April 22, 2014

Susan Sarandon: “I don’t feel that confident right now”

Susan Sarandon has had a life changing year. Her loving fans and admirers only feel sympathy for the news that Sarandon and her longtime significant other Tim Robbins parted ways. A conference call with the media caught Sarandon at a particularly down time, but only for physical reasons. Asked if her confidence keeps her looking and feeling great, Sarandon laughed off the compliment.

“I don’t feel that confident right now,” Sarandon said. “There’s something that drives you forward and keeps making you go toward the light but I have my bad days. It’s an odd time right now and a new kind of perspective. I have my days when I don’t feel confident but I think my curiosity outweighs my ego most of the time so I keep moving forward. Right now I completely messed up my foot and it’s on a pillow and I’m hobbling around just imagining me with a walker in a few years because I can’t get around. The crutches were ridiculous and now I’ve got a boot. It slowed me down in the last few days so I’m feeling sorry for myself a little bit.”

A bright spot has been filming an episode of NBC’s series Who Do You Think You Are? The episode airing April 23 will chronicle Sarandon’s search for her grandmother Anita, on national television.

“I had tried to find my grandmother years before and my curiosity outweighed my need for trepidation and privacy because it was a story we all needed to be told and solved, also for my mom’s peace of mind. Even though it wasn’t the most private way to do it, that was the first reason, that it could happen because of their expertise to solve the mystery. Second of all, America is full of so many of these stories and it’s just wonderful to remember that everybody here, unless you’re a native American, came here under some similar circumstance and made their way and learned a language and built a new life. That spirit and that tenacity and that joyfulness is so humbling and important to remember. So I didn’t know how it would turn out or if anybody would be interested but my own family’s curiosity, I discussed it with my mom beforehand and my siblings. So I had a mission.”

Also a well known activist, Sarandon often uses her celebrity to champion causes. That was not the intention with Who Do You Think You Are, but Anita ended up bringing to light an important social issue.

“It’s really wonderful to reflect on how difficult it was and how brave to come here most of the time without even the language and with very few resources. Certainly I think they are people who would have preferred to stay where their family support system was. Very few of them migrated because they were looking for adventure. Most of them were escaping very difficult, bleak times. When I did my Welsh grandfather’s history, I learned that he, at a time in England when there was famine, that a lot of people went to Russia. They would send whole families off with any children 10 or up and leave the little ones behind because they just couldn’t feed them. We have similar migrations happening from South American companies and people escaping political problems or survival, other kinds of survival challenges and come here with, again, so much bravery and so much hope but would rather be back where they started with their roots. It’s a wonderful way to have an appreciation and understanding for that process, both in the past and present.”

As Sarandon found out more and more about Anita, it turned out some of her family’s old preconceptions were dead wrong. “You know how family stories go and as people repeat them and all I had was this impression that she’d been a less than responsible mother and that the children had been taken from her and that’s why they were in foster care and eventually the Catholic charities. The tale I didn’t learn until much, much later was she’d gotten pregnant at 12 and had the first baby at 13 which changed my whole framing of the issue. When we did the show, that’s when we realized her mother had died when she was 10, at 41 having had 10 children and 7 of whom had already died and not at childbirth. So her mother led a very difficult life and died when Anita was 10 which left her with this much older father, an older sister and a younger brother. So there was no one to look after her. Immediately just my sympathy for her was complete.”

Perhaps every family has a story like Sarandon’s somewhere in their lineage. Even from the outside, Anita’s story may inspire others, as it inspires Sarandon herself.

“I think I probably owe some of my survival instincts with a smile to Anita definitely, if it is a genetic thing, not that I’ve been put to the test the way she was but she was so inventive. I love the fact that after so many disappointments and starting out with such difficulty as a kid, to have a baby at 13 and another one right away and have them taken away. To go through such difficult economic times, she was definitely resourceful and I love the fact that she was able after all of that to fall in love head over heels and make a life for 35 years in this little tiny house with her dog and her gardening and never speak bitterly. Any part of her life would have been enough to turn most people into a drug addict, alcoholic, bitter, nasty disposition person but she was just the opposite. I love that about her and I grew very fond of her.”

Find out the whole story of Sarandon’s grandmother Anita on Who Do You Think You Are. Sarandon remains an inspiration to people everywhere both as an actor and as a person. The show provides those fans a little insight into how the movie star stays hopeful and positive in her more difficult times, for herself and society as a whole.

“I definitely felt that anything’s possible if you do it from a place of love and you proceed in a constructive nonbitter way. Her life is a testimonial to that, to events pushing her in a direction but her taking that and finding a way to be joyful because losing two kids. Even if you are a kid yourself, that’s got to be a traumatic experience and having her mom die, trying to find a way to survive economically. There are so many things that could have really made her a bitter person and so I was inspired by her story and I’m inspired by the story of all immigrants whose hearts would rather be back in their native land who separate themselves and come here without language and everything else and try to keep going. I think the times are so difficult economically that it’s very easy to look towards people that are immigrating here and feel defensive and angry when they’re not the cause of our economic problems at all. To remember that the stories of those that came before us here is really eye opening.”

Who Do You Think You Are airs Friday nights on NBC.

SUSAN SARANDON IN “SPEED RACER”

About Fred Topel

Fred Topel has been an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles since 1999, for websites like Daily Radar, About.com, Crave Online and Sci Fi Wire. Follow his celebrity encounters on Twitter @FredTopel.

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