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Susan Sarandon: Over the edge

Susan Sarandon looks back on 25 years of Thelma & Louise, how Hollywood has changed and her tips on how to win an Oscar 

Approaching her 70th birthday, Susan Sarandon is Hollywood royalty. But the Oscar winning-star of films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Thelma & Louise and Disney’s Enchanted has no intention of slowing down. 

In her latest movie, The Meddler, Susan plays Marnie, a recent widow who moves from Jersey to LA to be closer to her daughter, but ends up driving her up the wall with her constant meddling. 

She says it’s a role that she could at least partially identify with, having three adult children of her own. 

“I meddle in their lives, they meddle in mine,” she says. “It’s a healthy equality of meddling!” 

“I'm hands on in certain ways but I know my place – they have to make their own mistakes. I think some of this next generation parenting is so scared to allow children to fail or fall, they wrap them up in cotton wool.” 

Make mistakes fast and learn 

When it comes to making mistakes, Susan says the best approach is to “learn from them and make them faster!” She laughs. “I don't have any regrets in my life but I wish I'd made my mistakes faster. Don't dwell on them. Dwelling on mistakes is wrong and destructive.” 

I'm hands on with my kids but I know my place – they have to make their own mistakes

This year sees the 25th anniversary of the release of Thelma & Louise. The famous ending –Susan’s character Louise Sawyer and her best friend Thelma Dickenson (Geena Davis) are cornered by cops on the side of cliff in a mint green convertible and choose to drive over the edge rather than be arrested – is one of the most famous moments in modern cinema. 

But it almost didn't turn out that way. "[The director] Ridley Scott said to me from day one, you will die," she says. "That isn't going to change. I'm not sure about Thelma yet, but you will die. And towards the end, it felt right that we both went over the cliff together instead of me pushing her out of the car.

"And it was perfect! Had Louise gone over herself, it would have been tragic but them together, it was euphoric."

Fighting the Hollywood system

A quarter of a century on, Thelma & Louise is as timeless as ever. But Susan thinks the fact it’s a female-driven road movie means it wouldn’t get made today. “They're apparently a risk, financially,” she says. 

“Everything is a risk now if it hasn't been tried and tested before. A story about violence and domestic abuse which ends with the two protagonists going over a cliff?” She laughs. “After we did Thelma and Louise, I kept hearing, 'we're going to have a lots of female buddy road movies,' that didn't happen. And that it made a lot of money.” 

In the years since, strong, female-led movies have become more common, but there’s still a long way to go. One positive change in the film business is that there are more actresses aged 40 or over working than ever before. 

“The key to success has been women developing their own projects with their own production companies, women like Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston; when women are in a position to develop and produce, that's where it evolves. But the studios are still locked in the ancient times, where the idea of dual female leads means ‘no sale’.” 

Susan says when she started her career, the view was that women actors had a definite shelf-life. “You didn't have a choice, it wasn't going to happen. That was the rule! And you definitely didn't have kids. Because sex appeal, immediately gone. Wasn't that the most ridiculous thing to say? So thankfully we've gotten past that way of thinking.” 

Winning the Best Actress Oscar 

Susan Sarrandon Susan won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Sister Helen Prejean in 1995’s true-life death row drama, Dead Man Walking. 

“That's the only film I prayed every day without fail that we would get it right,” she says. “It could have gone wrong in so many ways. We may not have done justice to her, could have trivialised it. I was terrified that would happen.” 

“And like so many movies I've worked on, it was another one that was an uphill struggle.” 

She says the film’s prospective financiers wanted to change the story to make it more Hollywood friendly. “You'd hear 'why don't they have an affair? He's innocent right? Does he really have to die?' Nobody wanted anything to do with the film. Everybody turned it down.” 

On the subject of her Oscar, Susan is self-deprecating. “I got that award for wearing no make-up and getting an awful hairstyle,” she says. “That's the secret to winning an award! Any actor out there trying, just uglify yourself! Like Charlize [Theron, in Monster (2003)], or have a disability, like Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. Or be really sick and dying. 

“That's half the battle to winning an Oscar. That's the only way you're going to do it!”

Retiresavvy is brought to you by Skipton Building Society. The interview in this article was supplied by InterviewHub. This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.

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