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October 2004
Shall We Dance?: An Interview with Susan Sarandon

Shall We Dance?: An Interview with Susan Sarandon

By Wilson Morales

If there was ever an actress who could play a role with such sex appeal, regardless of age, it would be Susan Sarandon. As with wine, she only gets better with age. Not that she has underperformed, but with the way the Hollywood system works, the parts that Susan plays are not easy to come by. From "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to "Bull Durham" to "Thelma and Louise" and to her Oscar winning performance in "Dead Man Walking", Sarandon has played remarkable characters on the screen. She has two films coming up in which the characters are totally different from one. In "Alfie" she plays one of Jude Law's many lovers and in "Shall We Dance?" she plays the wife of a man who believes he may be having an affair. Blackfilm.com caught up with Ms. Sarandon as she was promoting both "Shall We Dance?" and talking about the character difference with this film and with "Alfie".

Can you talk about the issues of monogamy and fidelity in Alfie and Shall We Dance?

SS: I don't know if in Alfie that there's ever the promise that we're going to be monogamous. I kind of like that about it. I don't think they set it up that way. I think she did slip. I think it wasn't worth burning that bridge. The delivery boy came and she just was stupid. Hopefully, Alfie will forgive her down the road. But I guess there's always the question of How do you define intimacy with somebody? I think that there isn't one answer. Different things work for different people and it's very hard to have a long-term relationship. Personally, I think I would find it easier to forgive a physical slip than having your imagination and passion dedicated to someone outside, to the point where you can't tell your partner about it. That would really threaten me. I would be really scared about that. And in Romance and Cigarettes, this John Turturro film, the movie opens with her finding evidence that her husband, James Gandolfini, has had an affair. The way she finds it is that he's written this poem, this kind of dirty poem to Kate Winslet. And she goes berserk. There's been evidence that he's had an affair before and it's definitely that that drives her crazy.

Do you think it's a fear of that that stops your Shall We Dance character from asking her husband what's actually going on?

SS: I haven't really thought about it too much. I think what happens is that initially she suspects that there's an affair. And rather than be one of these women who says, 'Where have you been? What have you been doing?' and whatever, because it's so unattractive and kind of humiliating, she does something which is also humiliating. She hires somebody to follow her husband. I like that the fact that she says, 'OK, now that I know kind of what's going on, to keep following him would be an invasion of his privacy. So I don't want you to keep following him.' Then, when she finds out that he's dancing, I think she's so hurt and maybe waiting for him to tell her about it, to give him the opportunity to involve her. But she keeps waiting and waiting and it doesn't happen, and I think she's just stunned. It's almost like she's discovered that her husband is a cross-dresser, something that's been going on that's really big, that's been happening but that he hasn't let her in on. I think you can accept anything if somebody talks to you about it. I don't think she has any problem with the fact that he's dancing. I think you're crazy if you don't think somebody looks at somebody and thinks, 'Wow, she's beautiful.' I look at woman and think, 'Wow, she's beautiful' or 'God, he's handsome.' I don't think you really have to be that scared that you have to put your foot down about that stuff.

The dancing makes him happy.

SS: I think it engages a part of him that hasn't been going in the marriage, which happens when you seem to have a safe life and then you just get into a routine. Now, suddenly, a little spark goes off. I'm watching my kids now get to the point where they're falling in love for the first time or whatever and you really do look back and think, 'Oh, wow, remember those days when you couldn't keep your hands off that person and you couldn't wait to talk to them.' It changes. Your relationship changes. It's a different thing. And suddenly this person is all activated again, maybe not in the 'I can't keep my hands off way,' but with that kind of insatiable need to be there. I think her family brings her a lot of satisfaction, but maybe she's not as desperate to get out there and pull the weeds as he is get there to go dancing. Maybe she's missing some of that in her life, too. But I think she's mostly just hurt. 'I thought we were there for each other? What was the deal?' I think that's what it is, really.

She gives him too much freedom, don't you think?

SS: No, I don't. Maybe because I want a lot of freedom I think you just give somebody as much rope as they need. I'm happy when Tim goes out with the guys and stays out all night, as long as I don't think something has happened to him, and so long as I know ahead of time. I see it as just airing out the relationship. I have my friends and he has his friends, and I have stuff that I do that he doesn't do. It's just the fact (in the movie) that it was a secret. But I really think that you have to give each other a lot of room, a lot, a lot of room, and the minute you start to tie somebody down it becomes very uncomfortable. Maybe that's why I'm not married. I want somebody to choose every day to be there. I don't want them to be there because they have to be there out of a sense of duty or even real estate or children. I want them to be there because that's what they choose on a daily basis. I don't want to take him for granted, and I think that's the hardest thing to fight against in a long-term relationship, is taking each other for granted, because everybody else takes you for granted. Everybody else takes you for granted and treats you as a unit from the time you're married. I think it's hard. It's really hard to be with somebody for a long period of time.

In some of the dialogue in the film, the point is put across that sometimes it's easier to rewrite your personal narrative when you're alone because once you're a couple there's that whole issue of witnessing what the other person is doing. When you make big life changes, it's getting divorced or going to Europe alone. Doesn't Richard's character kind of do something like that? He has to be alone to change his personal narrative?

SS: I think that's a good point. Sometimes you have to separate. That's what's great (for me) about going on location to do a film. You're taken out of the context of your life and suddenly, for a brief period of time, everybody is focused on this thing in a different way. And it does help you. Whenever you have to go to a different place you have to break down what already exists, and it becomes easier if you are out of your home environment. Again, I think it's just the fact that he doesn't tell her. And it's not just the fact that he doesn't tell her. He lies to her, too. He lies about where he is. I really don't like lying. I find that very difficult. And then I get really get worried about why would you have to lie? 'Why would you have to lie to me?' I try to not lie in my life. I think I've lied to my kids once about how their ducks died. Actually, they don't even know their ducks died. They think they flew away and they still don't know that their ducks all died. Maybe they're old enough now to know the ducks really died. But they might not trust me now. In fact, I've thought about whether or not on my deathbed I should tell them the ducks really died. It wasn't my fall.

Is acting lying or telling a form of the truth?

SS: I saw this great movie called What the Bleep Do We Know? The mind registers in the same way objects that it sees and objects that it imagines. Imagine that. What does that mean, in terms of a lot of things? It's about quantum physics and all kinds of things, that movie. It was interesting. But I think when you act you have to find the truth, and then you try to be as specific as possible, which then leads you to the larger truth. But I don't think it's lying. I think it's recreating moments that can be recognized. It doesn't feel like lying most of the time when I do it. It feels pretty truthful. No real, necessarily, but truthful.

By virtue of the fact that Richard's character is lying doesn't that suggest that in his mind it's adultery?

SS: Well, not adultery. It's something that he feels guilty about, and I think she realizes that. That's why, initially, she follows him, because she knows something is going on that she feels guilty about. But it is a lie. He lies about where he is at times, too. He's coming home and lying about where he's been. That's what I mean. That's the thing that's upsetting. It's why he feels the need to lie. Why has she been relegated to somebody who keeps the house going, has her job and whatever? I think if you're with somebody long enough to have a family and real estate and all those things you hope that that person is your friend. I remember somebody saying to me 'It's not the busy, fun times that you have that you know you should be with that person. It's the quiet times when you nothing is happening.' When I was 20 I would have thought that was a huge compromise and a terrible idea, but there is something to be said for being able to be with somebody in those quiet times and to trust the trust that you have, that you don't have to entertain this person all the time, that you can co-exist and build a life and have a witness to your life. I love that scene. That's one of the reasons I did the movie. I think that's really true. My girlfriends said, 'Well, what about me? I don't have somebody.' I said, 'Well, we're the witnesses to your life.' I think everybody needs witnesses to their life. They don't have to be married to them. But that is what your group of friends does. Besides acting as a place to sound your opinions and your fears and all of those things, somebody has to say, 'Oh, my God.' And my girlfriends are always of things that I don't remember. It really shows you where you've been. It's hard to see it from inside the way people on the outside do. And I think you do need a witness. I like that concept.

Your character in Alfie is so vibrant and guilt-free.

SS: Initially, when he came to the door she lied and I said to them, 'I just cannot reconcile that.' They said, 'How do we go about the surprise?' First of all, she used to say, 'I have a headache. You can't come in.' I said, 'That would be enough reason to turn down Jude Law? Just because she has a headache? Come one, everybody will know immediately that something is up.' He would know immediately that something is up. And I said, 'She can't apologize.' She's like not to have that confrontation. She really doesn't want it to get messy. She doesn't want to hurt him, but she's not going to make up something and she doesn't apologize. I thought that was really, really important. She's not desperate. I think that's kind of the update of the character. She's not his mother, she's not desperate, she's not tragic and she's not trying to make excuses. She didn't think that she was going to get married later to him. No, it's a completely invented relationship that is contemporary. She has worked her way up and she recognizes herself in him and she accepts him for who he is. Because of that he probably has to do less lying. She doesn't need from him what the other gals do.

He's the one who's changed when he comes back to you. And what a devastating line you deliver: "He's younger than you are"

SS: I had wanted a woman in the bathtub, but then we couldn't do it because of that line. He couldn't say, 'What does she have that I don't?' I haven't seen the movie yet. I saw a rough cut, but I haven't seen the (finished) movie. But I've got to tell you, for two days we worked on that scene, because there were so many degrees of how invested he should be and 'Did she say that pissed off?' because he kept pushing her and pushing her. Why does she have to be so mean? What has he brought her to? Does she just say, 'Look, it's just one of those things'" So we practically had a jukebox of choices. We went for two days because there were so many different way that that could play out, and nobody knew for sure what it was going to be when (Charles Shyer) finally put it all together.

In the reading of the line they went with Alfie is devastated by your comment/revelation.

SS: Well, I think he has to be devastated or else he hasn't gone anywhere in the movie, right? If he just is cool about it, then he hasn't felt anything. There's a series of rejections and each of these women is so good that I think you really - as opposed to the original Alfie - you don't feel sorry for them. I felt that they all left with their dignity and he was the one losing out and not the women. I just loved the design of the way all of us are so different and offer different bundles of possibilities. It doesn't seem like a remake. It really seems like it lives on its own for that matter, at least the cut that I saw.

Alfie was shooting when you came on board. Any difference when you join a group that's been working for a while?

SS: I didn't work with anybody but Jude. There wasn't a difference in that sense. But what the difference was that I was the last one in bed, so we had to figure out what we would do that was different than what you'd already seen. And that's when I had the idea that they see each other. The sexy moments on screen are the first time that people touch each other. When they've already been having sex for a few months and then they're seeing each other, it's a different kind of a scene. I love Nia (Long's) scene. That's the hottest scene. That's just so hot. So what I thought was because of the absinthe and because they've already been having sex for a while that really what that scene was about was them really seeing each other for the first time and being connected in a way where he's not defensive. It's a very important line when she says, 'Through all the bravado you're not really as ballsy as you'd like everybody to think you are.' She understands that a lot of what he is about is bluff because she's made her business that way, too. She's had to seduce to (succeed) in the cosmetics business and to build her way up. The fact that she looks at his business plan and she helps him; that's what she offers to him, acceptance for where he is. He doesn't have to pretend to be more. He doesn't have to pretend to be going in some direction. He can just be who he is. So we decided instead of them just rolling all around and being naked it was really just about this. Hopefully the audience will believe that Alfie believes that she is seeing him as no one else as seen him. And I think that's a sexy thing. That reads on the screen as being connected.

It was Kevin and you in the nail painting scene in Bull Durham, but how jealous will Tim be of the reprise that you and Jude do in Alfie?

SS: I mentioned it. I said, 'Aren't you worried that this is reminiscent of Kevin Costner painting my nails?' But I think if Tim could live White Palace he could live through anything. That was much more engaged.

What did you make of working with Jennifer Lopez, and did you have any fun moments together off-screen?

SS: We only saw each other a little bit. I know Jennifer from before this movie, actually, because her agent at one time was also Tim's agent. So she played videogames with my boys way back when. They've spent time together and I know her. I really like Jennifer. We hung out more in the trailers. We were only in the one scene at the end. And I ran into her once at the dance studio because at one time they had me in to learn the waltz. I think she's just very exotic and obviously a great dancer and very sexy and a good actor. I think she brought a lot to the movie. You believe her as a dancer and as somebody whose life's tragedy revolves around the dance contest. It's not everybody you could believe that of. I'm sorry that we didn't work more together. They usually just allow two women per film, and they usually don't work together. That's just the way things work out in the scenarios, and that was true in this one.

And on Alfie, what did you make of working with Jude Law?

SS: I think Jude just hearkens back to a Douglas Fairbanks, but is even more talented. He's a theater actor. He comes out of that discipline. He definitely approaches everything like a character actor. He's able to talk more than three sentences in a row, which is not always what you get. He has a grace and obvious charm and good looks that almost hearken back to another era, I think. And he's a nice guy. He's a really nice guy. He deserves all of the success that he gets. I'm curious to see how Alfie does because I think he's really good in it and in all the other 13 or 15 movies he has coming out.

What can you tell us about your next film, Elizabethtown?

SS: I just wrapped Elizabethtown. I tap dance in Elizabethtown. I have a small, but integral part. It was really great to work with Cameron (Crowe) and Orlando (Bloom) and Judy Greer, who is my daughter. Orlando plays the son. I have a juicy, but smaller part. I think I'll be able to talk about it for four days on a junket. There's enough going on in it. And I get to tap dance to Moon River. That's really hard.

You tap dance in Elizabethtown and you dance as well in Shall We Dance. Do you dance?

SS: I'm a good dance. I don't have a problem learning dance stuff. It's really easy for me. In fact, I thought about being a dancer at one time. So it was fun to go and watch them, the little bit that I did. Actually, working on this movie was the first time in 20 years that I didn't have my kids with me on a shoot, the only time. They were in camp and my daughter was away. So I had more (free) time than I've ever had when I was working. It was almost crippling, the amount of time I had. I didn't know what to do with myself. I would go and watch some of their rehearsals, and that was really fun because it was a completely different thing. Some of those guys, those teachers, teach out near where my house is in the country, and I was thinking I should really get some girlfriends together because it's a whole other thing, really. Richard and I already knew how to waltz and I picked it up right away.

Not too long ago your daughter Eva was on sets. Now she's acting, and she did so with you already. How exciting and scary is that?

SS: She won't work with me since The Banger Sisters. She said she needs now to do a number of movies on her own. So I hope hires me by the time she'll work with me again. It's wonderful to work with her. She's at school now and unless she finds something to do during the summer, so far she's very happy. She didn't work this past summer. They're talking about doing a sequel to Saved. I don't know if they will or not. If she can find a TV thing here or there to do that would just be a week she might do that, but I'm happy for her (to be at school). She doesn't need to be working at this age non-stop. I think it's great that she has a life first.

Are any of your other kids expressing interest in acting?

SS: They're interested. My youngest is a musician and is very interested in music, but Jack has talked a little bit about it. They've both talked a little bit about it, but I think it's hard when both parents are so visible. I think the expectation is so big, and they're aware of that. And he doesn't want to miss basketball. They're not so driven. They'll say, 'Oh, yeah, I'd like to do this,' and I'll say, 'You know, you'll be out of school for three months.' And it's, 'Maybe not.' They have their friends and with all the pressure at school, Jack really likes to play basketball, and I don't know if Miles would (give up his daily life). It's tough. And they know kids. Liam Aiken is still a really close friend of ours from Stepmom, for instance. They've seen him go off and his handling his school stuff and all that. So they know what it involves. But whatever makes them happy. I think the hardest thing is when you have a kid that doesn't find something they want to do, especially when you have privileged kids who just kind of wallow around and never get engaged in anything. That's what worries me more than if they want to be an actor, rock star or whatever. If they find something that they really care about, that they want to spend time, then that's really great.

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