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AARP The Magazine

Susan Sarandon Is the Real Deal

The Oscar winner and Movies for Grownups Lifetime Achievement Award honoree refuses to fake it

Susan Sarandon in JOE, MFG Lifetime Achievement Award

Sarandon made her film debut in in "Joe" (1970). — Everett Collection

Her marriage during her senior year to graduate acting student Chris Sarandon was less a choice than a necessity, as the pair wanted to live together and Catholic University didn't allow male-female cohabitation.

"Though it was a marriage and I took his name," Sarandon explains, "I never approached it like this is for the rest of our lives. We said, 'Every year we'll visit it and see if we want to renew.' " Eventually, the couple settled in New York, where Sarandon landed her first film role, in Joe (1970), followed by The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Pretty Baby (1978).

She also got increasingly involved in social causes. "I didn't see myself as a flamethrower or a convention breaker," Sarandon reflects. "I felt as if I was just Zelig in that I was a baby boomer, and I held on to some of the things that were going on then that some people lost as they became landed gentry. I certainly wasn't more moral. I tried to do what my core said was right for me."

Still, despite her work in front of movie cameras, Sarandon was reluctant to thrust herself on a political stage and speak publicly. She recalls a gathering for the Equal Rights Amendment in New York in 1981, with feminist luminaries such as Marlo Thomas and Bella Abzug. "There were TV cameras, and I said, 'I can't do this — I don't have anything to say.' And Marlo said to me, 'It doesn't matter what you say. The important thing is that it gets on the news.' " So Sarandon walked up to the microphones and simply declared her support for the ERA.

Meanwhile, her acting career took flight. Sarandon's role in Atlantic City (1980) earned her the first of five Oscar nominations for Best Actress. By then, she and Chris Sarandon had divorced. ("He wasn't a mean person. It was about my choosing myself.") She then had a tumultuous two-year relationship with director Louis Malle. "And I crashed and burned," she says.

In a back room at SPiN, Sarandon holds up her right hand and points to a delicate bracelet made up of the letters A-N-D-A-N-D inked around her wrist. The letters, she says, stand for "A new day, a new dawn." Though she got the tattoo just a few years ago, she reveals that it hearkens back to that emotionally draining journey in her 30s. After that, "I completely rebooted everything," she says. "I think a lot of people at some point leave behind their conditioning and examine fundamental myths they've been taught."

Sarandon next moved to a small town outside Rome with her then-boyfriend, the Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri, and their daughter, Eva Amurri Martino, now 28. While there, in 1987, Sarandon paid her own way to fly back to the U.S. to audition for — and land — the role of Annie Savoy in Bull Durham. "It was the first time that I had a part that was bigger than I was," she says.

The hit movie established her sultry screen image to this day. " 'Sexy' is the word that comes up when you think of Susan Sarandon," says Mark Harris, columnist for Entertainment Weekly and author of two books about film history. "Even when she was young, her sexuality seemed mature. There's a self-confidence to her. She knows who her characters are, and her characters know who they are."

Next page: Becoming "hot" in Hollywood. »

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