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
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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs