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Getting to Know: Susan Sarandon

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During the Golden Age of Hollywood, MGM used to boast that it had more stars than there were in the heavens. But that's nothing compared to the galaxy of big names on show at Cinema Paradiso and our Getting to Know series introduces you to the life and works of some of the screen's most enduring talents. This time, we feature the peerless Susan Sarandon, who, incredibly, made her film debut 50 years ago in 1970.

Susan Sarandon's screen career is unique. How many other actresses have become more famous and more cherished as they have grown older? Almost as well known these days for her political activism as for her acting. Sarandon has torn up the Hollywood rulebook in demonstrating that there is a place in modern cinema for strong, independent women, who can be nurturing, seductive, funny, committed and provocative. She now has over 150 films and TV shows to her credit. Five decades ago, however, Sarandon had no intention of becoming a movie star.

A Quiet Catholic Girl

Susan Abigail Tomalin was born on 4 October 1946 in Jackson Heights, a neighbourhood of Queens in New York. She was the first of five girls and four boys born to Lenora and Phillip Tomalin, an advertising executive who had been a singer in the big band era. As a girl, Susan believed that her dolls came to life at midnight and concluded that it was only fair to share their outfits around so that no one doll was more glamorous than the others.

When she was five, the family moved to Edison, New Jersey, where she was informed by one of the nuns at St Francis of Assisi grammar school that she had 'an abundance of original sin' after she had asked whether Mary and Joseph had been married in the eyes of the Catholic Church, as it hadn't existed when they were betrothed. As she was raised during the Cold War, Susan used to pray that the Communists wouldn't invade. But her worldview expanded when she moved to Edison High School, where she was due to make her acting bow in a production of My Sister Eileen (which had been filmed by Richard Quine in 1955, with Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon) when it was cancelled following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963.

She decided to study drama when, the following year, she enrolled at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. However, she spent much of the next four years learning about politics and protesting against the pace of civil rights reform and the war in Vietnam. Indeed, she was arrested several times at college, either side of marrying fellow drama student Chris Sarandon in September 1967. He took acting far more seriously than his new wife and she only landed her first screen role, in John G. Avildsen's Joe (1970), after she had accompanied him to an audition and was offered the part of Melissa Compton, the New York hippie whose overdose prompts her father, Bill (Dennis Patrick), to conduct a vigilante campaign against the neighbourhood's drug dealers.

Starting to Take Things Seriously

Despite being acclaimed for her first role, Sarandon had few expectations and spent much of the next few months modelling. However, she landed the daytime soap roles of Patrice Kahlman and Sarah Fairbanks in A World Apart and Search For Tomorrow (1970-72) and co-starred with Sophia Loren in Mario Monicelli's Lady Liberty (1972), with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Billy Wilder's remake of The Front Page (1974), and with Robert Redford in George Roy Hill's The Great Waldo Pepper (1975). She also made her Broadway debut in An Evening With Richard Nixon (1972) and played a widow in Sidney Lumet's Lovin' Molly (1974) opposite Anthony Perkins, who taught her the valuable acting lesson that 'real is not necessarily interesting'.

A still from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) With Susan Sarandon, Richard O'Brien And Barry Bostwick
A still from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) With Susan Sarandon, Richard O'Brien And Barry Bostwick

Sarandon has since acknowledged that she was cast as much for her looks as her talent in a number of her early projects. Yet, she spent much of her breakthrough picture in her underwear, as Janet Weiss alongside Barry Bostwick's Brad Majors in Jim Sharman's enduringly popular take on the cult stage musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Songs like 'Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me' gave Sarandon the rare opportunity to sing. But three years and four films were to pass before she landed a role of equal significance, as Hattie, the turn-of-the-century prostitute mother of 12 year-old Violet (Brooke Shields) in Louis Malle's controversial New Orleans coming-of-age drama, Pretty Baby (1978). That said, she also drew Drama Desk Award nominations for the Off-Broadway plays, A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking (1979) and Extremities (1982).

Having fallen in love with her French director, Sarandon separated from her husband, but kept his surname after their divorce. She reunited with Malle on Atlantic City (1980), which teamed her with Burt Lancaster as Sally Matthews and Lou Pascal, who are thrown together in the New Jersey resort when his ageing gangster moves into the building where her oyster bar waitress lives with her drug-dealing boyfriend. Despite earning her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress, Sarandon was denied a promotion to the A-List by the picture's modest commercial performance.

A clutch of follow-up assignments similarly underwhelmed at the box-office before she scored another cult hit in Tony Scott's feature debut, The Hunger (1983), in which she plays Dr Sarah Roberts, an expert in premature ageing who is recruited by vampire Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve) to address the rapid decline in her cello-playing companion, John (David Bowie). A lesbian love scene with Deneuve and a brief romance with Bowie raised Sarandon's profile. But a trip to war-torn Nicaragua caused her to question her commitment to acting and she seriously considered quitting and devoting herself to charity work and activism. While she was pondering her future, however, Sarandon met Italian film-maker Franco Amurri and gave birth to their daughter, Eva, on 15 March 1985.

A Late Bloomer

When she returned from maternity leave, Sarandon was ready to commit to acting. Despite not enjoying the shoot, she found herself in the august company of Michelle Pfeiffer (Sukie Ridgemont) and Cher (Alexandra Medford) competing for the attention of a devilish Jack Nicholson (Daryl Van Horne) in Mike Nichols's adaptation of John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick, which Sarandon followed with a cameo as a car passenger in John Hughes's odd couple comedy, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (both 1987).

A still from The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
A still from The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Both pictures made money, but Sarandon was still not a household name. That all changed when the 42 year-old stole the show in Ron Shelton's baseball comedy, Bull Durham (1988). In addition to dazzling as superfan Annie Savoy, who bed hops between star players Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), Sarandon stole the latter's heart. Ignoring the 12-year age difference, the couple produced two sons (Jack and Miles), several fine films and much ballyhoo, as they became Hollywood's most talked-about liberals, as they sought to further the debate on women's rights, AIDS and homelessness. However, they upset the Academy when they protested against US immigration policy on HIV+ Haitians while presenting the Oscar for Best Editing at the 1993 awards ceremony.

'I believe every film is a political film', Sarandon once declared and she proved her point with her appearance in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's landmark documentary about Hollywood's attitude to LGBTQ+ issues, The Celluloid Closet (1995). Moreover, having played the woman driving a wedge between estranged cop brothers Kevin Kline and Harvey Keitel in Pat O'Connor's dark crime comedy, The January Man, Sarandon took the role of Melanie Bruwer in Euzhan Palcy's A Dry White Season (both 1989), which sees the liberal reporter cover the trial in which teacher Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) and barrister Ian McKenzie (Marlon Brando) seek to expose systemic police brutality against the black population in apartheid South Africa.

Having received a Golden Globe nomination for the earthy sensuality she displayed as hamburger waitress Nora Baker romancing preppy lawyer Max Baron (James Spader) in Luis Mendoki's cross-tracks age-gap melodrama, White Palace (1990), Sarandon landed the role for which she will forever be remembered. Both she and Geena Davis were Oscar-nominated for their work as Louise Sawyer and Thelma Dickinson in Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise (1991), a feminist road movie that follows the Arkansas friends in their bid to cross into Mexico after Louise guns down the man who had attempted to rape Thelma in a roadhouse parking lot.

Suddenly in Demand

Following a change of pace, as Willem Dafoe's drug dealer boss in Paul Schrader's unsettling Manhattan melodrama, Light Sleeper (1991). Sarandon cameo'd in two Tim Robbins vehicles. She played herself in Robert Altman's scathing all-star Tinseltown satire, The Player, and WFAC-TV news anchor Tawna Titan in Robbins's equally acerbic lampoon of celebrity and the American political system, Bob Roberts (both 1992). But her final role that year was far more substantial, as she received her second Best Actress nomination for her performance in George Miller's Lorenzo's Oil, as Michaela Odone, the mother searching with her banker husband Augusto (Nick Nolte) for a cure for adrenoleukodystrophy, the fatal nerve disorder afflicting their young son (Zack O'Malley Greenburg).

A fourth nomination and the BAFTA for Best Actress followed for Sarandon's very next picture, Joel Schumacher's adaptation of John Grisham's Southern Gothic bestseller, The Client, in which lawyer Reggie Love seeks to protect 11 year-old Mark Sway (Brad Renfro) from aggressive prosecutor Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones), who wants him to risk his life by testifying against gangster Barry 'The Blade' Muldano (Anthony LaPaglia). A very different literary source provided Sarandon's next role, as Margaret March, who is better known as Marmee to Meg (Trini Alvarado), Jo (Winona Ryder), Beth (Claire Danes) and Amy (who is played by both Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Mathis) in Gillian Armstrong's three-time Oscar-nominated interpretation of Louisa M. Alcott's Little Women (both 1994).

A still from Dead Man Walking (1995)
A still from Dead Man Walking (1995)

At year's end, Sarandon was presented with the Women in Film Crystal Award. Her next project, however, brought her the Academy Award for Best Actress, as she demonstrated commitment and compassion as Sister Helen Prejean ministering to Louisiana Death Row inmate Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) in Tim Robbins's Dead Man Walking (1995). Sarandon came to know Prejean during shooting, as she revisited the Catholic faith she had abandoned as a teenager. But, rather than build on her success, Sarandon opted to devote herself to her young family and could only be heard voicing the Polish arachnid, Miss Spider, in Henry Selick's sublime adaptation of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach (1996), which employed a pioneering blend of live-action and stop-motion techniques.

When she returned to the screen in Robert Benton's Twilight, Sarandon slipped into femme fatale mode as Catherine Ames, a fading movie star who comes to the attention of Los Angeles cop Harry Ross (Paul Newman) after dealings with her runaway teenage daughter, Mel (Reese Witherspoon), and dying actor husband, Jack (Gene Hackman), prompting him to re-open the 20 year-old cold case involving her missing first husband. Sarandon earned another Golden Globe nomination after being seen in a more sympathetic light in Chris Columbus's Stepmom (both 1998), as divorced New York mother of two Jackie Harrison has to reach out to her ex-husband's new partner, Isabel Kelly (Julia Roberts) after she is diagnosed with terminal lymphoma.

Having taken her first executive producer credit on this tearjerker, Sarandon agreed to play against type in essaying Italian Fascist Margherita Sarfatti in Tim Robbins's Cradle Will Rock, which recreates the efforts of Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes) to stage a politically provocative musical composed by Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) at the height of the Great Depression. The scene shifts from Broadway to Hollywood in Wayne Wang's adaptation of Mona Simpson's bestseller, Anywhere But Here (both 1999), to reveal how Adele August (Sarandon) decides on a whim to leave her sleepy Wisconsin town and follow her dreams in California. However, as pragmatic teenage daughter Ann (Natalie Portman) quickly comes to realise, her mother has no idea which dream she actually wants to pursue.

Getting into Character

During a short period out of the spotlight, Sarandon provided voices for Coco LaBouche, the head of the EuroReptarland amusement park, in Stig Bergqvist and Paul Demeyer's Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (2000) and Ivy the Saluki in Lawrence Guterman's espionage comedy, Cats & Dogs (2001). She returned to action via the indie circuit, as she relished the chance to play a bad mom in Ben Steers's Igby Goes Down, in which her bibulous self-obsession contributes to the angst felt by her rebellious 17 year-old son, Jason (Kieran Culkin). This astute move into slacker comedy was followed by a rare misstep in Bob Dolman's The Banger Sisters (both 2002), in which Lavinia Kingsley's image as a domestic goddess is shattered when old friend Suzette (Goldie Hawn) arrives in Phoenix, Arizona to remind her of her wild days as a rock groupie.

A still from The Banger Sisters (2002)
A still from The Banger Sisters (2002)

Remaining in maternal mode, Sarandon paired with Dustin Hoffman to play grieving parents Jojo and Ben Floss, who take in their dead daughter's bereft fiancé, Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal), in Brad Silberberg's Moonlight Mile (2002), a story of second chances that was based on the director's own experiences following the murder of his actress girlfriend by an obsessed fan. The following year, Sarandon and Robbins joined Martin Sheen and Ed Harris in highlighting Buddhist resistance to China in Tom Peosay's documentary, Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion. She also delighted sci-fi aficionados by taking the role of Princess Wensica in Greg Yaitanes's miniseries, Frank Herbert's Children of Dune (both 2003), which won a Primetime Emmy for its special effects.

This was one of several small-screen appearances that Sarandon made around this time. In addition to guesting in such shows as The Simpsons (1995 & 2006), Malcolm in the Middle (2002), Rescue Me (2006-07), ER (2009), 30 Rock (2011-12), The Big C (2012), Mike & Molly (2013-14), American Dad (2016), Rick and Morty (2017) and Ray Donovan (2017-19), Sarandon also received an Emmy nomination for her guest turn as Jessica Lockhart, an actress on the same Days of Our Lives soap as Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) in the 2002 Friends episode, 'The One With Joey's New Brain'.

Less memorable was a cameo in Vadim Jean's celebrity satire, Jiminy Glick in LalaWood (2004). But Sarandon's other outings during this busy year are much worthier of attention. In Chazz Palminteri's Noel, she plays Rose Collins, who discovers hope in the depths of despair following a chance encounter with Charlie Boyd (Robin Williams) while struggling to cope with her mother's losing battle with Alzheimer's. As Chicago homemaker Beverly Clark. she also finds it hard to come to terms with the fact that her workaholic lawyer husband, John (Richard Gere), has started taking ballroom dancing lessons with Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) in Peter Chelsom's Shall We Dance?, a remake of Japanese director Masayuki Suo's 1996 film of the same name.

A still from Shall We Dance? (2004) With Susan Sarandon
A still from Shall We Dance? (2004) With Susan Sarandon

At year's end, Sarandon found herself in another refit, as she plays Liz, a widow with a thing for younger men in Charles Shyler's Alfie, which saw Jude Law take over the title from that had reinforced Michael Caine's reputation in Lewis Gilbert's 1966 adaptation of Bill Naughton's play.

Increasingly seen in character roles, Sarandon made fleeting appearances in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, as Hollie Baylor, a Kentucky widow who hopes to reconnect with her despondent shoe designer son, Drew (Orlando Bloom), while organising his father's funeral. As Sonia Jacobs, she was one of the six characters wrongfully convicted of murder in Bob Balaban's The Exonerated, a tele-adaptation of Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank's play about capital punishment. She also pops up in Stuart Samuels's documentary tribute to 1970s cult cinema, Midnight Movies. But Sarandon sank her teeth into the more substantial role of Kitty Kane Murder in John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes (all 2005), in which she reacts furiously to the discovery that her ironworker husband, Nick (James Gandolfini), has been cheating on her with lingerie salesgirl, Tula (Kate Winslet).

Ann Turner's Irresistible (2006) saw Sarandon play another wronged spouse. But, when Sophie Hartley tries to fathom why she is being stalked by Mara Toufiey (Emily Blunt), a workmate of her husband, Craig (Sam Neill), she winds up being accused of being dangerously unhinged. Later that year, Sarandon narrated Secrets of the Code, documentarist Jonathan Stack's exploration of the global fascination with Dan Brown's 2003 bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.

Over a year passed between the making and releasing of Bob Balaban's Bernard and Doris (2006), which teamed Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes in a dramedy based on the unusual relationship between Irish butler Bernard Lafferty and tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Having secured an eighth Golden Globe nomination, Sarandon further indulged her predilection for the offbeat by playing Beverly Farley, who drives grown-up son John (Seann William Scott) to despair in Craig Gillespie and David Dobkin's Mr Woodcock (2007) by dating the PE teacher (Billy Bob Thornton) who had made his schooldays so miserable.

In what was becoming another busy year, Sarandon moved on to Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah to essay Joan Deerfield, whose military police veteran husband, Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), is so appalled by the service's callous indifference to their soldier son going missing while on leave from Iraq that he coerces cop Emily Saunders (Charlize Theron) into helping track him down. Following such an emotionally intense assignment, Sarandon opted to explore her darker side in Kevin Lima's Enchanted by playing the witch queen Narissa, who seeks to prevent Giselle (Amy Adams) from falling in love with her stepson, Prince Edward (James Marsden), by casting a spell to jettison her from Andalasia to modern-day Manhattan.

None of Sarandon's 2008 excursions could match this Disney classic, however, although the manga-inspired Wachowskis romp, Speed Racer, has acquired something of a cult following. Sarandon and John Goodman play Mom and Pops, whose Racer Motors business is threatened with closure unless son Speed (Emile Hirsch) and his souped-up Mach Five car can win the $1 million bounty on offer in the Grand Prix staged by the family's chief rival, EP Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam). John Stockwell's Middle of Nowhere also failed to find favour, but it did afford Sarandon the opportunity of co-starring with daughter Eva Amurri, as Rhonda Berry, an irresponsible spendthrift mom who ruins her daughter Grace's credit rating and pushes her towards drug dealer, Dorian Spitz (Anton Yelchin).

A still from The Greatest (2009)
A still from The Greatest (2009)

There was also a family connection in Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto's 1 Giant Leap: What About Me? (2008), as Sarandon appeared alongside Tim Robbins. But their relationship came to an end in 2009 and Sarandon eased the pain by keeping busy. She returned to Broadway opposite Geoffrey Rush in Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King before finding herself in a strained marriage in Shana Feste's directorial debut, The Greatest, as Grace and Allen Brewer (Pierce Brosnan) struggle to deal with the death of their 18 year-old son, Bennett (Aaron Johnson), and the news that his girlfriend, Rose (Carey Mulligan), is carrying their grandchild. Rumours of another family tragedy prove to be somewhat exaggerated in Tim Blake Nelson's dark comedy of errors, Leaves of Grass, as Edward Norton plays Bill and Brady, the chalk-and-cheese sons of Oklahoma mom, Daisy Kincaid (Sarandon).

The focus falls squarely on fiftysomething Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) in Brian Koppelman and David Levien's Solitary Man, as he risks the chance of opening a new auto dealership by sleeping with the teenage daughter of principal backer Jordan Karsch (Mary-Louise Parker). But Sarandon makes the most of the supporting role of Kalmen's much-wronged wife, Nancy, and she similarly steals focus as the gin-swilling Grandma Lynn in Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's award-winning novel, The Lovely Bones (both 2009), which follows the afterlife efforts of murdered 14 year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) to guide parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz) to the identity of her killer.

Send For Sarandon

As her career has progressed and she has settled into character parts, Sarandon has been able to pick and choose her assignments to fit around her many other commitments. She told one interviewer, 'I'm like a temp secretary who goes in when there's a problem for a few weeks, and then I leave.'

At the start of the new decade, she parachuted in to play Sylvia Moore, a retired nurse who speculates in real estate in Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which allowed Michael Douglas to reprise his Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gekko from the same director's Wall Street (1987). She spent a little longer in the eponymous Nebraska town in order to play mayor's wife Fanny Crill in Michael Lander's Peacock (both 2010), which revolves around the efforts of quiet banker John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) to hide the fact that he has a disassociative identity disorder.

By now an indie darling, as well as a mainstream icon, Sarandon signed up for Jeff, Who Lives At Home (2011), a rambling comedy by Mumblecore siblings Jay and Mark Duplass that sees Baton Rouge mother Sharon Thompkins despair of her stoner son, Jeff (Jason Siegel), while trying to discover the identity of a secret admirer. Sarandon next took the touching supporting role of Jennifer the librarian in Jake Schreier's Robot & Frank (2012), a futuristic slice of Capracorn that centres on the friendship between Frank Weld (Frank Langella), an ageing crook suffering from dementia, and his companion robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard).

She followed this with one of the most outré choices of her entire career by playing Mary McGarricle in Sean Anders's That's My Boy, the middle-school who is jailed in the mid-1980s for getting pregnant during an illicit relationship with Donny (Adam Sandler), a student who decides after three decades to repair his relationship with his estranged son, Todd (Andy Samberg). Unconcerned by the film's critical mauling, Sarandon moved on to appear as herself in Matthew Cooke's hard-hitting documentary, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, before she set about playing Madame Horrox, the Older Ursula, Yosouf Suleiman and the Abbess in Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell's time-spinning bestseller that sprawls over six episodes set between 1849-2321 and was directed by Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis.

A still from The Company You Keep (2012)
A still from The Company You Keep (2012)

Also in 2012, Sarandon plays Ellen, the devoted wife of Robert Miller (Richard Gere) in Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage. She is proud of the fact that he runs a hedge fund with their daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling). But neither has a clue that he has been embezzling funds and having an affair until a car crash means that Miller has to think fast to prevent Detective Bryer (Tim Roth) from unravelling his web of secrets. The truth is also kept well hidden in Robert Redford's The Company You Keep, which sees the director team up with Sarandon and Julie Christie to play three former members of The Weather Underground Organisation, a left-leaning radical militant protest group, whose activities in the 1960s and 70s are examined by Bill Siegel and Sam Green in the 2002 documentary, The Weather Underground.

Sarandon continued to mix things up in 2013, as she came aboard Ric Roman Waugh's thriller, Snitch, to play US Attorney Joanne Keeghan, who cuts a deal with concerned parent John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) to get his son's drug-dealing sentence reduced. She next narrated Jordan Stone's Irwin & Fran, an affectionate profile of veteran entertainers Irwin (98) and Fran Shaw (95), who had been married for 71 years. It was all change again, as Sarandon threw herself into the role of Bebe McBride, the vivacious girlfriend of Don Griffin (Robert De Niro), who is about to welcome ex-wife Ellie (Diane Keaton) to his New England home for the marriage of their adopted Colombian son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), in The Big Wedding, Justin Zackham's remake of Swiss director Jon-Stéphane Bron's comedy, My Brother Is Getting Married (2006).

In another change of pace, Sarandon excels as Florence Aadland, the mother disapproving of the May-December relationship between her starlet daughter, Beverly (Dakota Fanning), and fading swashbuckler, Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline), in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's impeccably made paean to old Hollywood, The Last of Robin Hood (2013). Despite there only being 13 and 24 years respectively between them, Sarandon similarly took playing Allison Janney's mother and Melissa McCarthy's grandmother in her stride in Ben Falcone's road movie, Tammy, in which she clearly has a ball as the hard-cussing and even harder-drinking Pearl Balzen on a jaunt from Kendall County, Illinois to Niagara Falls.

Just to prove how chameleonic she can be, Sarandon's next outing saw her play Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef in Jason Stone's The Calling, an adaptation of a novel by Inger Ashe Wolfe that sees Fr Price (Donald Sutherland), the priest in a quiet Ontario town, suggest that a sinister resurrectionist cult is behind a spate of killings. Completing 2014, Sarandon also appeared in archive footage in Amir Amirani's documentary, We Are Many, which recalled what happened when 15 million people in 800 cities around the world marched in protest against the war in Iraq on 15 February 2003.

A still from The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)
A still from The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)

She began 2015 by voicing Barb the Angel in Tom Gianas and Ross Shuman's grown-up stop-motion comedy, Hell and Back, before switching to the small screen to play Gladys Monroe Mortenson in Laurie Collyer's two-parter, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, which draws on J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography to show how Norma Jean Mortenson (Kelli Garner) struggled to shake the influence of her mentally unstable mother, even after she found fame as Marilyn Monroe. But the year also saw Sarandon take a rare lead in Lorene Scafaria's The Meddler, as Marnie Minervini, a wealthy widow with time on her hands who moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles in order to find a husband for her single screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne).

By contrast, Sarandon was on screen for a matter of seconds in Ben Stiller's Zoolander 2 for an unbilled cameo as herself quoting a Rocky Horror lyric. Moreover, she is only heard voicing Chimene the komodo dragon in the English dub of Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci's alternative history adventure, April and the Extraordinary World, and Lunch Lady Lorraine in Dash Shaw's animated teenpic, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (all 2016).

Although Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their respective roles of Amy Mitchell, Kiki and Carla Dunkler from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's Bad Moms (2016), they are given an object lesson in scene stealing in the sequel, A Bad Moms Christmas, as Sarandon breezes into town as Isis Dunkler and proceeds to shake a tail feather on the bar with an exotic dancer, Ty Swindle (Justin Hartley). She was confined behind the scenes as the executive producer of Alexandra Dean's acclaimed documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. But Sarandon concluded 2017 front and centre as Bette Davis, opposite Jessica Lange's Joan Crawford, in Feud: Bette and Joan, a blistering eight-part account of the bitter rivalry between the co-stars of Robert Aldrich's Grand Guignol masterpiece, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).

Not all of Sarandon's recent output has found its way on to disc, but it's worth pointing out a few titles. It was seemingly only a matter of time before she got to work with Québecois enfant terrible Xavier Dolan and, in The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, she rises to the challenge of playing Grace, the alcoholic mother of the eponymous actor (Kit Harrington) who succumbs to a drug overdose. Also in 2018, she played ER nurse Helen seeking to secure the release of her journalist son after he is kidnapped by Middle Eastern terrorists in Maryam Keshavarz's Viper Club.

A still from Viper Club (2018)
A still from Viper Club (2018)

Most recently, Sarandon has explored the taboo topic of assisted dying in Roger Michell's Blackbird, which reunited her with Sam Neill and Kate Winslet, while she hooked up again with old friend John Turturro for a headline-grabbing threesome with Bobby Cannavale in The Jesus Rolls (both 2019), a loose remake of Bertrand Blier's scurrilous road movie, Les Valseuses (1974), which continues the misadventures of Jesus Quintana. Susan Sarandon's already glittering CV is to be continued, but what is your favourite Sarandon film outing?

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