Intelligent, well-informed, unassuming and yes, politically outspoken – although she would like to believe otherwise – Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon is every bit the legend most people assume she is.
In the press conference held in her honor Wednesday afternoon, Sarandon maneuvered past the usual pointless questions, oversimplified remarks and torrent of inquires about her impression of American president-elect Barack Obama, a name uttered in nearly every festival-related activity held so far.
Unlike most of the festival’s stars, the “Bill Durham and “Thelma & Louise star didn’t hesitate to set reporters straight when they deserved it. Eloquent, focused and very sharp, Sarandon left reporters hungry for more, strongly proving to be quite a tough act to follow.
The discussion forum opened up with the following question from Daily News Egypt: “Being the politically outspoken public figure you’re known to be, were you deterred by the hostile reaction to your views, such as, the backlash you and Mr Robbins faced regarding your comments about the American invasion of Iraq in 2003?
“Well, first of all, I don’t think of myself as politically outspoken, Sarandon said, “but I can’t bury my head in the sand when I see something wrong.
Worrying about the backlash is like worrying about your slip showing when you’re fleeing a burning building.
“Living with the knowledge that I had not stuck by my principles would be harder than living without any potential backlash.
Asked whether producers were, at some point, reluctant to cast her in their films because of her political views, Sarandon said: “I think if the audience is going to see you, then producers will hire you. That’s just the way it is. The fact that Tim Robbins and Sean Penn [vocal opponents of the Iraq war] received their academy awards [for 2003’s “Mystic River ] not long after the war broke shows you that producers, artists and audience will reward you when you make a good film regardless of your political views.
Sarandon was flooded with the accusation of Hollywood’s stereotyping of Arabs in film and various media outlets. She dismissed the allegation, saying that “Stereotypes exist everywhere, even within the American society itself.
You really have a big problem for example if you’re a gay black woman.
Besides, don’t you stereotype us in your films as well?
“The American media and TV are controlled by five persons who benefit from the war. That’s why you don’t get to see the human stories you want to see.
“I live in New York. I don’t really know that much about Hollywood because I don’t understand it. The good news and the bad news is that Hollywood is not political. All they care about is women getting fat and old.
Hollywood is run by bankers and corporations, affected by lack of imagination and trends.
“Producing serious films that look at the world from broader perspective is difficult, partially because of the lack of funding. That’s why it’s a good thing to have people like [George] Clooney who can get such films made and that’s why we need independent films that do come up with new stories and challenge those trends.
Speaking of independent films, Sarandon believes that the off-Hollywood industry is indeed prospering. “There are more filmmakers coming up to tell their personal stories, and that’s why we need film festivals, to exchange our stories. The internet, DVD and films that go straight to video will change the way movies are seen.
Sarandon and her partner Tim Robbins campaigned extensively for president-elect Obama, and at one point, the longtime democrat vowed to move to Canada or Italy if John McCain is elected. Commenting on Obama s victory, she said that the “charming thing about America is how it’s not afraid to “make such dramatic changes.
“I felt with the election of Obama that we, as individuals, can make a difference. The biggest thing Bush has given us is that things have gotten so bad that everything will change dramatically. I do think that comedy shows hosts like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert will suffer after Bush’s gone. Bush is funny. Obama is not funny. Obama is serious and articulate and wouldn’t be good material for them, she joked.
Returning to film, Sarandon was asked if she expected her Best Actress Oscar for Tim Robbins’ “Dead Man Walking in 1994.
“I didn’t expect anything. No one expected that the film would gross $100 million. I thought we’d be lucky we get the film made. Producers thought that any film with the words ‘Dead Man’ in the title will flop.
“They didn’t want the man [the leading character played by Sean Penn] to get killed, and if he did, they believed that he and my character should have sex before he dies.
Daily News Egypt asked her about her memories of Louis Malle’s best picture nominee “Atlantic City and her experience with American screen legend Burt Lancaster.
“I was just flabbergasted about working with Malle, Lancaster and [Ingmar Bergman DOP] Sven Nykvist, she said.
“Louis Malle was different from American directors and he had the advantage of not coming from a TV background. He belonged to the film auteurs who emerged in the 70s with the likes of [Italian director] Bertolucci and others. I didn’t really understand what he was doing at the time and I learned a lot from him.
“Lancaster was just great, Sarandon said, before a power cut suddenly disrupted the room. “This must be Burt’s ghost, she laughed.
As for her role as UN Goodwill Ambassador and whether she has any political aspirations, Sarandon said; “I don’t think you have to be a Goodwill Ambassadors to help people. I was in Sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-90s when no one was speaking about Africa. The reality is news media don’t care about black poor people.
“And now because [George] Clooney is going Darfur, the media is paying attention. That’s what stars can do: put issues up in the news that usually aren’t.
“The thing with Goodwill Ambassadors is that you attend lots of conferences. I’m not a conference person. I’d rather be in the field than in a conference.
“I don’t have any political aspirations. I think you can accomplish a lot but not being in politics that if you are in it, she added.
One TV reporter attempted to ask her an ostentatious question regarding “western women’s attitudes towards eastern women in the context of Orientalism and Occidentalism. Sarandon’s response wasn’t as flattering as the reporter expected, saying that it was more of a conference title than a question.
“Seriously? You expect me to answer that? C’mon, C’mon.