For her new film Blackbird, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, Susan Sarandon experienced a major case of déjà vu.
In the moving drama, the Oscar winner plays Lily, a terminally-ill matriarch who reunites three generations of her family at their country house to inform them of a devastating surprise: she’s decided to end her life via euthanasia.
The actress, 72, has faced mortality on screen numerous times, notably in the classic tearjerker Stepmom. In the 1998 film, Sarandon starred as a mother diagnosed with terminal lymphoma who’s forced to reconcile with her ex-husband’s new partner (Julia Roberts).
“At this point I’m only offered films where I’m dying or helping someone die, or have a disease,” Sarandon joked to PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly in Toronto when asked about the similarities between the two films.
“There’s a number of other films actually where I’m in similar situations, so I have a lot of ways of looking at it,” she continued. “I think that one of the reasons I wanted to do it — we should try and remember all the time that death is around the corner because we don’t want to deal with that. I think it’s a really helpful reminder.”
Sarandon is game to grapple with her own mortality, but there’s a limit to how far she can go.
“I can’t go go there in terms of my kids — I can’t think of them dying,” she said. “That would be too much. Stepmom was about the gift of having to deal with that but with the complications of small children and what mortality does to your ability to forgive and heal. But they’re all different. Everyone faces challenges in a different way.”
Directed by Notting Hill‘s Roger Michell, Blackbird also stars Sam Neill and Rainn Wilson.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs through to Sept. 15.