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Monday, May 2, 2016

Chatting with Susan Sarandon about The Meddler

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2016 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini - JAIMIE TRUEBLOOD, COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
  • Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
  • Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini
Susan Sarandon is not a lesbian vampire. Or Thelma’s best friend. Nor is she an aspiring casino worker in a decaying resort town. She’s not a cello playing witch, a caring drug dealer with a beehive hairdo or a minor league baseball fanatic with a fondness for Edith Piaf and Walt Whitman. But when you walk into the room she’s in, answering the final question from another reporter, you'll find it difficult to separate the woman from the iconic film roles that stay, even years after seeing them, in the mind. It’s like watching a series of phantoms suddenly merge into someone real, and yet still unreachable, like someone out of place from their high and distant movie screen.

In summoning up a mythic, universal mother, Sarandon has a profound effect on the limbic system where our inner constellations of emotion burn and flare. Each one of her roles contains some variation on this theme. From film to film, she projects a maternal embrace, the kind that wraps itself around all your flaws and forgives them. That’s why she won an Oscar for playing a nun who provides absolution for an unrepentant killer. And that’s why at this point in her career she chose to play Marnie, the main character in her new film The Meddler.

Marnie is disoriented by her newfound widow’s grief. Her coping skills consist of avoiding the pain by trespassing on her unmarried daughter’s boundaries. Sarandon herself is newly single, and although that’s not an exact equivalent, her current relationship status certainly informed her character’s state of mind. She readily admits that, “I like being in a relationship. It has been a huge challenge for me, because I'm very good at loving someone, and I love thinking of little things to make your day go better.” That her onscreen daughter (and the screenwriter) considers Marnie’s similar behavior also "meddling" makes one pause.

click to enlarge Left to right: Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini and Rose Byrne as Lori Minervini - JAIMIE TRUEBLOOD, COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
  • Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
  • Left to right: Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini and Rose Byrne as Lori Minervini

Sarandon became a mother relatively late and was told that she couldn’t have children. She confided in me casually, the way one confides in a stranger. “It didn't really bother me, because I'm the oldest of nine. I never felt I had to have children to be fulfilled.” Now as an attentive mother of three and a recent grandmother, she has undergone a shift. “In that void that's been caused by not being with somebody, I have come to the conclusion that I have developed a certain habit of enjoying doing things for other people, but I've had to find joy in doing things on my own.”

In 1985 when she was pregnant with her first child, Sarandon starred in Compromising Positions, an all but forgotten odd little celluloid gem. The critic Pauline Kael intuitively zeroed in on what makes it great: “It's fun to have a movie about a woman whose curiosity is her salvation.” Not a man or a marriage: the usual tropes set in store for a Hollywood woman. Watching it now, 30 years later, we glimpse inside a time capsule. An era when women were often forced to choose between their domestic duties as wives and mothers and a private identity that could separate from the life of the home (For more on this subject, the novelist Laurie Colwin also expertly illustrates the blurring of those two realms during the late 1970s and early 1980s).

click to enlarge Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini - JAIMIE TRUEBLOOD, COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
  • Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
  • Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini
When The Meddler begins, Marnie has been afraid of confronting the reality of her husband’s death. She chose domesticity early in life. But the movie slyly observes the gradual shedding of her fears and incuriosity about this changed world. In a pivotal scene that will not be spoiled here, Sarandon beautifully reveals the inner life of her character. She notes, “It just brings up all her need to connect again.”

How does she get to that place? When the movie ends but the audience carries her performance home with them. Sarandon explained her process like this: “For me, acting is like loving. When I'm working best, I feel my heart really open, I mean physically. That's why it's so hard to get something interesting if you're hating the person you're with, or if you've been bullied, because then you go to anger and everything closes.” In The Meddler, the California sunshine is washed out with grief. It’s Sarandon and her actor’s craft that makes the film shine as brightly as it does.

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