alcohol and drugs. So, I think de Blasio is going to focus a lot on low-income housing, which will make a big difference.
Are you finding it harder to love New York City?
Not at all. If you’re a privileged person or a famous person, it’s really fabulous to live in New York. If I was living in L.A., I’d be completely isolated and living behind a gate. I love that my kids did sports leagues with all types of people, and you bump into each other on the street, and New Yorkers are tough and have a great sense of humor. I don’t like the fact that it’s getting more and more expensive, and I think we need to tax the rich more. And I don’t like the fact that education has been ignored through the last administration, but I think that’s all fixable. Every time I leave for work, I’m so happy to come back. There’s just the serendipity of New York, too. There’s no room to be bored. I was walking by Union Square the other day and people were tangoing! Where else does that happen? I just love New York.