Robot & Frank: A Conversation With Susan Sarandon

Susan Sarandon may be into playing a lot of wives lately in her movies, like Robot & Frank, and Arbitrage. But there seemed to be something more on her mind today, than just inhabiting conflicted spouses. Though other topics really got Sarandon into candid conversation. Like stubborn old school ways that just won’t quit regarding all those new technologies. And, whatever you do, don’t reboot Thelma And Louise.

Robot & Frank is a movie about a complicated marriage. So have your own feelings about not believing in marriage, changed at all?

SUSAN SARANDON: No, I believe in marriage. I just never have really liked the idea of institutionalized religion. But I think if it means something, I think it’s great. And I think marriage is a great party.

But for me, I had my first child out of wedlock. Because I had married when I was twenty for a brief period of time, so as not to get kicked out of school!

But I wasn’t married to any of the guys I had children with. And that at the time, was like a major, major thing. Now it’s not such a big deal. So I think that has changed.

Have your own experiences taught you anything about how hard relationships can be?

SS: I think the trap of a long term relationship, is taking each other for granted. And some people, when they seal the deal, they kind of stop trying.

You know, they’ve done it. They’ve caught the person! They’ve found the person, and they’ve made the contract. But sometimes after awhile, you just want to change it up. And reboot!

And sometimes people want a marriage to reboot you and say, alright. We’ve been together for nineteen years.

But it takes so much work to be in a relationship for a long time. I mean, I’ve always been in committed relationships a long period of time.

You’re coming out in these two movies now where you’re a wife to two really difficult men – Frank Langella in Robot And Frank, and Richard Gere in Arbitrage. So what did you bring from your experiences in real life to play these two women?

SS: I think what would make relationships work, is that every five years you get a chance to know you’re gonna recommit. That’s how I did my first marriage.

Because then you wouldn’t take it for granted. You know you have your five years coming up, and you have to make decisions now.

And then if somebody says this isn’t working, or I don’t want what you want in the next stage, then it’s not so personal. What happens is, nobody talks about those things.

Like who is gonna take out the garbage. Whose money are you gonna have. Are you gonna help, or am I just doing it by myself. Who gives up their career.

You know, nobody goes into that. Because it’s a very…hormonally fueled kind of experience! And so these things start to come up. It’s just always a negotiation of some kind.

And so if you can deal with it realistically, and be honest about it. I mean, if you’ve been with somebody for twenty-five years, really you’re gonna spend twenty-five years with that person?

Some kinda something’s gonna come up at some point. How do you deal with that, you know? I mean, it’s all very black and white when you’ve never been tempted and you’re twenty-two. Seriously.

I mean marriage, my daughter just got married, and she loves being married. He’s a great guy, and they have what seems to be a really good shot.

You know, they want the same things. But no matter how long you know somebody, whatever, it’s to stay with somebody, and figure out how that works.

And there’s no right or wrong way. So that’s what I think. And everybody gets to certain tough things, which are usually symptomatic of a bigger problem. Not really the issue at hand.

And you either have a really good person who helps you, and you really talk to each other about what’s going on, so you don’t start acting out. Or you don’t.

And then those things pile up and pile up. And then you get in trouble. But I think there are very different kinds of marriages.

Well, how would you compare these two wives you play?

SS: Certainly both these women were patient while the guy did whatever he was doing. And with Richard Gere, I don’t think she really minded that much. Because she’s got a very full life.

But I worked very hard with Arbitrage. You know, to make sure she wasn’t someone who was just sitting at home and doing her nails!

And the only thing that makes that marriage fall apart, is that he steps over the line. And robs their daughter of her heart. So that for me, was really important to understand.

Robot And Frank is very much about humans in increasingly complicated relationships with technology too, as we see with the robot. What is your own relationship to devices?

SS: I’m a Luddite, pretty much! I text in self-defense!

Wow. How come?

SS: Because my kids just no longer answered! So I had to start texting. And they were so mean! I had to push everything twice to get letters.

And they wouldn’t explain anything to me! Because they just loved the fact that I didn’t know how to erase anything. I had to learn like a monkey! And they would laugh their asses off!

And what else…I like real books. I like to touch books. I like pages turned down. And I like to get books for my kids that they read, and I reread.

Like all the Vonnegut, and things underlined. And stars in the margins! And then give them to people. I give a lot of books as presents.

And I don’t know how you do that, can you even give someone a book in a kindle? I don’t know. It’s not the same.

How about Facebook?

SS: I’m on Facebook and tweeting and things, but…it’s not me!


SS: For a number of years, people have been impersonating me. And I guess doing a much better job than I would!

But god knows what they’re saying! I don’t look, I don’t go online. I don’t want to know what people are saying on blogs.

How do you feel about tabloid obsessions with stars?

SS: I don’t want to see chatter about me. It just completely terrifies me. And people saying mean things about me when they don’t even know me.

So I would rather not know. I’m not that thick skinned.

What about people who attack you politically?

SS: In some of the more life threatening situations that I’ve been in, when you see that much emotion either way about you when people don’t know you, it’s so personal to me. And that it’s really a scary thing.

So I just don’t read anything. I don’t go online and look. Or Google myself. You can Google yourself, right? No, I don’t Google myself, or any of that stuff. I’d rather just stay in my own little reality.

What’s with those Facebook pages about you?

SS: They say they’re me. I found out through Jay Leno! I was on Leno’s show. I said, what do you mean I’m on Facebook?

And he said, let me show you. And he showed me, which wasn’t me! And then on Twitter, there had been two people who were me for a few years.

So they’re just frauds. But probably better than I am at being me! I don’t know.

Susan, one of the great American classics you’re associated with, is Thelma & Louise. What has that film meant to you, and does it mean something different to you today?

SS: When we made Thelma & Louise, it seemed like a great fun summer. Being an outlaw! And I loved Geena, and I knew Ridley knew what he was doing.

And at that point my kids were little, and so I mostly worked during the summer. So it fit perfectly into that. But I didn’t understand what a major upset it would be, no.

How about coming up against that brash young bad boy in the movie, that unknown actor, Brad Pitt?

SS: I didn’t understand that we were backing into this territory held by…white heterosexual males! But that it would be such a big deal, you know? I didn’t foresee that.

But it’s funny, because some of the fan mail I’ve gotten has been like, I saw The Rocky Horror Show and I got active. And then when I saw Thelma & Louise, I left my town!

So something about those two films, people seem to link together. So it seemed like the perfect, the idea of not settling.

And you know, don’t dream it, be it. I think those are pretty linked. So I’m proud to have been part of them. And Ridley put us in that heroic kind of setting. So we owe it to him, definitely.

How about Lindsay Lohan talking about starring in a Thelma & Louise do-over?

SS: The idea of a remake to me is hilarious. Without Ridley, I don’t know how you would do that. Really. I mean, we’re probably replaceable! But I don’t think he is.

Are you still active politically?

SS: Yeah. And when they hear that you work cheaply, they find you for documentaries! But I have certain things that are very close to my heart.

I tend to take on the ones that are less traveled. because there are a lot of people doing the bigger ones. But yeah, I’m still very active.

Which ones are important to you?

SS: Let’s see… Habitat For Humanity. And a lot of the food banks in NY. One very dear to my heart is the sex trafficking in Cambodia.

And I have a friend who is a child soldier in Uganda, and I try to keep his school alive. Um, what else. The Center For Constitutional Rights, I’ve been working with for thirty some years.

Most of these I’ve had relationships for a very long time. And I went to Cambodia recently with my daughter, and stuff there.

But anything that has to do, you know, on a more one to one basis, dealing with kids’ education. And anything in NY that has to do with hunger, housing, gay youth.

And the Southern Poverty Law Center, I’ve been with them for a long time. And most of the conservation groups.

And I love what Bette Midler’s been doing. I try to help her whenever I can. But I feel that she does a better job, because she focuses on thing.

And also the AIDS organizations for a long time, took a lot of my time. But that’s kind of died down a little. And I’m a UN Ambassador. So those trips also. And I went to Haiti. I don’t know, I’m all over the place!

Weren’t you also involved in the Civil Rights Movement?

SS: Well, I went to school in DC, the Catholic University. So without even wanting to, I was in the middle of everything.

Getting back to that robot, would you want your own personal robot in real life?

SS: I think a lot of older people are using their TV’s as robots! They’re on all day keeping them company, and they’re not even doing the dishes. And they have a relationship with their TV’s that completely soothes them.

But maybe my mom could use a robot, if she would not be freaked out by it! She’s in assisted living and has some physical issue. So maybe my mom might be freaked out by a robot, but maybe by the time I need a robot, I won’t be.

But I’d take a robot, if it would do the dishes! And cook gourmet meals, and clean my toilet. That would be fabulous. As long as it washed its little hooks in between cleaning and cooking!

So I don’t see anything wrong with that. But machines just break when they’re around me.

So probably I’m not a good candidate. I can’t even wear a watch. It stops! So are you into marriage?

I don’t know…

SS: That’s a no!

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.