Interview Susan Sarandon

The story of a young man, Oscar, who after the brutal death of his parents, makes a promise to his sister never to leave her, no matter what, but is killed at the hands of corrupt police.

Susan Sarandon appears in the Wachowski brothers’ big-budget, highly colourful and completely bonkers Speed Racer, in which she plays the eponymous hero’s understanding mum. She took it on because the Wachowkis – who became millionaires, and recluses, after scoring with The Matrix and its bloated sequels – were plainly filmmakers who danced to their own beat.  

Q: The movie that is very true to its origins, the 1960s Japanese cartoon, this is a very cartoon-ish, but your role is a little more centred, being a mum. Was it easy to find the right tone here?

A:Well, I think you have to kinda surrender to those guys, because it’s such a massive undertaking that the Wachowskis have created, this world. And I knew it was going to be my job to carry the emotional core of the film. But, you know, we didn’t know, if we’d be able to stand up to the energy, and the colour, and the chaos, and everything else, and I think it’s a testament to their courage that they have all this going on and then they stop it. Somebody has a little moment with Emile, and then they go again, and I have a little moment with Emile, and then Emile has a moment with Sparky. Because that’s not really what people do with films that are being sold as big blockbuster action films, they just don’t have that sentiment and sweetness, right back in the middle of something like that. So, I think that makes it very special, and very unusual, and for the Wachowskis, they’re very big on families, so, when they were seducing me to do it, that was something that they talked about.

Q:The movie reflects filmmakers who are perfectionists, not quite Kubrick perhaps, but the brothers do seem to have quite a strong vision for their movies?

A:Oh, it’s pretty planned out. I wouldn’t have called it a loose ship. You’re not improvising, or even… At one point, Larry said that they just don’t do variations. You know what’s expected of you, and they figure it all out. Once I saw it for the first time, what struck me was how massive an undertaking it all was, because I was dealing with such a small part of it. And we had so many stages going at once. And if somebody was stuck in the gimble – the little driving machine – sometimes we’d go over and keep them company. We’d have some downtime on our set, and the Vikings would be walking around, and the girls in their leather bikinis would be walking around. So, you had this sense of their being this whole world that you didn’t know about, but, how big it was, and how complicated it was to get some of the shots, and how many artists were working on it, it was quite an organisational feat. So, it wasn’t really like… We had fun – they’re very playful, the Wachowskis, and they really laugh a lot, and they’re very funny – but I wouldn’t say it’s loose [laughs]. When you have to do your job, they’re pretty clear. Even the chimp had to get in line.

Q:Given you are one of cinemas most celebrated actresses, and you’ve been nominated for five Oscars now – winning for ‘Dead Man Walking’, its hard to see a pattern in your choice of movies.  Because you’re so busy, do you think about your work as a whole when selecting a role/film?

A:No, I think that’s really bad. To think that you could make a plan of any kind, you’re really putting your… I think you have to go from where your heart is. If you connect to something – the next two films I’m going to do are low-budget films, very different, two brand new directors, who feel very passionate about their projects. One of them is with Pierce Brosnan, one of them is with Cillian Murphy. The one with Cillian is a very strange, kind of disturbing film, and the one with Pierce is a family, disturbing film [laughs]. So, you know, they’re very different than the comedies, and I think I’m very lucky to be able to be flexible enough. I think of myself as a character actor, and so, I’ve been able to build – and I’ve advised my daughter to do the same thing – if you think of yourself as a character actor, the base for your career is very broad. And so I think it helps the longevity aspect of it, because no one wants to see an ingenue getting old, you know. So, I started out as a character actor, and I maybe don’t get paid as much as I would have if I’d gone the personality route, but for me, I think it’s interesting.

Q:In his preparation for Mr. Woodcock, Billy Bob Thornton decided to deck his trailer out completely with picture of your fine self, going back over the decades..
A:I don’t think it was his preparation. I think he was trying to make me laugh. When I went in to meet him, his entire trailer was plastered with pictures of me that I hadn’t even seen. From high school and everything, it was so weird. He’s a really funny guy…

Words : Paul Byrne

Speed Racer opens in Irish cinemas this Friday!