At 65, Susan Sarandon shows no sign of retirement as she moves seamlessly between mainstream Hollywood fare like "The Big Wedding" opposite Robert DeNiro, opening this October, and the ambitious collaboration between the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, "Cloud Atlas," with Tom Hanks slated for next month's Toronto Film Festival. Today, her latest independent film, "Robot & Frank" with Frank Langella, opens theatrically following its Sundance Film Festival premiere. We chatted about the quirky, crowd-pleasing sci-fi comedy centering on a retired thief (Langella) who gets a new burst of life when his adult children get him a care-bot:
Thelma Adams: In "Robot & Frank," you play a librarian, wife, and mother — it's a long way from your breakout roles in "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Atlantic City." What attracted you to the part?
Susan Sarandon: I loved the story. I thought it was really sweet. It was a first-time director named Jake Schreier. I looked at his reel, and he had an infectious passion. So I said, 'Why don't you come back for dinner and bring the writer?' I was in if they can keep the shooting days down. I was already scheduled to do "The Big Wedding."
TA: And how much of the attraction was working opposite Frank Langella?
SS: Langella is an institution of an actor. I'm a big fan. That was one of the pluses. I'd worked with James Marsden in "Enchanted" and knew Liv Tyler very well. I thought it would be painless, and it's a sweet film. There's a turning point when I've seen an audience's reaction to the trailers when they realize it's not just an innocuous story about a guy and his robot. The twist is that Frank is interested in having the robot break-and-enter. It's a bit of a surprise, and there are not many surprising scenarios in films these days.
TA: It also delivers an interesting view of aging: That this lonely senior gets a new lease on life when he can engage in a craft he loves — even if it's illegal.
SS: Definitely. Frank loses his spirit once he's not doing the thing he loves. It makes an argument for staying active, especially in this country where families tend to be fragmented and it can be isolating. When you have nothing to care about, you do age in the most negative way. That's why they say pets extend your life.
TA: I'm guessing you're a pet lover.
SS: I've turned into an old woman with small dogs: a Pomeranian Maltese and a Pomeranian Poodle. They brighten everybody's day. My dog Penny even tweets. Penny's been in a lot of movies. She's featured in a number of scenes. As long as I'm in them, she will behave and sit there. My dogs are more like less discriminating cats. They love to sleep with you and cuddle. Basically, their job is just to love you.
TA: Let's switch gears and talk about your highly anticipated, genre-busting fall movie, "Cloud Atlas." It has three directors: Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski. There's a curiosity factor here, since the latter two used to be known as the Wachowski brothers when they created the "Matrix" series. Now, older brother Laurence has become Lana and has become the first Hollywood director to come out as transgender.
SS: The press will get a chance to talk to Lana for the first time since they're both going to do press for the movie. If you see the trailer, and Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana talk. You can tell they really enjoy each other's company.
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TA: In the movie's trailer, you have a bit of narration where your character says: "Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future."
SS: Yes. Everything thing good and everything bad earns you your next phase of life. It takes place over different time periods, genders, and colors and still connects somehow.
TA: Would you say it's about reincarnation?
SS: I don't know if it's as much about incarnation as karma and limitations of gender, demands of gender. What you do in one life counts to form the future.
TA: Do you connect to that karmic philosophy?
SS: I do believe in connective-ness, whether Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" or "Cloud Atlas." There are people that recur in different lifetimes and genders and different functions. Vonnegut was talking about that way back when. In my life, there certainly seem to be people that you grow to love right off…
TA: As if you've known them, or loved them, in a past life?
SS: I don't even know if you need to explain that….
TA: And, I suppose, as an actor, you live many lives on screen. Recently, the Traverse City Film Festival gave you a Lifetime Achievement Award.
SS: I consider it a Midlife Achievement Award [laughs].
TA: What do you consider your signature role — the one that will stand the test of time?
SS: I suppose "Dead Man Walking" because it has had the most dialogue that has made for change in the world. But I think that any film that is entertaining and encourages you to be the protagonist in your own life and makes for dinner conversation over two nights is a good one.
See the trailer for 'Robot & Frank':
'Robot & Frank' Theatrical Trailer