News / USA

Actress Combines Art and Activism

Susan Sarandon's latest role is helping to feed the world's hungry

Actress Susan Sarandon is nominated as a new FAO Goodwill Ambassador at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)
Actress Susan Sarandon is nominated as a new FAO Goodwill Ambassador at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Nancy Greenleese

Actress Susan Sarandon never has shied away from a challenge. She's played a witch, nun, dying mother, drunken grandmother, a fugitive and even herself on the television show, "The Simpsons."

There's another role that she's taken on for decades and has no plans to give up: activist. The 64-year-old has said that at the root of both acting and activism is imagination. She's able to imagine herself in someone else's shoes - and wants to use her fame to help them.

Early years

Susan Sarandon - the activist - arrived on center stage before the actress. The former Susan Tomalin was studying drama at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. at the start of a turbulent era.

"You know, I just came of age at a time when, if you had any brain at all, the end of 60s, beginning of the 70s, they stopped, we stopped a war. You had sex drugs and rock and roll but you were also in the streets and it made a difference," she says. "There's no one else in my family that has this problem. I'm the only one."

Sarandon grew up the eldest of nine children, sleeping in bunk beds in a crowded but happy house in Edison, New Jersey. Her father was a big band singer before becoming an advertising executive, and was often belting out tunes. She was barred from singing due to a voice that her father deemed terrible. Yet in 1975, in one of her first big roles, Sarandon acted and sang as Janet, a good girl gone bad, in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The movie 'Bull Durham' was a turning point in Susan Sarandon's career, catapulting her into Hollywood's major leagues.
The movie 'Bull Durham' was a turning point in Susan Sarandon's career, catapulting her into Hollywood's major leagues.

Gaining ground

Sarandon kept honing her craft, becoming an art-house favorite. Louis Malle's "Atlantic City" in 1980 earned her an Academy Award nomination. At that point, her marriage to her college sweetheart, Chris Sarandon, had ended but she kept his surname.

In the mid-80s, she had a daughter with an Italian director and was living in Rome. After reading a script that captivated her, she decided to fly to the U.S. at her own expense to fight for the role. Paul Zinder, associate professor of the American University of Rome, says that ended up being the movie that catapulted Sarandon into the major leagues.

"If you're to look at Sarandon's kind of coming out party, it was Bull Durham in 1988," says Zinder.

In the film, Sarandon plays an English teacher and baseball devotee who selects a minor-league player each year to seduce and educate about poetry, baseball and life.

"What was unique about Sarandon's role in that film is that she is, first of all, non-conventional looking for a Hollywood sex goddess, so to speak," says Zinder. "However, her confidence was quite clear to everyone who watched that film and really her comedic gifts as well related directly to her sexual confidence."

Hollywood directors noticed, putting her among the A-list actresses.

Functional fame

Sarandon realized her fame could serve another function.  

"After I became a celebrity, it just seemed to make so much sense to be able to use my celebrity to get press to go somewhere where they weren't going to cover the early days of AIDs, for instance, or sex trafficking."

Actress Susan Sarandon addresses the Plenary following her nomination as FAO Goodwill Ambassador by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)
Actress Susan Sarandon addresses the Plenary following her nomination as FAO Goodwill Ambassador by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)

Sarandon is a passionate advocate for human rights, social justice and programs dedicated to ending poverty and hunger.  A staunch liberal who opposes the death penalty, she saw her art and activism meet in the 1995 film "Dead Man Walking."  She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a nun who counsels a death-row inmate.

This fall, she accepted a new challenge from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Association. Director-General Jacques Diouf invited her to help feed the world's one billion hungry people.

In her UN role, Sarandon has addressed diplomats and aid workers from every corner of the globe. Her knowledge of the issues rivals the experts. Yet she also brings humanity to her mission.

"As a mother, I can't imagine anything more upsetting, demoralizing, frustrating than not being able to feed your child."

Art and activism

The head of the US mission to the UN agencies in Rome - Ambassador Ertharin Cousin - is thrilled to have Sarandon on board, knowing she'll help put hunger in the headlines.

"The biggest challenge we have today is not the work that we're doing but maintaining the public will to continue that work. So having someone with her fame who is willing to lend that fame not just for her own benefit but for those hungry people around the world, we are delighted and very excited about this opportunity," says Cousin. "But what was so exciting for me was that underneath all of those characters that I've so enjoyed watching in the movies is a real person who cares."

Sarandon shows no signs of slowing down with her art or activism. She still gets acting work - probably due to her willingness to embrace her age and return to her roots in independent films and television. It's the 1960s rebel in her, always seeking meaning in her life and work.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid