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Speed Racer - Susan Sarandon interview

Susan Sarandon in Speed Racer

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SUSAN Sarandon talks about the appeal of Speed Racer, the advances in science fiction and whether she finds it difficult to find good roles as she gets older in Hollywood…

Q. What was the appeal of Speed Racer?
Susan Sarandon: The Matrix was just such a huge, huge film in my family, so I thought my kids would think I was really cool if I did this movie. And then they did!

Q. What were the ups and downs of working with so much green screen?
Susan Sarandon: I was surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But then I started thinking that when you do a regular movie you’re pretending that things that are there, are not there. So, when you’re doing green screen it’s almost a relief because all you have to do is imagine things are there. Imagine doing a love scene with 20 people in the room and a camera… if you’re trained after so many years to pretend that’s not happening, it’s easier when you get to a green screen and you just have to imagine following a little tennis ball at the end of a stick. But they [the Wachowski’s] were very generous; they showed us what we were seeing and planted all those images in our heads so we weren’t all completely going in different directions. They always could tell us ahead of time what should be there.

Q. Was the finished movie anything like you’d been expecting?
Susan Sarandon: I never read directions in scripts. So, there was an awful lot of stuff in this film that I just couldn’t bear to read because it was just directions, directions, directions… So when they called me and explained what they were going to try to do I just said: “I don’t understand a thing you’re talking about.” [Laughs] So, you just have to kind of surrender. I think it was an exercise in surrender and if you liken it to a drug trip, it just kind of kicked in when we finally saw the film. But I don’t think anybody can imagine what’s going on in their brains because they’re just so extraordinary and their vision is so extraordinary. So I guess the trick of it is that if you want to do a regular movie, then you work for regular people. But if you’re going to join this you have to surrender to their whatever.

Q. Your first science fiction movie was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. How have things changed since then?
Susan Sarandon: Well, that cost $1 million and was done on a set that had no roof because we were shooting way outside of London. It came from a theatre production that had already been done and done and done. I got involved because I knew somebody in the theatre thing. But this is re-inventing a whole new language. There were so many stages going at once and so many different people… the organisational thing in itself was huge. It was a monstrous thing just to accomplish and pull off. The Rocky Horror Show also had a few things that had never been done before maybe on film… certainly in New York it had been done in the street but I don’t think anyone had filmed it [laughs]. But it was a little tiny mom and pop kind of thing compared to the massive undertaking and originality of what was trying to be done with Speed Racer.

Q. How was working with Roger Allam, who plays yet another great British baddie in this?
Susan Sarandon: There aren’t that many American movie stars who can say that many words so quickly. It’s a theatre thing. If Roger hadn’t been on top of it, we’d have been there for at least another two months because what he had to do was so amazing. He hit it every single time and he would get very specific notes and the chimp was also a bit of a challenge at times. You might find the same ability in an American theatre actor, but if you look at American films we’re verbally challenged.

Q. A lot of female actresses who have reached 40 or 50 complain that there aren’t so many roles for them anymore. Do you agree?
Susan Sarandon: I think that there aren’t that many good roles for men, either. But there are more leading roles and there’s more money for men. So that hasn’t changed. But I think now what’s happening is that women have become more pro-active in developing their own projects and I can’t complain. I’ve certainly ended up doing a lot more supporting parts but, for me, as long as they’re interesting and important in the context of the form then I don’t mind doing them at all. I think the movie industry suffers from a lack of interesting parts for everybody because they aren’t very brave in developing things. They want to make sure they do the same things over and over, so anything that’s outside the box has a hard time getting money. So, I can’t say that the guys have such a great choice either.

Read our review of Speed Racer