Hillary Clinton (July 20, 2014)

It has been said many times that Hillary Clinton’s lack of warmth and empathy cost her the 2008 Democratic candidacy. A friend of mine who is a respected editor in Australia told me she finds her smug and cold.
Before I was to meet her I watched her appearance on The One Show which has been described as ‘Einstein doing Play School’. I’d go one step further: it was Einstein loving every second of being on Play School – laughing at the frivolity and making everyone else laugh to. Everything she was asked she responded to with fire cracking wit and political diplomacy that was charming and at the same time revelatory.
When asked if she prefers the dress sense of Dolly Parton or Angela Merkel she replied, ‘Dolly for night time, Angela for day.’ And when asked who was her favourite President, Bill Clinton or Barak Obama, she said that she was glad to serve Obama who had taken the worst global recession since the Depression and turned it around and created healthcare for everyone in the US, and glad to be married to Bill who rebooted the economy and created 23 million jobs.
When Rylan Clark greeted her on This Morning referring to her as ‘babe’ she beamed with delight. She can take anything in her stride. But strength doesn’t mean froideur in her case.
I wait for her in her empty suite at Claridges. There’s none of the rude, pushy sullen security that has been described in the Press and on Twitter.
She arrives with her aide smiling. She is wearing black trousers and a jacket that is white, patterned with tiny black and yellow flowers, pointed flats. She is so much smaller than you expect. Her presence is so big you expect her to be.
She is curious: Why is Seven called Seven? Why have I flown in from LA? It’s as if she’s trying to feel her way around me, make a connection, which his easy. She admired my necklace, a gold chain with charms, and while you could think that this was a politician’s ploy to create empathy, she is wearing a more dainty version of the same necklace herself. She has huge eyes; blue, round, enquiring, searching, missing nothing.
She is here of course on a book tour to promote her memoir Hard Choices where she chronicles the exhilarating and gruelling life of being Secretary of State, the world’s number one diplomat covering over a million miles, visiting 112 countries. A life of tough decisions, very little sleep, and endlessly on the road.
She tackled it with gusto and seems to have derived great satisfaction, no longer just Mrs Clinton a woman in her husband’s shadow but a woman who learnt from the best and used it in her own hard graft.
In person she is much more fun and funnier than the book and that you’d ever expect her to be. David Milliband, when he was Foreign Secretary, said, and I paraphrase, that Hillary was great, that you could have a laugh with her and tease her. She laughs a big booming laugh.
How important is that to her? To bring fun into an agenda which is incredibly serious? ‘Oh Chrissy, it’s so important, I mean really. So many of the issues you deal with when you are in Government these days, and particularly when you do foreign policy. National security is serious and dangerous. If you don’t have time to be a human being and let your hair down, have a joke, tell stories, you can lose perspective on what you are really doing. And so I have had fun with David, and others. ‘
She seems relaxed, sparkling, fluid. I wonder if she has grown into this person or this was just the person people didn’t see?
The most moving part of her book is when she talks about her mother Dorothy Rodham who had a cruel, abusive and neglected upbringing. Dorothy, who died in 2011, was rejected by her own parents, sent from Chicago to California when she was eight the sole carer of her three-year-old sibling to live with strict disciplinarian grandparents who didn’t know the meaning of love.
Dorothy went out trick or treating one Halloween without permission and as punishment was confined to her room for an entire year. Yet Dorothy took solace in the comfort of strangers and any small acts of decency. She became a lifelong campaigner for social injustice and a woman who knew how to love.
How did Dorothy affect Hillary and formulate the person she became? ‘When I was a very little girl all I knew was that she was my mother. As I got older, probably into my teen years, I could reflect. She was devoted and she was fun. She loved sports. We would go swimming. She loved to play golf. She was an active involved person in our church and in our school. When I learned about the terrible set of issues and challenges she faced as a child my admiration for her grew. I couldn’t imagine – I had this very stable, loving, supportive family – I didn’t know how she did it; how she came from what she experienced to be what I experienced. It was extraordinary.’
What stayed with Hillary Rodham Clinton was the notion you respect someone getting up after they have been knocked down. No matter how rejected, betrayed or mistreated you feel, you don’t become a whiner because Dorothy never did. You don’t become a victim if you want to survive and enjoy your life. If you are a victim you never move on.
Much has been made of the fact that Monica Lewinsky’s visit to London briefly coincided with HRC’s. In a recent Vanity Fair article Lewinsky described herself as ‘arguably the most humiliated woman in the world.’ That is taking the victim role by storm. One could argue in that particular three-way it was HRC who was the most humiliated. The man she stood by and loved cheated on her and it all played out in public.
How did she take that humiliation and turn it round so dramatically? Her huge eyes widen. How did she come from being that humiliated person to the respected Secretary of State? How did she turn that around?
‘I moved on,’ she says simply and profoundly. And that doesn’t make he cold. It doesn’t mean it was easy.
Lewinsky couldn’t move on. Does she feel a little sorry for her? ‘I think she is someone who has to express her own feelings. I can’t characterise her, that wouldn’t be right. I’m just grateful that I made the choices I made, to move forward and from that I’ve had an extraordinary set of opportunities and experiences that I’m very grateful for.’
In her book she also talks about the necessity of forgiveness. Most religions talk about it as liberation. Did she find it easy to forgive? ‘NO, NO,’ she says loudly, emphatically and with a vulnerability that moves me.
‘Forgiveness is a hard choice. It’s empowering and liberating to be able to reach the point in your life where you feel you can forgive. Everybody feels they have been trespassed upon and nearly everybody has trespassed on somebody else, maybe not intentionally…
‘I’m inspired by the example of Nelson Mandela who led a country to a new future through the example of forgiveness and reconciliation. That doesn’t mean you forget – it’s truth and reconciliation. You have to be honest, face the truth about whatever your situation personally or nationally might be, but he often made the point that if you carried bitterness and anger around with you for whatever reason, you would remain in prison. You would in fact be imprisoning yourself and be unfair to yourself because you can’t get beyond what happened to you.
‘I think about my mother and what happened to her when she was growing up – the abuse, neglect and meanness she was subjected to – and she had to find it within herself to rise above it, to keep going or she would have been miserable. Or she might have got married and had kids and been miserable to them. But she didn’t.’
Did you find that after that, I mean Lewinsky but I don’t say the word, it made you and Bill stronger and closer? ‘I feel that we always had a close relationship. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t disappointed each other or fallen short in some way because of course we each have in everyday life. There are things that you do or fail to do. I feel very blessed to have a partner in life who supports me, who is enthusiastic about what I want to do, who has been a great father and who will be a fabulous grandfather. I feel very lucky.’
Throughout the interview there is direct and indirect clucking about the advent of her being a proud grandmother. Chelsea is to give birth in the autumn and you sense the conflict. Of course she wants to enjoy that time of being with her daughter and the baby. She says she hasn’t made up her mind yet if she will run. I feel her sense of injustice is too huge and passionate to allow her not to.
In the book you feel the adrenalin, the fear she refuses to take on, when she writes about her role in Bin Laden’s capture and demise. National security was paramount. She had to keep the operation secret from her husband. How did that make her feel? Was it hard? She is so direct and thrives on the bravery of honesty I imagine it would be.
She nods. ‘It was hard in two ways. Hard because I had to keep it from everybody. I had to do the work, the analysis and the recommending based on my own efforts and I had to keep it from my husband because of the admonition we couldn’t tell anybody. I would have loved to have talked it over with him because I value his advice and experience, but I didn’t. And when President Obama called him and the other living presidents about what had happened, he said to Bill, “I assume Hillary has told you.” He said, “No, she hasn’t told me anything.” And I laughed about it with him later and he said, ”Well good, people will know you can keep a secret.”’ And she laughs now.
Did Bill keep secrets from her when he was in office? ‘Yes, he did. I don’t think very many, but there are some things that you are expected to keep secret. Even though in our cases we could add value in thinking through these decisions together we didn’t.’
How does she think the dynamic of their relationship has changed since she has become more powerful and a more public figure and he less? ‘I don’t think he will ever be anything but a public person, especially in our country. He has his work with the foundation; his special envoy work with the UN, some of the work that President Obama has asked him to do, and he has an enormously high profile. So I view it as a conversation we started many years ago in law school (they both went to Yale) where we each tried to support and really listen to each other and provide our best advice.
‘So although he ended his public electoral office in 2001 and I began mine, we never quit sharing views and ideas. When I was a senator for New York and he was one of my constituents, I used to tell him I represented him.’ She laughs, almost conspiratorially.
‘When I was Secretary of State there were many things we could talk over, and we did. We view ourselves as being very much partners in our marriage.’
Bill Clinton is hugely charismatic. I interviewed him once briefly. His voice was mesmerising and he was electric. What’s he like around the house? Is he electric all the time? Now she guffaws. ‘I know that when I see it. No. H e is very much an around the house husband; let’s clean up the kitchen, let’s take the dogs for a walk, what are we going to do with our garden? Very matter of fact everyday issues.’
I have to say I thought Bill Clinton was very nice. ‘Yes,’ she considers. He is very nice. Yes.’ We laugh again.
One of the most amusing photographs in her book is where she is playing the piano with Bono and they are singing. It takes guts to sing with Bono. It takes guts to send in helicopters with Navy Seals to Bin Laden’s lair. It takes guts to stay human when you are in power.
Because of that and her ability to triumph over tragedy, she has become a gay icon. ‘Really?’ she purrs. ‘That is so touching to hear that. I have a chapter called Unfinished Business about women’s rights and gay rights. To me you cannot be fully human, fully civilised, unless you recognise humanity in everyone. Our country has made a lot of progress in issues of racism and sexism and homophobia, but many places around the world are dangerous for women and dangerous for gays and we have to keep working.’
As a feminist she is unswerving. On Twitter she describers herself as ‘wife, mom, lawyer, women and kids advocate, US senator, Sec. State, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD.’
She says she was thinking of naming her book The Scrunchie Chronicles because of the amount of attention that gets paid to her hair, especially when she pulls it back in a scrunchie.
Does she feel being a woman in power she has to modify the way she dresses, for instance be more masculine, more conservative, play down a girlie side of herself? ‘When I was younger and women first started to get in public positions, in my case the law, we went through a period where we wore those little ribbon ties, little bows. We tried to figure out what was our appropriate dress. Now it is sorted out. Women can express who they are more. You are running up against conventional expectation and your personal identity. It doesn’t mean to say you can wear a bathing suit to court. You can be aware of conventions but not be a slave to them. I wear pants of various kinds because it solves a lot of problems. Different jackets, heels of different heights, but I also like to ear something that is more fun, more happy, not be so predictable.’
Her coat today is a happy coat. If it were a cocktail it would be margarita. ‘Yes, thank you. I happen to love margaritas and it was my mother’s favourite drink. It’s a happy drink.’
Her clothes in the past have been criticised. She has been criticised for her hair and basically every move she’s ever made. She says she has developed the skin of a rhinoceros. She takes criticism seriously, but not personally. Especially when it’s about the double standards applied to a woman in the public eye.
Is there any criticism that still hurts her? ‘I feel like I’ve run the gauntlet of criticism. When somebody is saying something about another person that is unfair, it’s not that it’s about me so much as the meanness that can be displayed towards people. I don’t like that.
‘It used to bother me and I would get frustrated and then I didn’t have the energy for it any more. And I also thought if I’m spending energy worrying about what somebody is saying about me, then how am I ever going to make the point I want to make. So now I wear my hair how I want it. I’ll wear my glasses if I want to. Women should not be entrapped by those expectations. This book is to encourage young women in particular to find their style, their identity and their voice.’
I wonder if she is referring to what has been dubbed ‘the Beyoncé voters’ the single ladies, which have been categorised as a new demographic of potential voters who Clinton will need if she were to run.
‘Yes, I read the article to which you are referring to. I think what you have to do is make the case that Congress has an enormous impact on matters that are important to you. If you are worried about your student loan, saving for a house, worried about the conditions in the workplace, it’s not just the president you elect, it’s who you elect to Congress. Single women have not been a target for that kind of message and I think they should be because they deserve to hear that.’
Of course if she did run, much has been made that she would be an old president (She would be 69). She’s been dubbed a Golden Girl. But retorted that that was a very popular TV show. These days she loves House of Cards but hasn’t seen Scandal or Game of Thrones.
She had a health scare – a concussion, had to take blood thinners. Today she is glowing, energetic, relaxed. Does she have a fitness regime other than the yoga I’ve read about? ‘Clearing closets clears my head. It makes my head fitter and I love a project that has a beginning, middle and end. I love organising, going to the container store. When I got out of the State Department I promised myself I would do it and I have.’ She beams. She feels liberated from the throwing away of old clothes. ‘I love the letting go,’ she laughs.
What will she do if she’s not going to run? ‘Work in the foundation that Bill and I started and that my daughter is also a member of, the three of us together. I’m going to keep fighting for women’s full participation, their equality and opportunity in every society. I have more than enough to do, it’s just a question of making these hard choices of where I want to put my energy and emphasis.’
Does Bill want her to run? ‘He wants me to do whatever I decide to do.’
Having seen the job first hand, what is the best and worst thing about being President. ‘The best thing is you can help people solve their problems and manage difficult situations. The worst thing is it’s a never ending daunting set of responsibilities that 24/7 is not enough time to deal with.’
She described her campaign for Democratic candidacy as physically and emotionally exhausting, which is surely nothing to the stress of being the actual President. Hasn’t she noticed how quickly and dramatically they age? ‘YES. Just look at them, they go in young and vigorous and…go grey.’ Does that worry her? ‘No, because I can colour my hair. They don’t.’
She looks good for her 66 years. Her face is lined but not excessively. Her face is kind and un-botoxed. Overall you sense strength and huge warmth which is an impressive combo.
She caused brouhaha by announcing how when they left the White House at the end of the Clinton presidency they were completely broke and hugely in debt. Yet she makes vast amounts from public speaking and book deals. Can she remember what it was like to really have no money?
‘Absolutely, yes. Bill and I started off scraping our way through law school. We each had to work several jobs to get through and each had student loans to pay off.’
When they got married there was no money for a proper wedding reception. They had a do at home and she wore an off the peg dress she bought the day before the ceremony. What does she like spending her money on these days?
‘Experiences. Going to the theatre. Going on vacations to new places.’
What keeps her awake at night apart from jet lag? ‘I sleep very well. But I do worry about violence from extremists, rogue states that have nuclear weapons. We all worry about that.’ I wonder if she has a recurring nightmare about how to stop this. She might just have to be President to try to have a full night’s sleep after all.
Does she feel that men and women wield power differently? ‘Yes. I have observed differences. You can’t generalise but in general women have a more collaborative collegiate style and women may be attuned to what I call kitchen table issues, what’s happening in families, the stresses they’re under, how difficult it is to make ends meet.’
Towards the end of the book when she talks about her mother’s death she is reminded of the quote: ‘I have loved and been loved. All the rest is background music.’ This seems to ring true. And that’s how she would like to be remembered.
In a relationship does she like to be the person who loves most or is loved most? ‘It goes back and forth. That’s why I loved that quote. I have loved and I have been loved. I think it describes any long-term relationship because clearly sometimes you are in greater need than your partner and sometimes it is reversed.’
You don’t think that women love doing the loving? ‘That’s not been my experience. I think there are different phases in men’s and women’s lives. I know a lot of men who are now retired who are much more loving now than when they were working 16 hour days.’
I don’t think she’s referencing Bill, but part of me would like to think so because even women who are strong need nurturing.
We have already gone over our allotted time and now I want her aide to take a picture. We stand together. She is not afraid of arm to arm contact. We smile. We look united, side-by-side. I examine the picture afterwards. Both wearing black trousers, patterned tops, many bracelets, and a gold charm necklace. Both the same height. Both unnatural blondes. We could be sisters and that makes me feel strangely pleased.
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Simon & Schuster, is out now.



Susan Sarandon (Psychologies Mag, July 16, 2014)

Susan Sarandon has never become a homogenised version of herself. She’s always sparky, curious and in the moment. On her wrist there is a tattoo. It looks like a piece of barbed wire but it actually says “A new dawn, a new day” to remind her ‘Every day you come into the world and are born again a new person.’
She has been a life long activist, a passionate actress. She won an Oscar for playing a nun in Dead Man Walking. But she also likes to have fun. She works constantly. Today she’s wearing leggings, iridescent sneakers and a loose white blouse. Her eyes orbital and alive.

Sarandon loves a road movie. The metaphor for the emotional and intellectual journey and its liberation. She is, after all. The star of the most iconic road movie in the history of film; Thelma And Louise.

Her latest movie Tammy is another story set on the road. Tammy, played by Melissa McCarthy has been fired from her thankless job in a greasy burger bar. Goes home to find her husband cheating on her with her neighbour. She wants to escape her miserable life. She has no car for her only option with cash and a roadworthy vehicle is her grandmother Pearl, played by Sarandon who is addicted to alcohol and pills.

‘I’m a pill popping alcoholic fun loving granny. What’s interesting is there are moments in the film which are surprisingly emotional and very different from what you’ve seen Melissa do thus far. At the same time there’s a lot of humour – an interesting combination.’

The real life Sarandon is ultra cool, comfortable in her own skin. She exudes a kind of confidence that meshes with a ripe sexuality. She’s 67 and still completely hot – curvaceous yet svelte figure.

The world shook when five years ago she split from actor Tim Robbins, her partner of 23 years. Everyone thought they were so comfortable they’d be together forever. Sarandon has never enjoyed cosy.
She embraced the new phase in her life ‘with terror and excitement in equal parts.’ And is now with Jonathan Bricklin, 37, her partner in her ping-pong club Spin and a collaborator on many projects in real life. But more of him later.

At an age when most mothers are admonishing their children for getting tattoos Sarandon discovered the joy of ink. She’s never been conventional and has always hated labels.
For her character in Tammy she wears a grey curly wig and frumpy clothes. How did she feel about being portrayed as her first screen grandmother? Wasn’t that a little bit frightening?
‘Not really.’ They worked it out that I could be her grandmother if I had her mum when I was 16and she had her baby when she was 16. I certainly look old in it but I didn’t want to wear tons of prosthetics. I think they did a good job with lighting and concentrating on and exaggerating all my bad features. Although I do have to wear fake ankles because they’re supposed to swell.

‘I thought it was interesting work and different to everything I’ve done lately because there was lots of improv. It’s all about the people you work with and I worked with great people here.’
With Sarandon it’s always about the work, never the label and she reminds me, ‘I was a grandmother in Lovely Bones of little kids, but I tell them not to call me grandma. My character was trying to be chic and trying to pretend she wasn’t getting older. (In fact she looks super glamorous and age defying in that movie – a Jackie O with leopard skin accessories).
‘The idea of being a grandmother, of course it didn’t bother me. I’m about to be a grandmother in real life and the concept hasn’t seemed particularly crippling. I didn’t think of it in that way. It was more trying to figure out how to do the part and make it multi-layered. It’s tricky because she’s taking drugs and then she’s high, but then she’s not high and she’s taking pain pills because her feet are swollen. Everyone’s making such a big deal about the fact it’s a grandma. I just wanted to make it believable.

Did she have any moments of vanity where she was terrified of what she actually looked like? ‘When I saw the stills after the movie was done and I saw all these funny faces I did think I hope this is better when I am moving. It was really extreme in a photo.’ She laughs a languid laugh.
In the movie the rug-braiding pill popping grandmother wants to go to Niagara Falls. ‘Yes and we take a very circuitous route there. Of course you’re taking a metaphorical trip as well a real trip and other than weddings and funerals I can’t think of anything that begs for drama more than a road trip because you’re gathering people together and there’s a lot of tension. When you throw new people in the mix on their journey it’s a classic device for drama and a time for a character to change.
‘When you’re in a car it’s a good way to force characters into new situations. I’m always getting scripts where a middle aged couple whose marriage is undergoing some kind of change or needs to change, goes on a road trip.’
Tammy needs to undergo emotional change after she finds her husband involved with her neighbour. ‘My character is not in a position to give anyone advice because I’ve made so many mistakes. Various truths come out in the journey. Both of us have our comeuppance. We get straightened out and come back together again.’
Making the same mistakes over and over again is a definition of madness. The real life Sarandon rather enjoys making mistakes for the experience of growth they often bring.
‘I definitely learn from my mistakes. I welcome them. I am always disappointed if I start repeating mistakes. I don’t have the constitution to be addicted to anything. I don’t like drinking. I much prefer marijuana to booze. And I don’t do anything excessively. I don’t have the appetite to over indulge so I’ve never been in trouble that way.’
What advice would she give to someone who is dealing with a beak-up after they’ve been betrayed? ‘The first thing you have to do is make sure that you don’t think of yourself as a victim. It’s a very humiliating experience to betrayed and you have to see it somehow – which probably takes a little bit of time – as an opportunity to re-frame your life and go on to have some kind of in-depth conversation about why that would happen.’
There in a nutshell – never see yourself as a victim – is a key to Sarandon’s strength and ever-present vibrancy. But there’s also vulnerability. She seems entirely connected to herself at all times, which makes her hugely charismatic.
Her career started off with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She was Brooke Shields’ hooker mother in Pretty Baby where she also had a tortured affair with its director Louis Male. She was the most unvictimy cancer victim in Stepmom.
She was born the eldest of nine children in Queens, New York City and brought up as a Catholic. ‘One doesn’t recover from that childhood!’
She left home at 17 and married her college sweetheart Chris Sarandon when she was just 20. ‘At that time it was impossible to stay in school and live together as we were at Catholic university, so we got married.’ They were divorced 12 years later and she never married again.

Her daughter Eva’s father was the film director Franco Amurri. She got pregnant by accident soon after they met. She met Tim Robbins when they were filming Bull Durham and had two sons, Jack Henry and Miles. She has always enjoyed passionate, consuming relationships. ‘Even the ones that nearly killed me.’
In her twenties she had a breakdown and refused any pharmaceutical help. ‘I wouldn’t have reached any of those crises in my later life because I would have been prozaced out. It worries me that people see pain as an alien thing. There won’t be any poetry written soon if everyone is on such an even keel.’
She doesn’t attribute her breakdown to a single factor, but the role of being a constant pleaser, nurturer and caretaker seems to have been a destructive element. ‘Anyone that is trying to please everyone is going to have a frustrating life. I had grown up to believe that love conquers and being a Catholic I believed if you’re good, good things happen. You have that expectation, but you soon realise that love does not conquer all. That life’s not fair.

‘Yes there have been times when I did see myself as a victim. That’s why I don’t tend towards that now. I’m also not a blamer. If anything I take too much responsibility for everything that happens and I always say I suffer from pro-noia as opposed to paranoia. I think everything that happens the universe is firing in my favour. Anything that’s difficult is also an opportunity. It doesn’t mean at times things aren’t really hurtful, but you just have to accept being hurt as part of life and decide where you want to go.

‘Sometimes when you are betrayed the other person doesn’t want to deal with what led to the betrayal because the betrayal itself is a symptom, not the be all and end all. It is possible to work through a testing of a relationship and come out stronger. It is possible if you have the toolkit to accomplish that – but everyone doesn’t have that.
‘I would say lean on those who make you feel good about yourself and do something where you can clear your head. You are just a tiny dot in a huge cosmos so try to put it in perspective. Everyone has a few bad days but you can’t let it define you. You can’t be defined by someone else’s act, not being able to deliver what you need. Sometimes betrayal is a wake-up call that something has to change.’
When she talks about this it’s from a place deep in her soul; a vulnerable, wise place. She’s known pain and has been made all the stronger by her capacity to feel it. Did she employ these techniques in the healing process after she split from Tim Robbins?
‘I’ve tried to employ these things whenever I’ve had any kind of huge change, and there have been many. The good thing about crashing and burning young is you start to build somewhere in your memory that you can get through this. It is much more difficult for people who hold on and on and never just completely destruct.
‘Once you destruct it’s like a rebirth and birthing is painful. New things are exhilarating and terrifying. Every major transition is a combination of both of these things. And sometimes we mistake excitement as you are going towards the unknown for terror because they feel very much the same.
‘Even when I choose parts in a movie I should be terrified and excited. I don’t want to get lazy. And Tammy was a real stretch to keep me alert in a way that I might not have been, and that’s a good thing.’
This is exactly how she felt about her relationship with Bricklin. When they first started together she refused to label him a boyfriend. She preferred to call him a collaborator. ‘I now say we are a work in progress. We’ve started a production company together called Reframed Pictures. It gives finishing funds to documentaries and our ping pong project that we’ve been doing together is getting more and more sophisticated. We’ve brought in a new CEO who knows a lot more about running a business and franchising.
‘And I am going to become a grandmother in August. I’m not terrified about that but it is exciting. My daughter has a wonderful husband. He’s going to make a great father. She’s read everything you could possibly read. When I was having a baby I felt it was science fiction until they were actually there. Then you suddenly get your mind around it; a new person in the world because of us. We had a lovely baby shower for her in the same friend’s apartment where I had my shower when I was expecting her. So some of the same people were there.’
She has always been extremely close to her children and enjoyed being a mother for the third time when she was 45. Miles is still living at home. ‘He just left Brown (University). He’s done a lot of travelling. He’s a DJ and a musician. I think he’s here with me for another year until he gets away with earning money down solid. My elder son is in California. He is making a documentary about the homeless and a mocumentary about a DJ.’
Does she ever suffer loneliness and separation from her children? ‘Actually I just texted my youngest where did you go? Because he didn’t come home last night. I don’t like to be too naggy but I like to know what’s going on. I talk to my daughter constantly. We’ve always been very close. I like having older kids. I like the way the relationship keeps changing. I like learning to back off and watch them making their own mistakes.’
Do they share her strong political beliefs? ‘They all have a good value system in varying degrees. They are aware of the world situation. They tend to be driven more by humanitarian aid rather than by politics.’
Does she still believe her activism can make a difference? ‘Absolutely. I’ve seen lives one by one change. For instance when my son did the film about the homeless he went across the United States in the hope of dispelling the myth about who is homeless and how hard it is to be on the streets. In a week we go before a committee in DC to testify to try and make violence against homeless people a hate crime because it’s on the rise and it’s ugly. I see it when I work with grass roots groups. One person at a time can really change the world.’
Is it true that her mother is a Republican? ‘It is true. She is a serious one. In the lead up to the war Bush got in touch with her and she was put on talk shows to help get his ratings up. I grew up with a strong need for justice. Even with my dolls I would rotate their dresses to make sure one didn’t get the pretty dress all the time. Fairness meant a lot to me.
‘I came at an age where our issues were much clearer, when there wasn’t a blackout by corporate press. In Vietnam you saw what was happening with riots and those things. It made sense for a young person to be seduced by them.’
Did she ever have a heated debate with her mother? ‘Not really. Sometimes we talk but I don’t think there’s any point. The last time gay marriage came up and whilst she’s very much for civil union she’s not for gay marriage, she couldn’t understand it.
It was very hurtful to me when she went on the O’Reilly TV show. He did a Top 10 look at my ‘un-American activities’ and used her as a way of getting people to watch it. That was a scary time for me in the lead-up to Iraq. So I just have to assume she doesn’t really get it.’
There is no blame in her tone. True to her word Sarandon is never the victim.

Susan Sarandon – April 8, 2012

Susan Sarandon has never become a homogenised version of herself. She’s never let herself be dull or diluted.
In her latest movie Jeff, Who Lives At Home, she plays the uptight mother of two very different and equally annoying sons played by Jason Segel and Ed Helms.
What you notice is she’s not afraid to let the camera come in at an extreme close-up. The whole screen takes in her face and you are devoured in it. You think there’s something defiant about this, you see bravery, you see good skin, lined yes, but you don’t notice that. You notice a commanding presence.
Her face itself is incredible. Unbelievably she’s 65. She’s not had botox or eye lifts. She had lypo on her jaw some time ago, but her face is as vibrant as it was 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. She’s not afraid to let you see all the emotions flash through it.
When we meet I am struck by how dainty she is. She is wearing dark navy skinny jeans, a lose silky creamy top, no shoes and a shiny scarlet pedicure. Her hair in chestnut waves floats beyond her shoulders and her eyes are orbital and exactly the same colour as her hair.
She has a gravelly purr when she speaks. She hasn’t yet seen the movie or her impressive close-up yet. She puts her relaxed screen presence down to how much she enjoyed working with the Duplass brothers, (directors Jay and Mark) who work largely from improvisation, something which she enjoys because it keeps her on her toes.
‘They don’t set up a long shot or a medium shot. They don’t say these are your close-ups so you are not even aware of them. There’s not a self-consciousness or a loneliness. Whenever I’m in a close-up single (she means close-ups taken after the scene) I’m thinking where is the other person.
‘They use more than one camera. Jay operates one and Mark watches the monitor. Mark is a little more outgoing in terms of his notes. Both my boys came to visit me and immediately hit it off with both of them.’ By her boys she means her sons Jack Henry, 22, and Miles, 19.
She has an extremely close relationship with all of her children. She has always been interested in them. She told me once that they came out of her womb exactly how they are. Jack was very loud and came out quickly, ‘he is a people person, whereas Miles is more like me. My daughter (Eva, 27) could have been an alien she was such a strong presence.’ She told me then in her house there were no followers, only leaders.
‘Jay ended up being a great mentor to my son Jack Henry when he was at USC. He looked at his film and was inspirational.’
Jack Henry and Miles still have a space in the family home, but they are not like Jeff in the movie, who lives in the basement smoking weed and in his basketball shorts.
The movie takes place all in one day where Jeff/Segel looks for a sign that might change his life and make his life mean something. He doesn’t connect with his mother or his older brother Pat played by Ed Helms, who feels his life will mean something now that he’s bought a Porsche that he can’t afford.
‘Jack Henry got a job making a documentary going across country looking at the different demographics of homeless people.’ Jack Henry seems already politically aware like his parents. ‘At the moment he’s in New Orleans (where Jeff was shot) and coincidentally Tim (Robbins) is directing TV series Treme there. He’ll be back in New York with me when he finishes that, probably for the summer.
‘Tim had a house in New Orleans even before we split. Miles (her other son) is at Brown but comes back to New York to DJ in the city. ‘It’s not an empty nest. My kids are still in the basement,’ she says with a mixture of relief and pride.
She can say the name Tim Robbins without any emotional resonance or weirdness. It is two and a half years since they split after being together for 21 years after they met on the set of the movie Bill Durham. Sarandon was 40 when she got that part of a sexy intellectual baseball groupie. She’s never allowed herself to be labelled too young for this, too old for that. She played her first mother when she was 31 in Pretty Baby directed by Louis Malle, with whom she was also having an affair.
Although she never seemed part of a couple because she’s such a strident individual, while she won acclaim for Thelma And Louise and won an Oscar playing a nun opposite Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking, it seemed a given that hers and Robbins’ was an equal and loving relationship.
The world was shocked when it broke down. “Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins have split up. Has the world come to an end?” One blog post read.
Sarandon and Robbins defy all the various theories that were tossed around at the time. Particularly the one that she being 11 years older than him wanted a quieter life. If anything the opposite is true. She never wants to be quiet. She’s working on more projects than ever including parts in Robot And Frank with Frank Langella and Liv Tyler, The Company You Keep with Robert Redford and Julie Christie and Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Tim Roth, and recurring roles in 30 Rock and Big C.
‘It’s important to be interested. I thought I was going to take a few months off and then things kept coming up. I only pick parts that I really want to do. Often they’re not major parts but they’re things I haven’t done before or people I want to work with, like 30 Rock. It was a reprise of something I’d done before and those people are talented, fun. If a part is the kind of person I’m not comfortable with it’s all the more fun. The world opens up to you if you do these things. Somebody said does it get easier? I don’t think it gets easier, but it gets better. It’s a little scary but I feel like I’m living an authentic life right now. I feel happy. I feel I have more options because the kids are older and my situation being what it is. I feel like travelling more. We did a trip down to the Grand Canyon, my kids and some friends. We camped under the stars. No phones, nothing. It was crazy,’ she says savouring the word.
A couple of years ago she opened a ping pong club in New York called Spin and got obsessed with it because girls could beat boys and old ladies could beat jocks.
At the time of the split with Robbins she told me that she was ‘excited and terrified in equal parts.’ How is she now? ‘I think I’m about there, maybe slightly less terrified but I think so much is new and the kids are going through new stages, they are kind of educating me. It’s definitely different. Everything scares me. When I take a part I take a part because it scares me. I’m used to being scared. I find that a good sign. Life is massive, you need to be awake.’ She looks right at me, almost through me, to make her point.
I have read stories, I tell her, that say she is definitely dating her ping pong partner Jonathan Bricklin and other stories that say that’s not true. I have no idea what to believe? ‘Yeh,’ she says, in a kind of pleased with herself growl. So which is it? ‘I’d say we are collaborators in a lot of different areas.’ I laugh. ‘We have a lot of projects in different areas.’
So… does she like him? ‘He’s a great guy but I hate that expression dating.’ I agree with her it’s an awkward euphemism which she imagines I won’t find a way round. There’s nothing else for it. I ask her is she fucking him? She smiles, all coy. ‘Don’t you like the word collaborating?’
The thing is, no matter how brilliant an actor Sarandon is, and she is, she cannot lie. ‘I’m not a good liar, so say whatever you’ll say.’ Collaborating in many areas is a good phrase. ‘Unless it’s the war and you are French.’
If it was the war and Sarandon was French she would definitely be in the Resistance. She loves a cause and she would fight it with all her heart. She’s a committed liberal in every possible way. Rather the opposite to her character in the movie who is very irritated that her son is still living at home.
‘Because of the economic situation these days you could have two degrees and still not have a job or be able to afford rent, or you get a divorce. So families live together. In Italy, in Israel there’s a lot more families living together. Even if you’re married you save up to get a house. It’s never been seen necessarily that these people are slackers. The problem is children returning home that are twenty something and they still want you to do their laundry and their friends come over and trash the place. Sharon (her character in the movie) is worn out because Jeff is in the basement smoking weed.’ And her own boys would never do such a thing? ‘I don’t know about that. But they do their own laundry.’
She seems to like the idea that she never had to face empty nest syndrome. Her children didn’t so much rebel against her but with her. She’s very proud of the fact that she got her tattoo before her son Jack.
How old was she when she left home? ‘I left home at 17 and never came back. My spot got completely disappeared. I got married when I was 20 after my senior year. Chris Sarandon was a graduate student. He already had a job, so I went where he went. Crazy. What was I thinking?
Why did she get married? ‘I got married to say thank you. He was the first man I slept with and he was so kind and so patient and at that time to stay in school and live together was impossible at Catholic universities. Things have changed, but now it seems like there’s an influx of people who want to get married, including my daughter,’ she says slight incredulous.
Sarandon never married again. Her daughter Eva’s father was film director Franco Amurri. Their relationship was never intended to last. She got pregnant early on at 39 because she came off the pill having been told that she had endometriosis and couldn’t get pregnant. Shortly after she met Robbins, the father of Jack Henry and Miles. Sarandon has always enjoyed passionate consuming relationships. ‘Even ones that nearly killed me,’ she once told me.
Is one marriage enough for her? ‘Oh yeh. I really can’t imagine it. Even when I got married we never said it was going to be forever, it was a kind of practical decision. I don’t think I ever thought of it as something that would be a huge deal. But every year we renewed. We decided not with an actual ceremony but just said should we go through the next year. Actually I think it’s good relationship strategy. We should revisit this before we have children to see if everybody is still on the same page and you have established that you have an option of it being nobody’s failure.’
Did she renew frequently with Tim? ‘No, we were not married. It wasn’t about renewing anything. I felt married, I felt committed.’
There’s a slight pause here, a slight little nag at her heart. ‘If you have children they are never out of your life.’
She takes a sip from a brownish purple looking juice. It’s a cold fruit tea ‘to keep up my strength instead of caffeine. I crash after coffee.’
She has a ring on her thumb which says in French ‘One must live not just exist.’ I bought it for myself and it was delivered to me on the day of Louis Malle’s memorial, which I thought was interesting since he was French and I’d been with him for a number of years.’
She was with Louis Malle for two years in the late seventies. The relationship with Malle was turbulent. She felt that she was the one who had to permanently surrender to him because she was the actor and he was the director.
‘I always believe that lovers and certain people come into your life as well as certain jobs, for a reason. Even if it may not be clear at the time.’
There isn’t any victim energy about her, yet she’s always managed to be vulnerable. That takes power. Even the pain she seems to have utilised. In fact she rather enjoys embracing huge and raw emotions. Like her ring says, she doesn’t want to just exist.
‘This is the Cartier bracelet my daughter gave me for my 60th birthday. She saved up for it. I can’t take it off that easily. I did a number of episodes for the Big C and wore it because it means so much to me. It reminds me of my tattoo. The tattoo round her wrist looks like a strand of barbed wire but it actually says “a new dawn a new day” to remind her to live in the present. Round her neck is a piece of glass that she found in a street in New York that is the shape of a heart. In her ear is a gold safety pin and the other ear has a diamond hoop.
‘This is my daughter’s baby pin. Someone gave it to me.’ One ear says Pirate, the other ear says Punk.
‘The virgin and the gypsy,’ she says as she curls her feet under her looking effortlessly sultry. I can’t imagine that she was ever a virgin. ‘But I am over and over again every day.’ I’m wondering if this idea comes because she wants to constantly renew everything or because of her Catholic upbringing. ‘One doesn’t recover from that childhood.’
In her case she’s never stopped rebelling against it. Recently she caused a furore at the Hamptons Film Festival calling the Pope a Nazi. This movie includes a girl on girl kiss. ‘It was a starter kiss.’ Sarandon is an old hand at lesbian screen sex. In The Hunger she was full-on with Catherine Deneuve.
‘Someone asked me the other day was that upsetting (for her to kiss a girl) and I said I guess you never saw The Hunger. The Hunger love scene took four days and there was much more body contact than that. In the beginning of the film I was much more uncomfortable. Just being that uptight and nasty all the time was uncomfortable. But I guess it will cause somebody to say now you are going to get the religious right down on you again.’ In actual fact it’s quite romantic.
‘Did you know it’s a big trend for women who are divorced to get together with other women and start a new life? I don’t know how much sex had to do with it. The question is about the courage it takes to be intimate with another person. It’s not about your age, colour or gender, it is do you ever want to be vulnerable and expose yourself to that vulnerability. It takes courage to put your hand out to the other person and say let’s see what happens. It’s huge,’ she says.
She is mesmerising when she talks about this. I can’t help but wonder is she talking about herself and the courage it took her to er, collaborate.
She says she doesn’t have any new tattoos but her daughter just got a very big one of a hummingbird. They are a tight nit bunch, the family that gets tattoos together. ‘I went with Jack to get his. And when I got the one on my back Eva got one that said “Conscious’ meaning being awake.
‘Both my boys are very sweet. Miles is thinking of getting a smiley face but he’s not quite sure. I think he’ll get one,’ she nods approvingly.
Most children get tattoos to rebel against their parents, but she got hers first. ‘I know it’s horrible. Jack was a little upset that I got one before he did. Maybe it’s bad for kids when they don’t have anything to rebel against. There were things that I was strict about, but not tattoos.’
What were they? ‘I was strict about how much time they would spend watching TV when they were growing up. Violence in films. Sex not so much. I was worried about the double standard. I wanted my boys to understand that blow jobs do ruin a girl’s reputation and that they were responsible as much as she was and they had to understand the ramifications for other people involved. I was strict about them keeping in touch when they go away and about them being kind to each other.’
Once again the opposite to the character she plays. ‘I just don’t think she gets her son,’ she says incredulously. ‘Often the woman is the Wendy to everyone else’s Peter Pan. You get tired with that. At one point I rebelled and stopped wearing a watch. I know nowadays everyone has a phone but then it meant I’m not going to keep telling you you have a game, you have to start to figure out what time to be there. Why does it have to be me that keeps nagging?’
Partly she has always taken responsibility for other people and been the facilitator because she is the oldest of nine. It was expected of her. There’s a sense that she’s done with all that and feels freer.
‘I remember reading the book that said the mum is the entrée and dad is dessert. He’s not around as much and everyone wants dessert. I was the one that dealt with the school forms, the schedules, the packed lunches, the shopping. And that’s the curse of the competent woman. No one opens the door for them.’ She flicks back her hair looking decidedly un-cursed.

The first thing you notice about Susan Sarandon is how comfortable she feels in her own body. She often talks about how proud she is of her breasts, but it’s more than that. There is something about how connected she is to herself that makes her hugely charismatic and somewhat cosy to be with.

She is instantly accessible, perching on a little sofa in Claridges hotel wondering why the green tea is brown. She is wearing black jeggings, new balance trainers, an oversized sweater with a cream lace shirt underneath. A curious outfit, yet somehow you notice her not its oddness.

Her skin is flawless, her eyes huge and all consuming. She is not afraid to look at you and she’s not afraid to let you look right in at her. It’s an open face. No slyness, no manipulation, She is renowned for being a woman who doesn’t fear most things, and certainly doesn’t fear speaking her mind.

It is that truth telling that later on in the interview makes us come a little undone. But more of that later.

To start off we are embracing her fearlessness that makes her sexy at any age whether she is doing a lesbian love scene with Catherine Deneuve, as in The Hunger, driving off a cliff in Thelma and Louise, or reinventing the screen granny as she does in The Lovely Bones. Leopard skin accessories, Jackie O hair and racoon eyes, she’s the sexiest thing in the movie that is a meditation on death. She can get away with political earnestness and make it look passionate, not dull.

We’ve met before. The last time a few years ago. She turned up feeling sick, had to go and vomit half way through the interview, but she didn’t want to cancel because it might have inconvenienced me. She is old school, show must go on.

Today she is feeling healthy. She talks about her new regime of dehydrated fruits and vegetables with gusto, and her ping pong club in New York. Then she’ll give you a catalogue of what drugs she’s done and what exactly they do. There is no self-conscious talking about the movie even though there’s an awards buzz already for her.

She won an Oscar for playing the nun in Dead Man Walking. She likes tortured movies. She also likes to have fun. Her career started off in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. She was Brooke Shields’ hooker mother in Pretty Baby where she went on to have a long and tortured affair with its director Louis Malle. She specialises in every nuance of the mother role, making them in turns forceful, sexy and unsentimental. She was the most unvictimy cancer victim in Stepmom. You never see her moaning in life or movies.

She’s just come from Sweden where she got a lifetime achievement award, but she’s more excited that she met a table tennis gold medallist, “because I have opened a ping pong bar in Manhattan and I want him to come.” Her sons Jack Henry, 20, and Miles, 17, have both deejayed there and it was one of the coolest places in Manhattan before it had even had a liquor licence.

“Girls can beat boys, old ladies can beat young guys, and little girls can beat older guys. It’s about strategy, and you can’t get hurt…” Her eyes do that spinning thing that they do when she’s excited. Her ping pong fever started when she was working with an editor who was also making a documentary about ping pong. “I wouldn’t say that I play very well but I make it possible for other people to play well. I like facilitating them.”

Facilitating, nurturing, making things happen, organising, are all at the core of her. It’s to do with her consummate mother energy. The oldest child of seven, a lifetime of doing things for other people. But who facilitates her?

“Not enough people, she says with a dryness that comes right from the back of her throat. That’S the curse of the confident woman. Most people know that if you take care of yourself and open your own doors they stop opening them for you. It’s harder to ask for help because you get in the habit of taking care of yourself, and I think you forget how to ask.” Her eyes look searching now. “I am trying to change all of that. I am trying to repattern myself now that my youngest is out of the house.” The change seems to scare her and excite her in equal parts. The change is something she refers back to many times, it’s a big deal, a new her.

She peers into her cup of brown green tea. She doesn’t want to complain about her tea but she says, “Coffee is awfully tasty. I love the taste of coffee.” She’s on a regime. “I celebrated my 63rd birthday and got blood tests and saw a nutritionist. I want to do a preemptive strike on whatever is building up in me so I’m travelling with this dehydrated green stuff and red stuff and cutting out all sugar and all liquor. I rarely drink, so that wasn’t hard. The bad one was bread. I love bread. I cheat sometimes. When I did the play (Exit The King on Broadway) I got run down and was drinking serious caffeine, so I needed to clean up my act. I’m very susceptible to drugs of every kind. Coffee, it’s great because it gets me very up, but then I crash.”

I tell her I find coffee comforting. It doesn’t make me particularly speedy. She surmises authoritatively, “You are probably someone who takes Ritalin to calm them.”

When she says drugs have such an effect on her, what kind of drugs does she mean? “I mean anything! I’m not really interested in drinking. Tequila maybe, but champagne makes me fall asleep. It doesn’t take much. When I’m travelling I only need to take half an Ambien to sleep on the plane. I love mushrooms and I’ve done those successfully, but I don’t like anything chemical. I didn’t like LSD and ecstacy wouldn’t agree with me. I like stuff you can smoke.”

I tell her that I’m the opposite. The stuff you smoke makes me paranoid and depressed. “Oh that’s sad,” she says in a heartfelt way as if she’s running through all the good times that I’ll never have. “Everyone is wired differently. Some people can do stuff that others can’t. That’s what I told my kids. Some drugs can kill you. Some are not even worth trying. Some are a lot of fun, so talk to me first.”

It doesn’t surprise me that seven minutes into our interview we are discussing chemical versus herbal drugs in great detail. Sarandon is curious and open. Some things she just can’t be bothered to hide or be polite about. She took drugs, so what. She doesn’t watch her words and thinks she has to recreate a cleaner, blander, less-lived self for the purpose of an interview. She carries no weight of shame or self-consciousness.

She once said it was her ambition to be the longest working actor. She works a lot, but not in a divaish compulsive way. She doesn’t need a star role, just one with meat on it. She loved working with Peter Jackson because, “he knew what he wanted. It was a very pleasant experience. I’ve been on films where I didn’t particularly like the director, which wasn’t the case here. You don’t have to be best friends with someone but if they are passionate you respect them. I’ve also worked with directors who are just trying to get to dinner. They want their martini and to get out of there. And that’s a terrible thing. I’ve done a number of low budget indie films lately where the director has also been the writer and they have cut at the bequest of the powers that be the very things that made their movies special because they think by homogenising a product it will appeal to the most amount of people and it will make the most money. Instead what happens is a watered down version of what you thought it was.”

Sarandon has never become a homogenised version of herself, so it makes sense that this would irk her. Did she suffer by working on thing that were quirky and got homogenised? “Yeh. They’re still waiting to come out,” she deadpans. She doesn’t want to say which ones they are but Solitary Man, Leaves Of Grass and The Greatest are all indie films with writer directors.

She’s not bitter, just bemused. “I wouldn’t have done them if those scenes had been out. People who are deciding how to market your film live in fear, so they are constantly trying to change the very thing they agreed on in the first place. Imagine in that movie with Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller (There’s Something About Mary), if the hair scene had been cut out? Imagine people saying, ‘oh that goes too far’…

“When I did Dead Man Walking (for which she wore nun make-up and won an Oscar) people were trying to get me to have an affair or the guy not to die. The whole movie would have been completely different.” In it she stays a nun and Sean Penn, the man on death row. does die, and it is of course brilliant. Someone who wouldn’t stand up for themselves puzzles her because that’s so alien to who she is.

“I’m not talking about the studio wanting to change things, I’m talking about the indie people!” Sarandon does not believe in a happy ending. She believes that pain is part of life. She believes in confronting it rather than coating with sentiment.

Did Lovely Bones make her think about mortality? “Well, I’m always thinking about it… I think it was interesting to think about how grief is processed. I remember talking to some firefighters wives months after 9/11 and them saying I’m still angry. People don’t understand.”

We talk briefly about how grief, just like drugs, affects people differently. It’s a chemical process. We agree the coping mechanism is to disconnect from the pain until something in a movie that you are watching or something in a song suddenly reconnects you to it in an unexpected moment.

“I am just like that. I am so busy getting everyone else through it I don’t luxuriate in whatever it is you have to go through.” She sighs, perhaps recoiling from her lifelong role of being the enabler, the strong woman who gets everyone else through it.

In Wall Street 2 Sarandon plays Shia LaBeouf’s mum. “She speaks for the smaller people who have been damaged by the economic situation. Her original profession was nurse. Then she started flipping houses in exclusive neighbourhoods, the kind of gate communities on Long Island where Shia’s character is from. She gets over extended when the bubble bursts and is a casualty, and comes to depend on her son to bail her out. He is having his own financial problems and this puts more pressure on him.

“It’s a small part, but Oliver insisted it was an important part because she is the only one who is not that high level of trading that the rest of the movie is about. People can identify with her.

“If you are running a small business you are constantly worried because very few people can make it because the banks are no longer lending in the way they were. But her job is a realtor. Hopefully I’m funny and I get a few laughs.”

What was it like working with Shia? “He educated himself. He actually worked on Wall Street and immersed himself into that world, so I was very impressed. I like him a lot. He’s a really keen kind of kid that works so hard.”

What was the most difficult thing about your character? “I had to smoke and that was very difficult. The first scene at eight in the morning I was smoking and by lunch I was so ill. Later on in the movie I had given up smoking, but Oliver still wanted it.

“I got to wear lots of jewellery and long nails, so that stuff was fun. In the beginning they were long and manicured, and then they came off when times got tough. I think that’s the difference when you have a regular income coming in, your self maintenance. In the beginning her hair is done and she has long French nails. And the next time she has hit rock bottom and has become kind of undone.

“I really admire entrepreneurs and I realise from running the ping pong bar, one little thing goes wrong and your profits are gone. Oliver keeps insisting that he’s a great ping pong player, but I don’t know if he can actually play. Josh Brolin turns out to be very good and took on Mel Gibson. When I play I have a really good time. You don’t get hurt, you can be of any age and gender and stand a good chance of beating somebody. Little girls can beat 35-year old muscle men, and geeky kids can dominate. It’s very good for the right side of your brain and they say that’s good for alzheimers.”

There’s something about her though that loves it because it restructures any kind of caste or class system. Her story in Wall Street is about losing her quality of life and surviving and finding a happier place. How does she survive? Does she choose movies for money or for art? Did she ever do a movie just for the money?

“Usually when a script comes with a huge offer it’s going to be bad, but then you decide what you are going to do. There are lots of variables. Sometimes you do a money job in order to finance a job where you are not going to make money. You do it for the experience. I have never said no to anything I wanted to do and I have never turned down a film because I didn’t get the money. If I really want to do a film I do it.”

Are you a spender or a saver? “I don’t really have any relationship with money one way or the other. I don’t really hoard it, but I’m not a big spender. I consume where my kids are concerned and I spend money on travel and trees. But I am not a buyer of jewellery or clothing and nor do I spend a lot of time in beauty parlours. What becomes clearer as I get older is I’m less interested in accumulating stuff. I love to buy presents for friends if I see something that’s perfect for them. If I had tons of money I would buy Gore Vidal’s house. A really pricey watch or pocketbook I can’t really understand.

“I really don’t think of money that much. Even when I was growing up and didn’t have it, it seemed like I would always be able to get an avocado or the new Beatles album. I never felt like I was poor when I was poor. It’s good to know I have money to send my kids to school and bring them home for the holidays, but I am fairly cautious and I would never invest in the stock market. I don’t like to lose, so I’m not a good gambler. I don’t have the gambling gene.”

Perhaps her whole life has been part of bigger emotional gambles, so she’s never had to exercise that muscle in casinos. “Perhaps. Certainly a lot of actors gamble. I think it’s easier to not know what’s going to happen when you’re in this business because you trained yourself to get used to that. I feel sorry for the people who dedicate 35 years of their lives to a job and get laid off. They compromise for security and at the last minute that security is not there. My daughter is working as an actress now. At 24 she’s already learning to make use of her down time because she doesn’t know when she’s going to work again.”

How about emotionally? Do you take emotional gambles? “I do. I follow my heart because my feeling if I don’t is much worse than if I get crushed. I try to bounce back and it gets you to the next place. Again, that is a muscle you develop when you act. You develop not an immunity to pain or insecurity, but in the back of your psyche you know you can survive if you hold on long enough because you’ve been up and down long enough.
“I believe in serendipity. I believe it is one of the things that has given me an incredible life, the fact that I am able to get off a train and change direction.”

Changing direction with Tim Robbins must have been a major emotional traffic jam. After so many year of being such a solidly shimmering couple whose love seemed so earnest and true it would never break down it shocked the world that they were no longer together.”Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins have split up. Has the world come to an end?” one blog post read. Everyone is shocked. And what of Sarandon? Is that why she wants to reinvent herself? Unleash her old patterns? Radically detox physically and emotionally? She is not just scared and excited about her green and red pills. It’s her whole new emotional landscape. How is she navigating the separation? “We are just focusing on all the good things that we have accomplished in our lives, in our careers, in the world and especially in our family over the last 20 years. That’s how we are dealing with it.”
But is she OK? Is she on the road to survival? “Yes. I am in that place of excited and terrified, and that’s probably how you should live your life all the time.”

Has she lived her life like that all the time? “I think to be authentic and rush towards joy is not an easy thing, it’s an ongoing process. Someone asked me the other day when I found my authentic voice and I told them that I think what I have learnt is that who you are, your relationship to your partner and your art, has to be seen as a living thing that is constantly breathing and changing and growing and surprising you. Once you reach a point where you try and keep it, preserve it, then it goes dead. You always have to be curious and asking questions of yourself to define who you are, what you want and what you can give.” Sarandon is all about moving on, survival, never dwelling on the negative.

“Some people get really pissed off with bereavement. Others can’t get out of bed. I know when my dad passed away I was much more objective. There were things to be done and I felt I needed to do them.”

As the eldest of seven she was used to taking charge. “They all needed me and they all needed to get up and speak at the memorial and I really didn’t want to because I didn’t want it to be about me, so I didn’t speak. I was seeing my dad every weekend but he wasn’t living in my house. I think unless you are living with someone you can delude yourself.”

Her agent of 25 years, Sam Cohen, also recently passed away. “I did speak at the memorial. I was flattered they asked me. It was very difficult. You try not to just wail and at the same time you are incredibly disconnected.”

She is so disconnected she hasn’t crossed out dead people’s names from her phone book. She uses an old fashioned phone book. It’s somehow more vicious to cross them than to delete them from a mobile phone.

“I’m always telling my kids they should have a backup because if you lose your phone everything gets stolen. I look at my phone book and there is a whole history there. I don’t cross out the dead people. I think it’s kind of nice. I hold on to T-shirts and gifts that people who have passed away have given me.

A few months ago when she performed Ionesco’s Exit The King on Broadway, which is all about confronting death, she had turned her dressing room into a little shrine for people who had passed.

“I would talk to them before I went on for perspective. They were people I thought would like the play like Bob Altman and Paul Newman. I would say help me remember this is just a play and not take myself so seriously.”

Did she feel they talked backed? “No, but I did feel good having them there. I also had all new little souls, babies and pictures of my kids when they were little and new babies that had just been born.”

Does she believe that souls get passed on? “You mean reincarnation? Maybe. I’m not so sure about the recycling of souls situation, but the one thing that makes me believe that something goes on is that I felt that I had completely already known my children in some way shape or form before they were born. When my daughter (Eva) was about three she asked me when we’d first met, and I started to tell her the story of her birth, and she said no, I remember when I wanted to pick you as my mother. I remember when Jack had his first birthday and she was five, she said, Jack and I knew each other when we were the same age. She also said, every year I get younger and younger as I give away stuff, and I said what kind of stuff, and she said I get younger and lighter because I’m getting rid of bullshit. I went into her class at school and said what are you teaching her? And they said oh no, that’s just her.

“Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote the book about the five stages of dying and she wanted me to do a movie about her life. She had these spiritual friends. She saw people that had passed on and came back and talked to her. She said that kids had the easiest time passing on because they didn’t have so many attachments.’

I think she would have trouble leaving, I think she would hang on. “Absolutely. I’m not ready at all. I have at least another 40 years, but I think about dying all the time. How could you not? But I think I am manifesting this very interesting life right now.” Her eyes seem to ignite and become orbital. They miss nothing, take in everything, and it’s as if the more she thinks about death the more urgent life becomes, the more in the present she is.

She told me once that you are the protagonist in your own life. Meaning you are the one that makes things happen and you don’t have to be the victim. There’s not a whisker, a shadow, of victim energy about her. That’s why she never hit 40 and thought it’s over for a woman in Hollywood. The first time she played a mother she was 32 and that didn’t represent the milestone that it could have been. She doesn’t seem to look at things as milestones, more like opportunities to learn. Even pain she seems to cherish as a poetic experience.

Her relationship with Louis Malle sounds epically tortured. He was the director, she was the actress, he was used to being the driving force. And she had to surrender to be the one who was driven. “I learnt a lot from him because he was from France and older. I don’t regret any of the relationships I’ve had, even the ones that practically killed me.” She talks about sobbing for days and being humiliated, but never for long. “I always believe that lovers and certain people come into your life as well as certain jobs. It may not be clear at the time but they come for a reason. Exit The King – 120 nights meditating on death. That definitely changes you.”

So she thinks she knew her children from another life, did she know her lovers? She laughs a sparkly eyed laugh. “No. No.” And then concedes. “Maybe one, but I’m not going to say which one and I didn’t have that feeling of recognition when I met each of my children. When my children were born they were exactly the people they are now. Forget that nurture nature thing. I remember looking at my daughter. She could have been an alien. She was such a strong presence. She wasn’t like meeting me half way. She arrived, who she is.

“When Jack arrived he was completely different. I thought that was because he was a boy. And then when the other boy, Miles, came, he was completely different again. I remember Francine, who was the mother of Donald Sutherland’s children saying to me, ‘The way they take to the breast will tell you exactly who they are going to be…'” And how did they? “One of them was very interested in breasts. One of them just smiled.”

Were the boys more interested than the girls? “Not necessarily. Jack was very loud when he was born and came very quickly, and he’s still loud, very outgoing. Even when you couldn’t understand a thing he was saying he was introducing me to the maitre d’. He’s now studying film at USC and writing. He is a people person. He could be a union organiser. Jack is a lot like Tim. He likes going to parties. Whereas Miles is a lot more like me – over six people and I’m overwhelmed. I remember thinking no wonder no one gets along in our house, everyone is a leader in different ways. There are no followers.

“Miles has just done a CD, he is a musician. Both of them DJ at my club.” Miles is 17 and will be leaving to go to college shortly. Isn’t that called empty nest, and doesn’t that come with a syndrome? “Yes, liberation.” She says she is going to change everything and she is looking forward to “repatterning” herself.

“I have been living a wonderful life but I have to rediscover my voice. I have been a function of my family’s needs for such a long time.” Everyone thinks of Sarandon as dynamically outspoken, yet she’s better at speaking other people’s needs. “It doesn’t mean I’m not outspoken. It doesn’t mean I haven’t worked, but I have put them first. I have defined myself as a mother first, always checking the schedules. I was doing it with my siblings. My son said, ‘You are the glue that keeps the family together.’ And I’m sure an element of that will remain.”

It’s like her whole life she’s been trying to escape being the caretaker, the responsible one. She’s escaped into rebellious parts. On films she can push boundaries, be daring. Perhaps now she can incorporate that sense of daring into real life.

She left home to go to Catholic university in Washington DC. “I couldn’t wait to leave home. I was always shy but I knew there was something outside. That was the main

Yet she hadn’t been in college long before she got married. Why did she get married so young? “At that time you couldn’t live together if you weren’t married. He was a graduate student. I was 17 when I met him and slept with him when I was 19 and got married when I was 20. How backwards is that? I was a Catholic and I was living with my grandparents to save money.” Did she love him? “Oh yes, he was a dear man, and very instrumental. I felt very safe with him. He introduced me to black and white movies and poetry. There is a huge difference between a graduate student and a freshman.”

There’s almost romantic yearning when she talks about this first love, Chris Sarandon, whose name she kept. “It’s a very good name.” The marriage didn’t last because perhaps she wanted more than safety. “I think there was a certain point where I needed to go on to the next step and I needed something different. I didn’t know what it was at the time and we ended up being something else.” She goes on to explain how they both ended up having children and how her son Jack is the same age as his son Max. She describes it as if it’s a life that could have been hers. She describes it with nostalgia and distance in equal parts.

After her marriage broke down she had a kind of meltdown. It’s hard to explain exactly what triggered it, it seems to have been many things. Perhaps believing that life was going to be certain and safe and discovering it was not. At the time she decided she would get through it without any pharmaceutical help. She hates chemicals. “It worries me that people see pain as an alien thing. There won’t be any poetry if everyone is on such an even keel.”

One imagines that growing up Catholic influenced a lot of how she felt disappointment when love turned out not to conquer all, and also the way she sees marriage. She only got married once, and not to Eva’s father, director Franco Amurri. She fell pregnant in a miraculous accident. She had been told her endometriosis would mean she could never have children and she stopped taking the pill. She had not known Amurri long before they became parents. Their relationship was never meant to last. She met Tim Robbins on the set of Bill Durham in 1988. She never planned to marry him. “I don’t get the marriage thing. When people ask me to support gay marriage they are asking the wrong person.” Sarandon seems to rail against being a couple rather than an individual. Plus playing safe doesn’t exist for her.

“My daughter talks about getting married. She thinks it will be great, and a great party… My friend had a daughter who got married pretty young. She was about 23 and it was a huge wedding and she is a celebrity and her daughter is a celebrity and she said, ‘It’s a good first marriage.’ I thought fair enough, a few years and one child later she’s not married any more.” I think we can figure out that’s Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson but Sarandon does one of those cartoon smiles.

Did she think she would be with Tim forever ?
“i have no idea.” Cartoon smile disappears.

I wonder if the tattoo round her wrist, which looks like a ring of barbed wire, is a symbol for relationship torture. “No. It only looks like barbed wire. It says, ‘A new dawn, a new day’ to remind me that every day you come into the world you are born again a new person. I have a very large one on my back which I got during the filming of Lovely Bones. It’s my kids initials.”

Typical Sarandon. Never does things in the right age or order. She discovered tattoos in her sixties and has made tattoo sharing a family event.

“My son just got one and my daughter just got one together when I got this one on my wrist. She got Latin words for being present and being conscious written in typewriter script and my son got a Ganesh.”

So you all went together as a family? “No. Just me and my daughter, and my son was very angry that I got mine before his, but he couldn’t think what he wanted. I left after the matinee of Exit The King and met him at the tattoo place and went back for the evening show, so I was there for most of his tattoo.

“I had given him a little Ganesh when he graduated from high school and he was going to travel around Europe. He was afraid he was going to lose it. So he put a duplicate of it as a tattoo. Miles doesn’t have one yet but he will get one.”

Sarandon has never been able to be stereotyped. There is nothing rigid about her. Playing a grandmother in The Lovely Bones has not made her feel old or unsexy. “I think we have to revamp the idea of what it means to be a grandmother. This one is the anti granny.”

She is the only sexy funny thing in the movie and that is her purpose, to lift it, to stop it from being turgid and too tragic. “I loved the hair, and the outfits were fabulous. I had hair and make-up like that in those days and I wore a fall at the back. But hers was a gorgeous wig and the arc of my character is seen through her hair. In the end it’s limp and discombobulated. It was my own hair by then. She didn’t have time and with grief your maintenance just goes.”

Sarandon does not look self-consciously maintained. She looks good because she looks herself. Her career spans a huge range of characters. She was never compartmentalised. She always fought not to be diminished by a label.

“I think that’s true. Everything used to be over by the time you were 40. When I did Bill Durham I had just turned 40 and that was a great part.”

She played a baseball groupie and felt very sexy in that role, and it’s special to her because it’s when she first met Robbins. Does she still feel sexy? “Yes, I am sexy. Someone said to me recently do you think about ageing, and I think what’s the choice? I think a lot about what we don’t like aesthetically about women that are fighting ageing is fear manifesting. I don’t think you should try to look 22 when you are in your sixties. There is something odd about a woman who looks younger than she did 20 years ago. It’s so self-conscious. I’m not against anybody doing anything to themselves that makes them feel good, but I think aesthetically some fillers and stuff make people unrecognisable. It’s difficult to watch somebody’s face, to see someone who has lips that are unrecognisable. I think you are going against your own branding and I think there are a lot of people who have trusted the wrong people
“There are a lot of things that you can do that are fine, but when you get really into doing stuff you look at that person and you think, ‘Oh my God, that looks just like…. Oh my God, it is her.’ I’ve never had fillers, and how can you get botox when you’re an actor?”

Has she ever had anything done? “Yes, I had under my chin sucked out once. I think we have to be supportive of each other and if someone wants to get implants or tucks you hope that that will be fine and they will keep the essence of who they are and not go over the top.”

Does she have a regime to stay in shape? “I have a trainer for strength because I don’t want osteoporosis to come and I do gyrotonic when I can. Young actors ask me why is your skin so great, what is your product, and all I say is stop smoking, that’s the big one. And just not over indulging and being happy. Laughing does a lot for the face. Do the things you enjoy. Surround yourself with good people. Denying yourself is not good for the face. You can’t be a bitter angry person. Hatred is unsexy and not great for your skin.”

Interestingly that’s what’s written on her face, laughter lines but no scowling lines. There are lines of pleasure but no evidence of restraint. Nothing is pinched.

There has been talk of an Oscar nomination for Lovely Bones. “I would love that,” she says instantly without false modesty. She loves her work, but the beauty is however serious it is she doesn’t take it seriously. “Acting itself is really not that complicated. It’s surviving as a human being that’s difficult.”