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Susan Sarandon – If doing plays is like making love, what is doing films like?

Susan Sarandon during a theatre workshop


Read on for the answer (Parental Discretion Advised!)

It was billed as a ‘master class’ on acting by the most famous person to attend this year’s IFFI, site Susan Sarandon. But in the end it was much, sales much more. True, price the class did not start out on a happy note. The air in the Maquinez Palace room was fraught with the tension of disgruntled film buffs who were desperately seeking Susan – in this case a seat in the packed auditorium. It was embarrassing to hear angry raised voices echoing through the hall while TV journalist Barkha Dutt put questions to Sarandon, who then had to raise her voice to be heard. (We do want one of the world’s most celebrated actresses coming away with a good impression of Goa, don’t we?).

Despite the obvious organisational lapses of the IFFI team, this one time, the blame for the fracas appears to rest squarely on the shoulders of the delegates.  While I can understand the frustration of being made to wait in long queues, there can surely be no excuse for loudly berating Barkha for, as one particularly loud heckler shouted, “wasting time by asking irrelevant questions about political stuff”. Anyone who knows anything about Susan is aware that she is one of the most political entertainers in existence – taking strong stands in favour of gay rights and against the Iraq war (plus drawing criticism for once calling Pope Benedict XVI a “Nazi”).  So no matter what the session was labelled as, it can be legitimately argued that Barkha would have been remiss in her journalistic duties NOT to broach politics. Enough said.

This rebel with a cause – who plays ping-pong as a stress buster (she co-owns the table tennis club SPiN) – enjoys keenly observing people. Speaking about gender battles in Hollywood, Sarandon says that though men get paid more, they don’t necessarily get great roles written for them.  “And the irony is that women buy more movie tickets than men”.

As for the Oscar, she thinks that sometimes people win simply because they’ve been nominated several times but have never won and so, the jury votes for them “just to get it over with and it may not necessarily be a great performance”.  (Sarandon herself won a Best Actress Oscar for her breathtaking role as a nun in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking). Perhaps her biggest issue with this award is the rule that a winner must sign a paper promising not to sell the statuette unless they first offer to sell it back to the Academy for just one dollar. “It should be treated like any piece of art and the winners allowed to sell their prize if they so wish”.

Speaking of politics, she confirmed she voted for Obama, twice, but really only because she couldn’t stand the Republican alternatives. “People thought we had lost our minds with Bush and so, an African American president is a huge thing for us”.  And what of his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? “Perhaps they were hoping it would encourage him to do more ‘peaceful’ things,” she replies, apparently less than thrilled about the president’s trigger happiness on the ground.  Her honesty has come at a high price, including death threats.  “Being outspoken is like playing Russian roulette. You’re bound to get a bullet sooner or later with the press reporting everything”.

It takes less than a minute of listening to Susan before understanding she’s one smart cookie. Is that a good thing for an actor? “The verdict is still out on whether being smart helps cos it may in fact get in the way.  Also, a good actor needs to be a good listener because empathy is the key to playing different roles with compassion and learning that everyone has the same issues and fears.  Ergo, acting can actually make you a better person”.

Surprisingly, Susan has a strong superstitious streak and so refrains from using the classic method of thinking bad thoughts about her family to invoke tears. She said as she grew older – believe it or not, she’s now 67 – she realized there are many ways to express grief other than crying.  She admits to being superstitious, which, she said, was the reason behind her refusal to allow her real life daughter to play her reel life daughter in the film ‘Stepmom’, which depicted a girl’s relationship with her dying mother. (Sarandon has three kids, a daughter from her relationship with Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri and two sons from her relationship with actor Tim Robbins).

On the subject of current and future projects, Sarandon recently completed a film with Kathy Bates where she played an alcoholic grandmother, “which was liberating because I didn’t have to worry about how I looked”.  But what she enjoys most is working in theatre, although the downside is that it involves a huge time commitment and keeps her away from family.  “The difference between theatre and films is like the difference between making love and masturbation,” she says to rapturous laughter in the Goan auditorium.  Does that mean she’ll be doing more plays in the near future? No, they take too much of her time. “Right now, I’m interested in making documentaries”. I hope she finds something akin to lovemaking in them, too.