A chat with Susan Sarandon is never boring. Unlike your run-of-the-mill, delicately handled movie star, replete with slightly modified stock answers and feigned enthusiasm, Sarandon checks her pretense at the door. It’s this straight shooter mentality that’s brought her success on the silver screen, portraying femmes fortes in films like Thelma & Louise, The Client, and Dead Man Walking, taking home the Best Actress Oscar for the latter. It’s also made the actress the target of right wing vitriol for her outspoken liberalism.
In The Last of Robin Hood, which made its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, she plays Florence Aadland, stage mom to 15-year-old aspiring actress Beverly (Dakota Fanning). When the teen catches the eye of legendary playboy Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline)—who, at 48, is in the twilight of his career—the two soon fall for one another and Florence, ever the irresponsible parent, turns a blind eye to the affair for the sake of her daughter’s burgeoning career. Directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, the film is based on Flynn’s last days.
Sarandon sat down with The Daily Beast at TIFF to discuss age differences in relationships, her support of Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York, and the A-list director who propositioned her for sex at a Texas motel.
As the mother of a talented young actress [Eva Amurri], what attracted you to this bizarre “stage mom” character?
The period attracted me, the whole look of the film, the directors’ enthusiasm, and I think it’s very interesting how you rationalize what you do, or how you delude yourself, to get what you need. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the truth to yourself. How do we convince ourselves that things are moral when they don’t pay off for our own personal interests? War, anything—you can rationalize anything. And she completely thinks she’s doing the right thing.
How illicit, in your opinion, is this relationship? She is 15 and he’s 48 at the start.
I certainly wouldn’t suggest that 15 in every case is the age for you to make a contract of any kind that’s sexual, and I think that a big age difference doesn’t matter, depending on how old the younger person is. I think 15 is still a child, and I wouldn’t want any child of mine to be put in a position where she’s looking for a father figure, or whatever. But then again, kids are very sexual at that age. And if someone’s 30 and someone’s 60, it’s very different from 15 and 50.
I will concede that we men mature slower than women.
Right? But in this film, what takes some of the edge of the pedophile question is that Beverly is more together than anyone else in the film. The same was true when I did Pretty Baby. What disturbed people about that film was that Brooke [Shields] was not a typical victim, and I don’t think Beverly is a typical victim here. But in talking to Beverly’s daughter, I don’t think she saw herself as a victim at all. My grandmother was an Italian immigrant, got pregnant at 12, lied about her age and said she was 15, and married my grandfather. That wasn’t such an unusual story back then.
How old was your grandfather when they got married?
He was in his early 20’s. But I consider that way older at that point. Her mom had passed away, so I don’t think she really understood what was going on.
The film is about a very young aspiring actress who is preyed on by a much older, established star. When you were starting out, were you ever on the receiving end of any unwelcome advances?
Absolutely. That’s been rampant in every business, but certainly in show business. It’s only been recent that date rape was defined as a rape, or that rape was considered a war crime. Because women are not valued as highly as men in most societies, we’ve been very slow to define these things. Even now, when you have these cases of the [Steubenville] lacrosse team raping a girl at a party, the girl is to blame. I remember I was newly married—I got married at 20 to Chris Sarandon—so I was 23, and I had a wardrobe fitting and we were at a motel in Texas filming. When I got out of the bathroom from changing, everyone had left, and the director basically told me to spend the night. I gave some really lame excuse for not doing it, because we were in the middle of nowhere, and he was furious at me for the rest of the film. And he was a married man and a very well known director.
I’m a New Yorker…
…You going to make it back in time to vote in the primary? You better vote for de Blasio.
Did you hear that Bloomberg said he was running a “classist” and “racist” campaign?
Coming from Bloomberg, that’s really funny. Christine Quinn is the one who’s been in bed with Bloomberg, so now that she’s out of first place, it looks like they’re doing whatever they can.
Not voting for Weiner? Kidding.
The fact that he continued right after he’d already been busted, I think he clearly has a problem. I think Spitzer is good at business, he just made the mistake of thinking he was above the law after he busted Wall Street. I don’t mind what [Spitzer] did, but Weiner is just out of control.
Back in 2003, you were one of the first public figures to speak out against Iraq, and we’re on the verge of military intervention in Syria right now.
Syria is a tricky thing because obviously they are at war. Iraq was such a clear lie, and so many people knew. It was a very isolated time when people asked any questions, and that’s the most painful thing—isolation from your tribe and having perfect strangers yell at you and receive death threats. I don’t feel vindicated after so many deaths and how we’ve destabilized the region. And I wasn’t pretending to know the answer. I just wanted more time. But the most upsetting thing is how people gained financially from that war.
The Halliburton’s of the world.
Right. I just visited a few fracking sites and they’re all over that, too. It’s the same bad guys all the time, somehow.
I just had an interesting chat with Errol Morris, and we discussed how Obama has been far more inclined to go to war than anyone suspected, and has kept many of Bush’s foreign policies in place.
And has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other president.
Recently at the Tribeca Film Festival, you said your phone was hacked.
I went to Nicaragua before we admitted we were blowing them up, and that’s when my file started. I was part of a class action lawsuit that the Center for Constitutional Rights had in 1984, because the LAPD was being used to gather information on private citizens that this group considered to be “un-American.” That was the first time I received my blacked-out file, so I had already had an experience with that kind of thing. All these revelations about phone tapping and things… I’m not surprised.
Tabloid culture also plays into this film, and your character complains a lot about the nasty, false stories being printed about her daughter. What is the biggest load of crap that’s ever been printed about you?
There have been lots of times where I’ve been places I haven’t been and linked with people I haven’t been with, and sometimes I don’t mind because it looks like I’ve been getting out a lot more than I am. But for instance, in this election, I was interested in Christine Quinn a long time ago because I’d met her, and when I tweeted about meeting her I got all this information about how she was blocking sick days, and minimum wage, and all these other things, so when I came out with de Blasio, they said that I had flip-flopped on the tearing down of St. Vincent’s. I had gone to a hearing on St. Vincent’s, but not that it should be torn down, but that the new plan they had was obsolete, so we just went to observe. They said I’d flip-flopped and tried to discredit me. People can print anything.
What’s next for you?
For me, when I’m tired of being in front of the camera—which could be soon—I would like to do documentaries. I’ve got some people that I’m going to apprentice to with these new, little cameras that are so unobtrusive. I think some of the most brilliant work is being done in documentaries, like The Act of Killing.