Susan Sarandon stars as Marnie Minervini in The Meddler. (Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures Classics)
Oscar winner Susan Sarandon has more than cemented her place in movie history. Forty years after its release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with its countless midnight matinees, is still one of the biggest cult classics ever made. When people talk about the best sports movies ever made, Bull Durham, in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, is sure to be mentioned. Besides being the feature-film debut of a little known actor named Brad Pitt, Thelma & Louise regularly ranks on various Top 100 lists.
In her latest film, The Meddler, Sarandon stars as Marnie Minervini. With a new iPhone, an apartment near the Grove and a comfortable bank account left to her by her beloved late husband, Marnie has happily relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), a successful (but still single) screenwriter, and smother her with motherly love. But when the dozens of texts, unexpected visits and conversations dominated by unsolicited advice force Lori to draw strict personal boundaries, Marnie finds ways to channel her eternal optimism and forceful generosity to change the lives of others – as well as her own – and find a new purpose, and man (J.K. Simmons), in life.
Though her character drives her daughter insane with her meddling, Sarandon isn’t as overbearing with her children in real life.
“The secret is to do it from the very beginning so they think that’s normal,” she jokes. “I definitely [meddle], but they meddle back. It’s a mutual meddling thing. I do send texts constantly. They don’t answer their calls, so I send texts. I’m a big believer in making mistakes, so I encourage my kids to fail [laughs]. I always assume they’ll get back up. If they ask me for advice, I give it though.”
This could be why her children seem to be well-adjusted. Time and again, we see children of movie stars finding themselves in the tabloids for behaving badly. She takes pride that she hasn’t seen her children on TMZ for their latest antics.
“They are in pretty good shape I gotta say. I think growing up in New York helped. They knew they were privileged. They weren’t behind the gates. Their friends weren’t all driving nice cars who were also kids of actors. New York is a good mixture of colors and languages and religions and economics. They could see that they were lucky,” she shares. “They’re such great kids, and they’re so funny. I just wanted to raise kids who I would want to have dinner with.”
Though her character, Marnie, is almost generous to a fault, Sarandon doesn’t think generosity is bad – to a point. It’s a balancing act that can be tough to manage, however.
“Who cares if you’re helping people, unless my business manager stops me. I had to learn as the oldest of nine children when I did start to make money, I had to find the balance – even with my kids. I remember when my son was 9, and I gave him an allowance if he did this or that. He said, ‘This makes me so tense mom,’ when he had to start paying for things and had to figure that out. You can’t allow people to not do things for themselves, but I don’t think you can be too generous. I say err on the side of generosity anytime. There’s enough mean people in the world.”
Though the central focus of The Meddler is the relationship between Sarandon and Rose Byrne, the movie also features a blossoming romance between Sarandon and J.K. Simmons. Whether it’s The Meddler or The Client, she finds the “love story” in every film she’s made or watched.
“[J.K. and I] need a sequel where we actually make out [laughs]. I’ve loved every film I’ve ever done because they’re all love stories. To me, the bravest thing a person can do is reach out for contact with another person and be intimate with them, not necessarily sexually. That makes you so vulnerable. When I go to the movies, I root for that contact. It’s that moment when you decide you’re going to be vulnerable to another human being. When you make yourself vulnerable, that’s a bigger gesture than taking off your clothes. Everybody’s yearning to have contact. Whether you’re older or younger, you are the protagonist in your own life, and seeing that on a big screen is magical.”
After appearing in close to 100 movies in her career, along with her aforementioned Oscar win and nominations, it’s safe to say that Sarandon is a bonafide movie star. Like most actors, she is uncomfortable with the title of “movie star.” She is, however, completely at ease with the profession she chose.
“It’s a good job. You have to try to make your peace with the loss of privacy. That’s the trade-off. Since the movie studio system has changed, I can only speak as a woman, it used to be you had to choose between a career and a life. I think now you can have both as much as anyone else. It’s a fabulous job,” she offers. “I don’t know about being a movie star, because there are so many really great actors who don’t get a chance to do top-of-the-line stuff. You’re lucky if you can get to the point where you have control over your career. When you have more say, that’s when you become a movie star, right?”
A veteran of the awards circuit, Sarandon won the Cinema Icon Award at last month’s CinemaCon. CinemaCon is an annual schmoozefest between the movie studios and theater owners. Though she’s grateful for any honor, she jokes about the number of awards given out at this notoriously award-laden event.
“Everyone there got an award. It’s like Little League, like Most Valuable Player. I was the Most Improved Player,” she laughs. “As I watched a clip of my life, I could see myself going through every category – Breakout Star, Star of the Year. They gave out about 150 awards, and there were maybe 300 people in the audience.”
Speaking of awards, it’s a common perception that winning an Oscar changes your life. She won her Oscar for Dead Man Walking on her fifth nomination – and her fourth nomination in five years. She doesn’t think it changed her life – much.
“I think when you’re someone like Jennifer Lawrence and you get nominated for Winter’s Bone and no one knows who you are, that makes a difference. If you’re Halle Berry and you’re a Bond girl and then you do this serious dramatic role and get an Oscar nomination, that really wakes people up. It’s great, though, because people see the bottom half of your dress finally [when you actually get to stand up to receive your Oscar]. Instead of saying, ‘four-time loser,’ they say, ‘Academy Award winner.’ That becomes your label, which is a nice label. I’m not knocking it. I had a lot of nominations in a short period of time, and I think people were like, ‘just give it to her now.’ Laurence Fishburne was sitting behind me and leaned over and said, ‘If you don’t get it this time, we’re burning this place down.’ That made me feel so relaxed.”
The Meddler opens April 22 in Los Angeles. Coming soon to a theater near you.