Outspoken Susan Sarandon calls 'Thelma & Louise'a liberating film


Susan Sarandon continues to speak her mind. She is 44 now, but time has not made her any less verbal. She is our own Vanessa Redgrave. Politically, she is not so visible as Redgrave, but in her own way she is outspoken and undaunted by controversy.

She recently attracted attention when she made comments about the war against Iraq. She did not approve and let it be known.

She still does not approve and continues to say so. "The United States has been raping non-white countries, and we've gotten a bad name for it," she said. "If there is something wrong at home, if someone wants to divert the attention of the nation away from the savings and loan scandal or the depression, there is always some dark-skinned dictator we can take on.

"I know it's not smart now to voice disapproval, but I think we must," she said, speaking of actors. "If the press paid more attention to issues than they do celebrities, there would be no need for celebrities to identify themselves with causes. We're being used, but they need us to get space.

"Am I worried about my career? Am I less popular because of my outspokenness? Will I be blacklisted? I don't know. Have I lost work because of my outspokenness? I don't know that either."

And she doesn't seem to care that much. There may have been a time when she was scared to state her mind, but it's not this day, during a New York press conference.

Sarandon has been around since 1970 when she first appeared in "Joe." She was the girl who was shot down at the end of the film. She and her husband, Chris Sarandon, had gone to Catholic University in Washington where she majored in drama. When they went to New York, she attended an audition with her husband. He wasn't signed. She was.

Since their divorce, Sarandon has had two children, one by an Italian director and the other by actor Tim Robbins, with whom she appeared in "Bull Durham" and with whom she continues to live.

Her newest film is "Thelma & Louise." In it, she plays Louise, a woman who shoots a rapist then takes to the road with Thelma, played by Geena Davis.

Told that Davis has said that she looked up to Sarandon as a role model, Sarandon said, "Oh, please."

She said she had a lot of reservations about doing the role. "My job was to drive the film, give it its underpinnings, and I was worried that it might become another Charles Bronson movie.

"Ridley Scott, who directed, is not what you would call a feminist, nor is he known to be big on story and character, so I'm sure that the first meeting was me trying to ascertain whether or not I wanted to do the film. Together, we found something that served our purpose."

She and Davis did get along. In fact, they became good friends. "She's smart," said Sarandon. "She's serious, but she also has a sense of humor. She's very bright and warm."

Sarandon has lots of female friends beyond her profession, she said. She also has a lot of male friends, gays and those whom she has known in the "Biblical sense. It's easy to be friendly after it is over, after the dance has been danced," she said. "It is difficult to be friendly with a straight male with whom you have not had a sexual relationship."

Some have said that "Thelma & Louise" is a male-bashing film. Sarandon does not agree.

"Who said that?" Sarandon asked. "I don't think it is. When Arnold Schwarzenegger shoots a woman to death and says,'consider that a divorce,' they don't say it is an anti-female film. I think ours is a very liberating film."

With that, she went on again about American international policy. "I am proud to be an American, but the whole point is to ask questions, and as I tell my children, hold the government responsible for its actions."

Asked if she did any improvisation on the set of the new film, she said she made changes but that they were agreed on ahead of time. "Script changes were made, but we weren't in a free zone," she said. "When we read the script, I said there were some things this woman wouldn't do, and those were changed."

Is she more settled than she was?

"No," Sarandon said. "There were times in my life when I was slower to realize when things weren't working, but I've never really settled down. I'm more mellow than I was but not settled."

She's so political, why hasn't she run for office?

"Never," she said. "I couldn't get anything done. You make so many promises, you can't do anything."

The conversation got around to the rising costs of movie-making. At last count, the average film cost $28 million to produce. At $18 million, "Thelma & Louise" is almost low-budget.

Someone suggested that actors might ask for less in the way of salary and thereby make movie-making less expensive.

"It's not the actors who drive up the costs," said Sarandon. "There are just six actors who make that kind of money, and none of them is in this hotel. Contrary to what the executives at Disney Studios say, you can make less expensive movies."

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