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Interview with Susan Sarandon

HBO

You've created so many fascinating characters over the years. What attracts you to a role?

Susan Sarandon

Well, I've always been drawn to something I haven't done already. And I'm interested in love stories because I feel that two people reaching out and becoming intimate, even if it's not in a sexual way, but in some way surrendering to another person, is one of the most courageous things you could possibly do, whether it's two women, or a mother and a child, or two friends, or lovers. So every movie I've ever done I've seen as a love story. The Client, Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking- for me, they're always love stories.

I think that's at the heart of what I'm looking for: encouraging people to be the protagonist in their own lives, and celebrating people who take a chance, not because they're heroic, but because they're human. People with major flaws, people with major fears, people with major needs, ordinary people that do extraordinary things. I don't think it's changed through the years, it's what has always been interesting to me.

HBO

How did you want audiences to perceive these characters?

I feel that two people reaching out and becoming intimate, even if it's not in a sexual way, but in some way surrendering to another person, is one of the most courageous things you could possibly do.

Susan Sarandon

I wanted to make sure that the character of (Bernard) Lafferty was treated in a dignified fashion, and a humorous fashion, and also that you could believe he was capable of running a huge house. So he had to be smart. That was the first concern I had.

Ralph (Fiennes) was at the top of the list. I had met him socially but I'd never worked with him before, but I thought that he was certainly handsome enough to desire and smart enough to be able to run a house. I trusted that he would not be a cliché over the top, queen-y kind of guy, which I thought would be such a cliché.

I was concerned that both of them care about each other, not just him being obsessed with her, which wasn't as interesting. So we had to identify what she gave to him, not just what he gave to her, which was more obvious. And it was a story that for me lived in the spaces between the dialog. It's really about the looks, the moments between them. And it's a little voyeuristic in that they're always kind of in on a joke that nobody else shares. That's what bonds them.

But the question, again, is do you ever really want to ever be intimate? If you do, then it might as well be this person. It's not about gender. It's not about race, or age, or anything. The hurdle is intimacy. That's what we wanted to focus on.

For me the most interesting films that I've worked on are films that are funny and then suddenly there's a poignant moment that pops up when you least expect it. As opposed to watching films where you know where they're going. I'm more interested in things that catch you by surprise like life does. If you can manage to do that, then it's really fun.

And the collaboration, since this was so cheaply done, everybody's learning curve was very steep. They say that you relax in the jaws of a lion, [LAUGHS] - we were very relaxed because it was just completely impossible to think that we would pull it off for the amount of money, in that amount of time. Not that I haven't worked that way before, but not where you're supposed to be living a lifestyle with jewels and gowns and estates and animals and servants. That's a whole other thing. So it added a certain amount of energy because we didn't have time to over- think it. It was just like a big free-fall, with Ralph and I in the middle of it.

HBO

It sounds like the budget freed everyone up creatively and gave you a great deal of autonomy.

I think everyone's full of contradictions and fears and vulnerabilities. But because she lived so large, and had the means to do what she did her eccentricities became easier to see.

Susan Sarandon

As the amount of money increases then so does the amount of people that have an opinion about how it should be spent, and how many people are overseeing in areas where they're not necessarily qualified to have strong opinions. So what you gain in the luxury of having more time you sometimes lose autonomy, and you can also just over- think things. Sometimes you just want to get up and do it instead of talking about it and theorizing. You just have to jump at some point, and just do it.

HBO

Doris is extraordinarily philanthropic and she's also extraordinarily eccentric and often quite contradictory. She has a wonderful mix of qualities.

Susan Sarandon

I think most people have contradictions, but when you're that wealthy maybe you're just able to indulge the contradictions more. I notice it with people who become movie stars. In the beginning they seem one way, and then as they get more and more power their ability to live the way they want to suddenly becomes very [LAUGHS] - much more clear because they have the means to not have to filter things through other people. They become so powerful that their taste becomes purely their taste. And so then you really get a notion of what they're about.

I think everyone's full of contradictions and fears and vulnerabilities. But because she lived so large, and had the means to do what she did her eccentricities became easier to see. And there aren't that many people that have the kind of money that allows them to make mistakes that large. They don't have the means to be so generous, and so cheap. [LAUGHS] Most of us are curtailed by the parameters of a life that's imposed by a certain wallet size. But she didn't have that, so she could follow all her whims.

Bernard and Doris

HBO Films

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Photos Doris yellow sweater looking up

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