CHRISTINA LESSA: You are often described, and rightly so, as one of the most authentic actors around, a thinking man’s sex symbol… you have no trepidation about openly describing your professional, personal, and political choices, and now you’ve unabashedly taken on a new role as entrepreneur of the “Spin” ping pong social clubs. You really embody freedom as an individual.
SUSAN SARANDON: I definitely feel free. I think sometimes that I underestimate the ramifications of some things that I say or do because my actions and how I choose to spend my energy is the fabric of who I am and so it doesn’t seem out of sync and sometimes I’m surprised when it causes a stir. I think I feel free to make choices that are mine. The only thing that limits me really at this point is just concern for my children. That definitely makes you think twice. For instance, I was recently at a wedding in Mexico of dear friends and about three o’clock in the morning, on the beach, everyone was running into the sea naked including my two sons, and I might normally do that but I’m definitely not going to strip down when my sons are in the same ocean. It would have made them so uncomfortable. That I think is the only thing that really limits my choices in deference to my children. I do feel like I have been very lucky to be living a life where I’m financially independent, my lifestyle is not very extravagant so I have flexibility. I don’t feel pushed to make money, but at the same time I haven’t been dependent on a man since I started. I think that for better or worse that really gives you a lot of choice. I’m very lucky that way.
CHRISTINA LESSA: You’ve said throughout the years that a STRONG IMAGINATION will carry you through life’s hurdles…
SUSAN SARANDON: I think that having an imagination, which then allows you to empathize, is a gateway drug to activism. Imagination is a very, very powerful tool, powerful talent because I don’t know that you can be anything unless you allow yourself to imagine it. You can’t ask other people to make the leap if you can’t imagine yourself in a different place. So I think that imagination is one of the things that governments are trying to sit on if they are trying to control a population: that’s how scary imagination is, when people exercise their imagination.
I also have come over the years to really believe that it’s important to see your life as an organism, like the earth is an organism, in that it is constantly changing and growing, and not to view who you are and how you live as something that is in the future that you attain and then you stay there. I think that day-by-day you add and subtract to the person that you are creating, into the life you’re creating. It has different spells that it goes through of being healthy and unhealthy and expanding and resting. That way you get rid of this thing that we do to ourselves where you’re judging where you are or where you should be. The moment could not be any different from what it is. If you embrace that, you’re not so hard on yourself. That’s something I try to teach my kids, that mistakes are more valuable than doing things right and that your life is supposed to be full of extraordinary mistakes that will lead to beautiful breakthroughs and understandings. Mistakes are really the way that you have an opportunity to go to the next level, if you’re going to use a video game, you want to reboot as often as possible and that you want to keep trying to get to that next level. Everything horrible or every thing that would be seen as a failure gives you the opportunity to expand your tool set, your skill set. It allows you to really welcome what seems like catastrophe, because the world is totally in crisis and chaos. So, you don’t want to try to control things too much because you cant.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Sometimes dramatic change seems impossible, and then humanity surprises us.
SUSAN SARANDON: I was talking to a Chinese actress when the whole thing was unfolding with Ai Wei Wei. I said to her that people are starting to send in donations for him to pay the taxes that the government now says he owes (millions of dollars) as a kind of protest. She said the Chinese people wouldn’t do that, but the Chinese people are doing that. Both Chinese people and other people sent money. It’s interesting that you can have what seems like a locked-in population then I think the concept of civil liberties is just part of what humans crave. However brainwashed you can be for a while, something doesn’t smell right. So, I’m hopeful. The misinformation is another thing, because you have people satisfied with concepts that reinforce what they want to believe. It’s very hard to get people to take in information that contradicts what they need to believe. I’ve seen that over and over. I was just in San Francisco and I was listening to public radio and there was a girl who was rejecting climate warming and she was 14 and they had a scientist on that was explaining the things that are scientifically based that tell you climate change is happening. They asked her at the end and she said she’d like to see some more information. I wish if they had asked her if it made her more comfortable to believe that there was no climate change. Every point that she brought up the scientist would debunk it and I’m sure there’s somebody else that would do that. She was just was not going to go there. So often what happens, even with my mom, if you tell her something that doesn’t jive with what she needs to believe: it’s a level of discomfort.
CHRISTINA LESSA: There was one quote that you used about empathy that stayed with me. It was the story about how as a child you would make sure to rotate the best dresses on your dolls in fairness.
SUSAN SARANDON: Well that I think is an example that somehow I needed to express justice, or fairness, with the dolls. I did believe they came awake at midnight and I wanted to make sure the same doll wasn’t wearing the same outfit all the time. I was pretty young at that point, although I did play with dolls probably until eighth grade. I guess it’s a sense of needing to think things are fair and I remember there were times in my childhood when my mother, god knows how she managed with nine children, I remember the thing that most upset me was a promise broken that seemed unfair. Until I realize that my parents were human, I would take it really hard and that was the thing that would upset me the most.
I think it was just part of my nature that it bothered me. I think that there is a certain amount of egotism in thinking that you can make a difference and feeling that it’s your responsibility and really what I think motivates a lot of people that are very active is the idea that they can’t live with themselves and not be. Not necessarily see the effects of it, but just to go home if you’ve had an opportunity and you’ve missed it, you take it very seriously, because you feel that you have to at least try.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Your role as an altruistic member of society, publicly opposed to the egoistic acts of those in power positions is an inspiration to all of us. What are the causes in America in this particular time that we should all be paying more attention to?
SUSAN SARANDON: I think at the root of everything is this huge gap between the rich and the poor, sexism and racism. All over the country, no matter if you are talking about global warming, dumping things in the sea in certain areas that people don’t have a voice, or whether you are talking about violence or class frustration. It’s all about that fact the fewer and fewer people control more and more of the wealth. I would love to see limits on campaign finance. I would love to see more transparency. I would like to see, in are punished in the corporate world who do horrible things and get away with it. What we have to focus on immediately is education, clean water, stopping sex trafficking, which is a huge problem that really concerns me. The returning vets are another big thing that needs to be dealt with immediately.
Until you can stop violence against women and until you champion the health and education of women, you’re not going to solve the problem. You can’t ignore fifty percent of the population who are raising your children. I think you have to start focusing on women and giving them the opportunity to be whole, giving them the opportunity to make decisions, giving them education. That will be huge in righting the world. Home is so important to me so I can’t imagine… when I travel, I see women trying to keep their children fed, clean and dry without homes or with horrible lean-to shacks. Now there are so many people that are homeless in America. There’s going to be even more as people lose their homes and as vets return. Homelessness for me is huge. I think the long-term fix is education. In Haiti where Artists for Peace and Justice build this
amazing high school there’s no public high schools in Haiti and to see the way that has thrived, the way it is built, and to see the difference that it makes in giving young people hope for the future with an education has been so rewarding to me.
In this country our school system is just shot. Those are the things that I’m moving on most rapidly. Again you have to be in for the long term. Groups like Heifers that give somebody an animal, which completely changes their life. When I was in Cambodia recently I saw the passing on of the pigs with Heifers. The pride of the families who are then able then able to pass on a goat or pig and the pride within the community and how much difference it can make to have a goat. They’ve really figured it out. You educate and give people the means to contribute. When I was in Cambodia visiting my friend and seeing all of her girls who were rescued from sex trafficking, these are resources that are just ignored. People who are homeless that get an education, girls that were sold at five or six, they’re so joyful and so ready to contribute and so smart. Some of them are going on to college and becoming lawyers. These are segments of the population that people discard.
CHRISTINA LESSA: I’d like people to seek the “real” of what’s happening right here in our own country. People don’t really understand what it actually means to live in Alabama, live in a shack with four children with no health care access at all. We have children in America going to school without shoes, without any meals at all during the day other than free lunch if they are lucky enough to get it. So many have to turn to selling themselves to grasp at any measure of survival. Sex trafficking in America certainly has a different definition, but it’s all the same to some degree. We don’t have to look very far to find our version of that here.
SUSAN SARANDON: Whether they are foreign girls that come in to this country thinking they are going to be nannies and the next thing they know is they’ve been shamed and they can’t go home or they’re drug addicted. Or if it’s runaway from the Midwest who was molested by her stepfather and came to the city and next things she knows her boyfriend is pimping her out, or just a kid who never had enough of anything trying to live a better life…
When you look at the stories of the girls whose bodies were found in, was it Staten Island, and their stories of how they ended up. They have a child and can’t make ends meet. The next thing you know they are coming from New Jersey or Connecticut. It’s a big fear. You don’t see as many five or six-year-olds here being prostituted here, but it is a very serious growing problem.
CHRISTINA LESSA: You have lived through different eras of economic and creative change. I saw your commentary to the protestors on Wall St about having a true focus in order to gain respect and add power behind their voice. That doesn’t seem to have happened so far yet. The issues at hand are widespread and growing. How does this point in history compare to what you’ve seen in the past?
SUSAN SARANDON: I’m a little old fashioned in my need for the focus. The point I think it’s the difference between going online and having a lot of information and reading a pamphlet or book. I think what they wanted to do and what they have been successful in is creating a dialogue. The one percent thing, making people discuss this, they don’t want to find the solution. There are a lot of different suggestions from a lot of different people there and that’s where the left is always at a loss because the right just gets on point and repeats the same thing over and over. I’m grateful for the Tea Party that they have given the right a little bit more problem to deal with. There are a lot of things that they were trying to have a dialogue about. They also exposed police brutality. They were a source of inspiration for a lot of people in the country and around the world. I’ve seen reports that it meant a lot to the Arab Spring and keeping it going. They’ve continued to be a presence in a lot of different protests and I think as the elections get going. They’ve kept people accountable and are certainly not going to solve anything. What I have said to them was, how can the nurse in Iowa who is frustrated: what does she do? What do you give her to do if she can’t camp out? That was my suggestion but I understand that they recognize a lot of those people were really smart at Occupy Wall Street. They were the metaphor and the actualization of the frustration that so many people are having. The media didn’t cover them particularly accurately. They went for most colorful Grateful Dead looking group and minimized how diverse of a group it was. Of the people that were camping there, you could even find a lot of different kinds of people. When it came down to marching, it was not just a bunch of dirty kids the way they [the media] would like to have you believe. The movement suffered a little bit from the press coverage.
It’s horizontally organized. There’s nobody at the top. Really what they pride themselves on is that it’s a horizontal movement. It started with the WTO protests in Seattle and that’s what made the police and everyone so crazy. They couldn’t figure out how to contain it because there was no leader. With cell phones and everything else they were able to constantly switch direction. There’s no head to cut off and that’s really different. They’re very well versed in media and how to use all the different technologies to keep their followers informed and interested. It’s really up the individual to decide how to join in.
CHRISTINA LESSA: A lot of them are the intellectually aware and educated who are idle in the job market. Being optimistic, I’d say many have made the decision to form their own destinies through creative entrepreneurship and other forms of arts-related inventive job creation. This is really apparent especially for me as an individual working in the creative market.
SUSAN SARANDON: This is the good news about the collapse of the economy. People are saying, ‘Now I’ll just do maybe what I always thought I would do whereas before I was doing things because I thought I had to… now, that is no longer helping me.’
CHRISTINA LESSA: Do you feel that the film industry will have a renaissance of sorts? It seems now that quality and sincerity have become prerequisites, if you want to make a great film…
SUSAN SARANDON: I think because of the way you can make a film now digitally there are all kinds of young filmmakers creating all kinds of documentaries. The problem remains just distribution and it will happen what happened in the music industry, there will be online distribution. The moment you want a wide release of something into theaters you still need to go through the existing structure. There are certainly more people that are trying their hand. I was just at Pixar doing this social entrepreneurial intersection seminar and to see what they’re doing, the scripts that are coming out of animation are just so much better than so many of the scripts that I’m seeing. That’s where video games are playing a role. I think it’s pretty amazing what’s going on in terms of how they’re breaking free from convention. Not that I play them, but I know something about them thanks to my children. Definitely it’s a very exciting time visually. It’s a little sad that when you go to see a photograph that you assume it’s been doctored. I don’t believe them for a second anymore.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What is the new definition of film star?
SUSAN SARANDON: That’s a question you probably have to ask someone in press or the studio. I think that what’s happened to actors in films is that they traded protection from the studio for independence from the studio so therefore the studio isn’t racing in to make sure they don’t have a bad reputation when they divorce they way they used to: protecting them. They couldn’t even if they wanted to because of the way the media is. Certainly my daughter thinks she can have a career and a family without out even a second thought. She’ll just get on a TV series so she knows when her vacations are. The expectation that you have now is it is possible to be in love, to have a family, to raise children being in the business. When I started you had to definitely choose. Once you had a child your sensuality was done and how long you can work is obviously very different now. What they would call a star is someone who can still bring people in. There aren’t many guarantees anymore. There are stars whose movies aren’t selling. It has to do with doing a good film and having the luck to be marketed properly.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What’s you favorite film right now?
SUSAN SARANDON: I never can think of anything when someone asks me one of these questions. There are so many different ones.
I liked, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, I thought, ‘Tilda Swinton’ was amazing. I know Ezra so I thought he did a great job too. That was a beautifully done film. I love that director and that whole cast. My favorite film I saw this year was Melancholia. I just thought that it was so badass, so beautiful and disturbing: really ball-sy, I love that in a film.