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As well known for her political activism as for her varied screen roles, actress Susan Sarandon defied being stereotyped in both her career and her personal life. The former Ford model, often playing seductive older women, demonstrated throughout her career considerable range and fearlessness, excelling equally as devoted mother and sultry screen siren. Though her film debut was in 1970, Sarandon made her first measurable impression as the wide-eyed, WASP-ish ingénue in the long-running "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), then achieved critical acclaim and an Oscar nod as a casino worker run afoul with the mob in "Atlantic City" (1980). But it was her performance as the sexy baseball groupie in "Bull Durham" (1988) that propelled her to stardom. What followed was a string of Oscar-nominated roles in "Thelma & Louise" (1991), "Lorenzo's Oil" (1992) and "The Client" (1994) that paved the way for Academy Award gold with a strong, dignified performance as a Catholic nun fighting for the redemption of a death row inmate (Sean Penn) in "Dead Man Walking" (1995). Though her career slacked a bit following that performance - especially in ill-received films like "The Banger Sisters" (2002) and...
As well known for her political activism as for her varied screen roles, actress Susan Sarandon defied being stereotyped in both her career and her personal life. The former Ford model, often playing seductive older women, demonstrated throughout her career considerable range and fearlessness, excelling equally as devoted mother and sultry screen siren. Though her film debut was in 1970, Sarandon made her first measurable impression as the wide-eyed, WASP-ish ingénue in the long-running "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), then achieved critical acclaim and an Oscar nod as a casino worker run afoul with the mob in "Atlantic City" (1980). But it was her performance as the sexy baseball groupie in "Bull Durham" (1988) that propelled her to stardom. What followed was a string of Oscar-nominated roles in "Thelma & Louise" (1991), "Lorenzo's Oil" (1992) and "The Client" (1994) that paved the way for Academy Award gold with a strong, dignified performance as a Catholic nun fighting for the redemption of a death row inmate (Sean Penn) in "Dead Man Walking" (1995). Though her career slacked a bit following that performance - especially in ill-received films like "The Banger Sisters" (2002) and "Elizabethtown" (2005) - Sarandon nonetheless kept working as a sultry leading lady, well past the age most actresses found themselves struggling to maintain their careers.
Born Oct. 4, 1946 in Jackson Heights, NY, Sarandon was raised the oldest of 10 siblings by Phillip, a nightclub singer during the big band era who later became an advertising executive, and Lenora, a homemaker. She was a quiet, shy child who grew up in suburban Metuchen, NJ, where she attended Edison High School in nearby Edison. After graduation in 1964, she went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where she lacked direction or purpose, but did take acting classes, though without the intention of pursuing it as a career. In 1967, she married her first husband, Chris Sarandon, whom she had met at Catholic University. Shortly after getting married, Sarandon followed her husband to New York City, where he auditioned for an agent. On a whim, he brought Sarandon into the room with him in order to have a friendly face to read to - the agent came away impressed with both actors and signed both as his clients. Less than a week later, Sarandon was sent to read for a leading role in "J " (1970), playing a drugged-out hippie thrown into a mental institution after her father (Dennis Patrick) guns down her dealer boyfriend (Patrick McDermott), who then teams up with a gun-crazed bigot (Peter Doyle) to track her down in Greenwich Village after she escapes.
Despite stumbling upon an acting career, Sarandon took to her newfound calling with abandon, though not without its initial difficulties. She appeared in several smaller features roles, including "Fleur Blue" (1971) and "Mortadella" (1972), before turning to television with a regular role as Sara Fairbanks on "Search for Tomorrow" (CBS/NBC, 1951-1987). After landing more substantial parts with bigger names, notably Sidney Lumet's "Lovin' Molly" (1974) and Billy Wilder's underwhelming remake of "The Front Page" (1972), Sarandon made herself known - with the midnight crowd, at least - when she starred in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), the cult classic that survived for decades with successive midnight showings that created a subculture of freaks and geeks dressing like the characters and acting out scenes in the theater. Sarandon was Janet, one half of a WASP-ish couple (the other half played by Barry Bostwick) who stumble upon a mansion occupied by a motley crew of Transylvanian weird s led by Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite claiming to be from another planet. One did not have to be a rabid fan to long remember Sarandon running around for most of the film in a bra and slip.
Around the time she had a co-starring role in the Robert Redford film "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975), Sarandon and her husband, Chris, divorced. But her career continued unabated. In "Dragonfly" (1976), she played a woman who falls for a man (Beau Bridges) recently released from a psychiatric hospital, then followed with a small supporting role in the goofy road comedy "The Great Smokey Roadblock" (1976). Following turns in "Crash" (1976) and "The Other Side of Midnight" (1977), she played a New Orleans prostitute at the turn of the century whose 12-year-old daughter, Violet (Brooke Shields), attracts the attention of a photographer (Keith Carradine) shooting a photo series on prostitutes in the controversial "Pretty Baby" (1978), directed by her then-companion, Louis Malle. She was directed by Malle in "Atlantic City" (1980), the crime drama that finally turned her into a star. Sarandon played Sally, a casino croupier who comes into possession of a large amount of mob-owned drugs courtesy of her thieving boyfriend (Robert Joy). With the mob on her trail, Sally turns to an old-time gangster (Burt Lancaster), who reinvigorates his life by killing the thugs sent to kill her. Sarandon's exceptional turn - which included an infamous scene of bathing her breasts in lemons - earned her an Oscar nod for Best Actress.
After co-starring in a contemporary telling of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (1982), she played a premature aging expert who gets sucked into the blood-thirsty seduction of a vampire (Catherine Deneuve) in "The Hunger" (1983), perhaps the more infamous of Sarandon's early work, thanks to a lesbian love scene with Deneuve. Sarandon then found prominent work on television, starring in movies-of-the-week like "A.D." (NBC, 1985) and "Women of Valor" (CBS, 1986), before getting back on track in features playing one of three women - along with Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer - who fall prey to the temptations of Satan (Jack Nicholson) in "The Witches of Eastwick" (1987). Though not as prominent as her two other female costars, Sarandon's character went through the most significant physical change onscreen, going from a bespectacled matron to raven-haired wild woman. Looking back, Sarandon considered "The Witches of Eastwick" to be one of the worst film experiences of her career. But she quickly rebounded with her best experience, "Bull Durham" (1988), deftly playing Annie Savoy, a sultry groupie to a minor league baseball team who takes in a member of the hapless Durham Bulls as her lover every season. She decides to have an affair with a young, but dumb pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), only to find herself falling for his mentor, aging catcher, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner).
Thanks to "Bull Durham," Sarandon found herself in demand like never before and - just as nice - a new man in her life, in the form of co-star Tim Robbins, with whom she would spend the next two decades together in unwedded bliss. Meanwhile, she retreated to the comfortable confines of bland romantic comedy with "Sweet Hearts Dance" (1988), before starring opposite heavy hitters Marlon Brando and Donald Sutherland in the political drama about South African apartheid, "A Dry White Season" (1989). All throughout the 1980s, Sarandon - who had always been politically active - increased her public advocacy of progressive ideals, including traveling as part of a delegation to Nicaragua in 1983 to promote social and economic justice, and making contributions to EMILY's List, a political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democrats. As she wore her political activism on her sleeve, Sarandon's career continued its ascent, as did Robbins' - who was equally politically outspoken. After starring in the offbeat cop thriller "The January Man" (1989) and the steamy May-December romantic drama "White Palace" (1990), Sarandon left an indelible mark on cinema history with "Thelma & Louise" (1991), a revisionist buddy road film that become something of a feminist anthem. Sarandon played a working-class woman who g s on a weekend getaway with her best friend, Thelma (Geena Davis), but the pair get into trouble when Louise shoots Thelma's would-be rapist in a bar parking lot, sparking a cross-country road trip where they encounter a young hustler (Brad Pitt) while trying to outrun a sympathetic police officer (Harvey Keitel). While the film created critical enthusiasm and loyal fan support, Sarandon benefited most with her second Academy Award nomination.
Fresh off her triumph with "Thelma & Louise," Sarandon made cameo appearances as a news anchor in Tim Robbins' political satire, "Bob Roberts" (1992), and herself in Robert Altman's "The Player" (1992), before giving a powerful and heartbreaking performance in "Lorenzo's Oil" (1992) as a mom who, along with her dedicated husband (Nick Nolte), desperately tries to find a cure for their son's supposedly incurable ALD, a debilitating and fatal nerve disease. With unbridled determination, the two parents refuse to accept a death sentence for their son; instead researching on their own a cure to the disease using rapeseed oil. For her moving portrayal, Sarandon earned her third Academy Award nomination for Best Leading Actress. She followed with another award-worthy performance, playing a recovering alcoholic lawyer who finds redemption by defending a young boy (Brad Renfro) after he witnessed the murder of a mafia boss in "The Client" (1994). Once again, Sarandon found herself the recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actress. After narrating the documentary short, "School of Assassins" (1994), an investigative look at the infamous U.S Army School of the Americas, a training ground for right-wing paramilitary groups on American soil, she gave fine performances as a mother raising her four daughters during the Civil War in "Little Women" (1994) and as another mother raising seven sons in the family dramedy "Safe Passage" (1994).
If past is indeed prologue, then Sarandon's past near-misses for Oscar glory were mere preparation for her next worthy performance, playing anti-death penalty crusader Sister Helen Prejean in "Dead Man Walking" (1995), a Louisiana nun who acts as spiritual counselor to Matthew Poncelet, an unrepentant death row killer (Sean Penn). Though initially intimidated by the amoral, racist Poncelet, Prejean offers comfort and ultimately redemption in an effort to bring about an admission of his guilt in order to bring about forgiveness. Both audiences and critics responded enthusiastically to her unrelentingly dignified performance, finally leading to an Oscar win for the Best Leading Actress. Meanwhile, after voicing the seductive Polish spider in the animated "James and the Giant Peach" (1996), Sarandon easily slipped back into her femme fatale persona for Robert Benton's rather disappointing "Twilight" (1998), before giving another tough, but endearing performance as a mother struggling with raising her kids while fighting cancer in "Stepmom" (1998). Following a starring role as a mother who packs everything and moves with her daughter to Beverly Hills in search of a new life in "Anywhere But Here" (1999), Sarandon joined a large ensemble cast for Robbins' third directing effort, "Cradle Will Rock" (1999).
In 1999, Sarandon was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, a position traditionally given to celebrities in order to draw attention to the plight of impoverished children around the world. After playing a supporting role as Greenwich Village painter Alice Neel in "J Gould's Secret" (2000), Sarandon returned to the rather easy task of lending her voice for a pair of animated features - "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie" (2000) and "Cats & Dogs" (2001). In 2001, a rare sitcom performance as a soap opera diva on "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004) led to an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Then in a rare misstep, Sarandon joined Goldie Hawn to play a former rock groupie in the comedic dud, "The Banger Sisters" (2002). She next played the wealthy, self-absorbed mother of a 17-year-old (Kieran Culkin) struggling to break away from his oppressive family in "Igby G s Down" (2002), then starred opposite Dustin Hoffman as one half of a married couple who take in their deceased daughter's fiancé in "Moonlight Mile" (2002). Back on television, she appeared in the elaborate television adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic "Children of Dune" (Sci Fi Channel, 2003), playing Princess Wensicia Corrinom.
Back on the big screen, Sarandon provided appropriate pathos as Richard Gere's wife in "Shall We Dance?" (2004), worried that her husband's newfound preoccupation with dance classes portends something more ominous for their drifting marriage. That same year, she appeared as one of Jude Law's extensive collection of paramours in the remake "Alfie" (2004), playing Liz, a successful businesswoman with a refreshingly no-nonsense approach to sex. It was then back to the small screen for the telepic "The Exonerated" (Court TV, 2005), the story of six wrongly convicted people whose death row sentences were eventually overturned through the hard work of dedicated lawyers. Sarandon then co-starred in Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" (2005), playing the grieving wife and mother who distracts herself with a seemingly endless succession of hobbies after the sudden death of her husband, while her suicide-minded son (Orlando Bloom) returns home to help with the funeral. Though she only appeared fleetingly in the first two thirds of the film, "Elizabethtown" provided Sarandon with one of the most alternately touching, funny and memorable scenes of her career when she delivered a highly unorthodox eulogy at her husband's memorial.
Sarandon made the jump back to television for a recurring role on "Rescue Me" (FX, 2004- ), playing a wealthy Manhattanite who starts a relationship with Franco (Daniel Sunjata), only to steal his daughter from him so she can have a better life. After playing a seamstress who catches her ironworker husband (James Gandolfini) having an affair with a lingerie salesgirl (Kate Winslet) in the low-budget "Romance and Cigarettes" (2005), Sarandon landed a pair of big studio movies; first playing a widowed mother who shocks her son (Seann William Scott) by getting married to his abusive high school gym coach (Billy Bob Thornton) in "Mr. Woodcock" (2007). She then co-starred as an evil queen attempting to keep a princess-in-waiting (Amy Adams) from finding her true love in Disney's modern-day animation and live-action fairy tale, "Enchanted" (2007). By then comfortable playing the grieving mother in either comedy or drama, she next gave a sterling performance in "In the Valley of Elah" (2007) as a mother whose former military husband (Tommy Lee Jones) spearheads an investigation into the sudden disappearance of their son (Jonathan Tucker) after he returns from fighting in Iraq.
Sarandon then had a superficial role as Mom Race in the overpriced Technicolor summer disaster, "Speed Racer" (2008), but returned to award contention with a compelling performance as tobacco millionaire, philanthropist and avid socialite Doris Duke, who controversially willed her entire fortune to her butler, Bernard Lafferty (Ralph Fiennes), in the television movie "Bernard and Doris" (HBO, 2008). Sarandon earned an eighth Golden Globe nomination; this time receiving a nod for Best Actress in the miniseries or television movie category. Meanwhile, after a 30-year absence, Sarandon returned to Broadway to play the elder ex-wife of a dying monarch (Geoffrey Rush) in Eugene Ionesco's absurdist drama, "Le Roi se meurt (Exit the King)" (2009). But while she continued her career undaunted, Sarandon and longtime partner Tim Robbins quietly split during the summer 2009; in fact, their separation after over 20 years together was kept so hush-hush that the press was caught unawares when she made an official announcement in December. Single once again, Sarandon was rumored to be involved with several men half her age as she enjoyed her newfound freedom. Back on the big screen, she was the grandmother of a murdered girl (Saoirse Ronan) who watches over her distressed family from heaven in Peter Jackson's muddled adaptation of "The Lovely Bones" (2009). Prior to her supporting role as the mother of twin sons (Edward Norton) in Tim Blake Nelson's "Leaves of Grass" (2010), Sarandon portrayed Hemlock Society activist Janet Good in "You Don't Know Jack" (HBO, 2010), director Barry Levinson's acclaimed biopic about the notorious right-to-life physician Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino). Her performance earned Sarandon Emmy and Screen Actors Guild award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
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"Yes, in hindsight I'm proud of myself that I took an absolutely humiliating experience and turned it into a fairly decent performance. I was given my role very shortly before we began shooting. I learned a lot from 'Witches of Eastwick', more to do with life lessons than acting. I learned a lot about the business, I learned a lot about blaming yourself for being taken advantage of, and how destructive that can be. And then I worked with [director] George Miller again, so what can I say?"---Susan Sarandon speaking about her experience on "The Witches of Eastwick" in Movieline, January-February, 1995.
"Well, I was always political. I was arrested in high school for Vietnam and civil rights protests and all kinds of things. When I was little, I would always make sure that my dolls alternated their clothes, I didn't want one to always be dressed nicer than the other."---Susan Sarandon quoted in Premiere, January 1996.
"I've started to go to the gym for the first time in years. I worry about keeping my strength up. I don't mind lines and wrinkles, but I'm not happy if I start to look kind of droopy ... I've read that by the time you get into your 70s you've kind of moved beyond gender and just become a force. You're beyond the expectations and limitations that gender throws upon you. If I could end up like Melina Mercouri or Jeanne Moreau, where you can still see that fire, that would be fine."---Sarandon to Premiere, January 1996.
About attracting negative press at the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony when she spoke out about the plight of HIV-positive Haitian refugees incarcerated by the US government at Guantanamo Bay: "Those people were so desperate that they were on a hunger strike. Most of them were very ill and they were choosing to die rather than live under the conditions that Amnesty International had already said were completely inhuman. Nothing was being done. It was my tax money keeping them there, so if it meant going on the air at a widely-publicized event and for 26 seconds drawing attention to it, and getting them out the next day, I have no regrets, absolutely."
Sarandon makes it clear that disrupting the Oscar ceremony did not come easliy to her. "I was raised a good Catholic girl, and you don't make waves. You smile, and you keep the conversation going, and you try to make everything go smoothly. I just felt there was no other choice. And the fact of the matter was, it worked. The last thing you want to do is to end up in a situation like in the 50s, where people were afraid to open their mouths. The right to speak out is what's great about this country."---Susan Sarandon, The Hollywood Reporter SHOWEST Talent Special Issue, March 12, 1998.
"I am a very ordinary person who just happens to be in an extraordinary position. I can garner the media attention that these causes so desperately need, and frankly, it's a good use of my time. But I don't put in even part of the hours that the people who run these organizations, day in and day out. Those are the real heroes we should be honoring."---Susan Sarandon in Daily Variety, March 10, 1998.
"The gift of acting is just numerous incarnations. Forget about walking in somebody else's moccasins. You're in their house. You're in their clothes. You're in their head. You're in their lives. When you do that it can all be reduced to what do people need? They want to be loved, they're afraid of dying, they want to reach out."---Susan Sarandon on acting to Paul Fischer of Cranky Critic, 2002.
"I think what makes a person sexy at any age is that they seem like they're saying yes to life, however that manifests itself."---Sarandon quoted to Diane Sawyer for Primetime on ABC, Sept. 22, 2004.
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