‘All cars look alike to me’By Kim Francis
June 04, 2008
It was The Rocky Horror Picture Show that shot Susan Sarandon to stardom back in 1975.
Since then, the sultry, sassy, sexy star has appeared in a number of hit movies including Bull Durham (on the set of which she met her toyboy partner of 20 years Tim Robbins), The Witches of Eastwick, Dead Man Walking (for which she won the Best Actress Oscar at the 1996 Academy Awards) and seminal Oscar-winning 'girl power’ flick Thelma and Louise.
At the age of 61, her career is still going strong and, when I met to talk about the release of her latest flick – the Wachowski brothers’ family-friendly Speed Racer, she still emanated all of the above-mentioned adjectives, proudly displaying a pneumatic embonpoint of glorious magnitude and youthfulness that belies her years.
Sarandon exudes confidence and is clearly totally comfortable in her own skin.
So it isn’t surprising when she bemoans a lack of decent roles as a direct result of the industry’s desire to play safe in order to make money, as the film’s producer, Joel Silver, sits beside her (who readily admits that sequels excite him and that a franchise is his ultimate aim).
She says: ‘I think that the movie industry suffers from [a lack of] interesting parts for everybody.
“They aren’t very brave in developing things because they want to make sure they do the same thing over and over so anything that’s outside the box has a hard time getting money.’
In the past, female Hollywood stars have been rather vocal about the roles available to women in the industry once they reach a certain age, so does Susan find that the roles are especially bad for women once they reach 40?
“I think that there aren’t that many good roles for men either, but there are more leading roles and more money for men,” she says.
“That’s true, that hasn’t changed. I think now what’s happening is that women have become more pro-active at developing their own projects.
“I can’t complain. Certainly, you end up doing a lot of more supporting parts but, for me, as long as they’re interesting and important in the context of the film then I don’t mind doing them at all.
“I can’t say that the guys have such a great choice either but certainly there are fewer good parts for women and fewer good parts for older women, and even fewer parts for older women of colour.”
The sibling duo behind Speed Racer, the Wachowski brothers, responsible for bringing the world the hugely popular Matrix films.
Just as The Matrix revolutionised its genre and arguably filmmaking in general, Speed Racer, a futuristic and fantastic tale about a boy excelling in the world of motor racing, is like nothing you have ever seen before, with astonishing special effects that take your breath away.
One assumes that working with them must be a unique experience.
Susan agrees: “I never read directions in scripts so there was an awful lot of stuff in this script that I just couldn’t bear to read because it was just directions, directions, directions.
“So when they called me and were trying to explain to me what they were going to do I just said: ‘Look I don’t understand a thing you’re talking about’.
You just had to kind of surrender.”
For Susan, the role of Mom Racer, the mother of the family at the centre of the film, appealed mainly because of the Wachowskis’ sensibilities that places the family at the heart of things.
She says: “They’re very close to their family and so I think one of the things that they talked about wanting to try to do that hasn’t been done before, I think, in an action-packed film is to have this heartbeat of the family somehow not lost to the colour and the spectacle.
“That was something they were trying to do all the time; to make sure that they protected the humanity of the piece.
“I think for some people that I’ve talked to, especially women, they came not expecting to like it.
“One of the things that really made the ending pay off for them was that the people were people throughout and that the values of the Wachowskis – the David taking on Goliath, the family taking on the conglomerate – was really something that was important and as we were making it they were constantly making sure that that stayed intact.”
Susan hints that some people have questioned her decision to take part in this big-budget blockbuster but she is quick to assert her reasons when the question crops up.
“When people say why were you doing a movie like this, I say: ‘I don’t know that there’s been a movie like this; what is this movie?’ Because it’s very different I think from anything that’s been tried before, not only visually but also [the family element].”
So what was it actually like to shoot a movie that requires so much acting in front of a ‘green screen’, a method used by filmmakers who incorporate digital effects and CGI into the filmmaking process?
While most actors vocalise the disadvantages of working in this way, Susan’s take is different.
“When you do a regular movie you’re pretending that things that are there are not,” she says. “So when you’re doing green screen it’s almost a relief because all you have to do is imagine that things are there.”
Set in a fictional world of motor racing, Speed Racer is a thrill for car enthusiasts who see on screen some spectacularly futuristic cars, many of which are based on real-life concept cars.
The film is based on the original Japanese anime cartoon of the same name that was popular in the United States back in the Sixties and close attention was paid to reproduce the original Mach 5 car driven by Speed Racer for the big screen, as well as an updated version.
Given Susan Sarandon’s history with cars (who can forget that final scene in Thelma and Louise?), is it fair to say that she has a love affair with the humble motor vehicle?
Anything but. “I have to say I’m a bit of a racist when it comes to cars,” she says. “They all look alike to me!”
She may not know about cars but she knows a thing or two about acting, with a career that spans four decades and shows no sign of fading, with four films in the pipeline this year.
With British actor Roger Allam playing the villain in Speed Racer, Susan gives a typically offbeat insight into what it is about British actors that makes them good villains.
“There aren’t very many American movie stars that can say that many words that quickly,” she says. “It’s a really peculiar thing.
“If Roger hadn’t been on top of it we would have been there for at least two more months. Because what he had to do was so amazing – he hit it every single time and all kinds of things were happening with the cameras and everything.
“And the chimp [Chim Chim, the chimpanzee character in the film] was a bit of a challenge sometimes.
“Maybe you would find it with an American theatre actor but if you look at American films, we’re verbally challenged I think!”
- Speed Racer is currently on general release