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Unmarried . . . With Children--and Values : Susan Sarandon, who has given older actresses and unconventional relationships a good name, talks of family virtues, politics, movies and men.

August 30, 1992|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a national correspondent for The Times.

In "Light Sleeper," her first film since "Thelma & Louise," Schrader explores the vagaries of the yuppie drug trade. Although Sarandon plays a cocaine dealer, she says she has always detested the stuff: "Cocaine didn't interest me. Not at all. I'm way way back in the early pot, and mushrooms, organic, not all these chemical things that split you and do horrible things. They're too antisocial.

"The only thing that is interesting politically about ("Light Sleeper") is that usually in the films and news, drugs are always connected with people of color. You never see rich, white, upwardly mobile people. In this movie, that's who I, the drug queen, sell to. (It's) kind of a fast-food business, where you dial a number and someone delivers drugs to you."

Sarandon says she doesn't want to make strictly political movies because she thinks "that would be boring." But she also clearly would rather talk about the more political "Bob Roberts," which Robbins wrote, directed and stars in. "You've got to see it, it's great," she says, and arranges a screening.

The movie centers on the cloning of a right-wing candidate for the Senate and presumably later for President. At first glance, with Gore Vidal playing Roberts' rival for the Senate seat and getting to convey his view of how the world is run, the movie might be thought to have a distinctly left-liberal appeal. Except that Robbins' performance was apparently so convincing to some journalists who saw it at the Cannes Film Festival that they warmed to the character he was portraying. He recalls a French reporter coming up to him and asking, "What's wrong with Bob Roberts for President?"

Robbins reports all of this with a bemused look at a small screening room in West Hollywood before dashing off to pick up Sarandon and the children at the rent-controlled apartment they had borrowed off Main Street, en route to a week in Hawaii.

Although Sarandon has only a small part as a TV anchor in "Bob Roberts," she keeps bringing the film up during several interviews. Her part, she says, "shows how irresponsible the TV anchor people are. Like when I laughed through a report on the homeless. You know the way they do that chummy kind of thing when something is coming down. They probably had a few drinks before the show. But I must say, Peter Jennings loved the movie. So even though it made him uncomfortable, he was able to get past that."

The close relationship between Sarandon and Robbins would be the envy of most married couples. Why don't they marry? Sarandon's answer is that it might just ruin things. Yet there is nothing in her background to suggest such a Bohemian temperament in family matters.

Sarandon grew up as a proper Catholic schoolgirl in Metuchen, N.J., went off to Catholic University in Washington, still resents the introduction of English Mass and married the first man, actor Chris Sarandon, she had sex with back in 1967 when she was 19. "That was just what you did if you didn't want to get kicked out of school. If you wanted to live together, it was just so much easier. He was a really good friend." The couple had no children and were divorced 11 years later. She has turned her back on marriage, though certainly not family and children, ever since.

"When you are not married, I think it is not as easy to take each other for granted. Because when you say 'till death do us part,' you don't have to reaffirm your love for each other as often. I'm always fighting against seeing the other person as just a function of what the family is and not as a person. I don't know if I'm a big enough, enlightened enough person to not see my partner, my comrade, my partner in crime, as just my husband once we get married. The only other thing that I can think of that is as homicidal to a relationship is appearing in the couples page in People magazine."

But she loves children. "When I had my daughter, all over the papers they called her a love child. How fabulous. How great to have these children to be products of love."

Despite her sassy and sexy movie roles, Sarandon is a one-man woman. "I am very romantic. For a women of my age and station, I have not been around very much at all. I've never developed that sportive kind of attitude toward sex. Thank God, as it turns out." She considers this restraint a mark of female sensibility: "Men very often can see sex as a way of solving a problem, where women want the problem solved beforehand."

Her views may be iconoclastic but she hesitates to strike the stance of the sexual rebel. "I think I could be seen outside convention. But I've never had affairs behind people's backs the way it seems all of our political candidates have. I'm always quite honest about it."

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