She's a melodrama with a maze of subplots, Hollywood 's only all around woman, an actress who is an activist and a major babe, who has worked her way on screen from wimpy ingenue to Mother Courage and who could -- and probably would -- happily kick sand in Pamela Anderson's cleavage.
Susan Sarandon is a grown-up person's pin-up. She's a serious siren. She's a rebel with a hundred causes. She's also a mother with three children from two different fathers neither of whom she married. And an actress enjoying her third Oscar nomination for her role as a singled minded, dedicated nun in the thought-provoking, award-winning drama ‘Dead Man Walking'.
On film she's also played mothers, daughters, hookers, waitresses, disillusioned lovers, housewives, lawyers, detectives and even ( against type) waifs and (rather more believably) a swinging-from-the-chandelier witch.
Off-screen she makes speeches and donates memorabilia in support of AIDS awareness, reproductive rights, voter registration, First Amendment rights, rain-forest preservation, endangered wildlife ( including Manhattan Democrats) and against homelessness and gay bashing and, always, wars.
The Gulf War still angers her:' The language of the Republican Party was very macho, one penis reference after another. I hope they feel better about their dick size after risking everybody's life and killing hundreds of thousands of people.'
Oscar-nominated as Best Actress for her Thelma in ‘Thelma and Louise', a film she feels was burdened by the critics as a feminist manifesto, she's a member of America 's National Organisation of Women and a grass-roots worker for women's rights. She was absent at one meeting when someone asked if anyone had her telephone number. About half the hands in the room went up. She believes women are changing and shaking things up in this American national election year. But things are not going fast enough for them. She's nippy. For all her intelligence and resolve her tart tongue can bring issues to basics:' Women are pissed off.'
In person Sarandon is not a smiler. She's personable but businesslike, a little wary being in Los Angeles and away from New York where she lives with actor Tim Robbins the father of her two youngest children and the Oscar nominated director of ‘Dead Man Walking'. The film is also up for Best Picture at the annual cavalcade of self-acclaim on March 25 -- it opens in Britain three days earlier -- and has also brought Sean Penn a Best Actor nomination.
She plays the real-life Sister Helen Prejean an anti-death penalty activist who visits Penn's killer on Death Row. She doesn't wear a habit or make-up in the film. As Sister Helen her job is to make Penn take responsibility for his life before he is executed. And the ‘human' nun who makes so many mistakes must be heroic to do it. Sarandon is a believer in ‘everyday heroism'.
It is no surprise that she and Robbins, who is equally political, were drawn to turn Sister Helen's book into a film which has brought some of the strongest critical reviews of the past year. During filming at Angola Prison on the outskirts of New Orleans an inmate was executed. The couple along with some of the other film-makers stood vigil. It was the warden's first execution:' He was a Christian and he had serious difficulty nodding his head to give the go-ahead. He talked to us and the guards talked to us.It's very strange to be part of a premeditated murder.