Actress and activist Susan Sarandon tells Jessica O’Sullivan why
kindness and authenticity is part of her #NoFilter approach to life.
I t’s Christmas 2015 and Susan Sarandon is standing on “What happened was that I just saw Trump going on and
a beach in Lesbos, Greece. Wearing a warm padded on and on, from this place of fear and racism and all these
jacket, a scarf holding back her famous red curls, a people getting worked up, and I just thought this can’t be the
photographer friend snaps pictures of the Hollywood only conversation about these people.”
star welcoming exhausted refugees onto dry land out of the Quite simply, Sarandon knew her profile would put a
boats in which they just made a perilous journey from their human face on people who were becoming increasingly
war-torn homeland of Syria. more dehumanised. But it’s hard to imagine someone of her
A cynic might roll their eyes at yet another celebrity legendary status making a trip like this with such little fuss.
humanitarian, but what is unique about Sarandon’s effort After all, our interview is taking place at the famous
was the modesty of her actions. Travelling without an Martinez Hotel at the Cannes Film Festival, one of the most
entourage or without an affiliation to any particular charity glamorous events on the film industry calendar. Sarandon
or cause, she was there because four days earlier she had is in attendance as a spokesmodel for L’Oréal Paris, a
been sitting at home, listening to Donald Trump drum up relationship that began earlier this year. At the age of 69, for
fear amongst the American people. Watching the pictures L’Oréal Sarandon is a celebration of a beautiful older woman
with something to say. Women like Sarandon are important
in a culture that is becoming increasingly filtered.
of the Syrian refugee crisis unfold on her television, she felt
HEARTcompelled to act immediately, and she did.
Amongst the well-orchestrated symphony “THE MORE VISIBLE YOU BEOME,
of publicists, PAs, PRs, security, glam squads, THE MORE CRITICISM YOU GET IN
photographers and fans in Cannes, I wonder
aloud how she made it to Lesbos alone.
“Well, I called up a friend and said, ‘I want to A LOUDER WAY AND THE MORE
go on my own, so I have some flexibility. I don’t EXPECTATIONS ARE ON YOU”
want to go under anybody’s auspices but I have
no idea where to go.’ He put me in touch with a
photographer Tyson Sadler that just came back
from there. He said, ‘If you wait four days I’ll lives right by me. I can see that she is focused on her life and she’ll
meet you there.’ He knew where everything was and also could be one of those people who will work and work and work. She is
help me post because I am completely stupid when it comes to going to get accolades for her entire life, but she’ll know, because
the internet. So we could go out all day, wherever the boats were she already understands that difference.”
coming in, go north, go south, go to the camps and then at night I
would write stories about the people I had seen, and he would help As I watch her move with ease up the red carpet later on that
me post it.” evening, I see other A-listers momentarily forget about the bank
of cameras when they see her, immediately manoeuvring towards
That’s it. No months of planning. No carefully crafted PR her to receive a close hug, a few warm words or a head-back,
message. No staged photos, or even the comforts of home. throaty laugh. Everything she does, even her outspokeness, comes
Sarandon has been embracing the you-only-live-once approach to from a place of authenticity and people seem to naturally gravitate
life long before it became an internet meme, and the truth of what towards her because of it.
she was seeing in Lesbos was never filtered.
“Well, life is short isn’t it?” She says of her frank approach.
Over the years Sarandon has gained both reputation and respect “I mean, at the end of the day I think it’s always easier to makes
for her candid views both from her peers and the public. She mistakes and apologise. The things you regret are the things you
also embraces the idea of female mentorship, actively cultivating don’t do so I think that’s where the [idea of] no filter comes in.
relationships with young women who she feels understand how You want to be authentic and kind. Those are the two guiding
the world works. principles, and so in order to be authentic I think you can’t be
influenced by what people think.”
“Saoirse Ronan, one of your own, who I’m close to and now
Choosing to tell the unwavering truth, warts and all, about which doesn’t sit comfortably with Sarandon, who enjoys other
the society in which we live can ruffle a few feathers and awaken people and their stories.
detractors. But Sarandon says the personal criticism is worth the
cost, if it effects change. “I love talking to people that I meet, that I’m important to for
whatever reason. That might seem somewhat artificial, but I don’t
“Sometimes it’s painful when everyone turns against you and it mind. I don’t find that a burden at all. But what’s interesting is that
backfires, but I think it’s worth taking the chance and that your now when I enter a room…everybody picks up their phone and
job is just to grow as much as you can towards being authentic. starts saying that I’m there.”
And you know when something’s off, you know when you’re not
being true to who you are, neither morally nor aesthetically.” After 50 years in the business, the fact that people today seem
more interested in their phones now makes her more self-conscious
While Sarandon admits that who she is – real and unfiltered – is than if they were to stop and stare.
an inborn trait, maintaining it throughout her career has been a
struggle as external pressures grew along with her public profile. “I don’t necessarily think I deserve it more than someone else.
When you go to a place where that doesn’t happen, you’re still
“I think I felt it innately, but I think that the challenges actually affected by it because now you’re noticing it. It’s something that
become harder and harder. Nobody cared what I said or did when you take for granted and you’re noticing that it’s not there.”
I was younger. So it was just up to me to be true to myself. The
more visible you become, the more criticism you get in a louder However, Sarandon says that being ‘activated’ as she puts it, and
way, and the more expectations are on you. And that weighs in helping others to find that switch, is her way of coping
too, when you become so self-conscious because you’re a public with the demands of fame and of staying true to herself.
“It’s the only way you can survive it. The young women that I
Though Sarandon concedes that social media and the internet know now, like Shailene Woodley, the young gals that have been
has been a fantastic way for people like her to get a message out activated, that are in the business...They really know their stuff and
there (albeit with a little help), she admits that she feels it’s causing they’re out there doing things that are motivated by that same thing.
a very real disconnect.
“I think you have to in order to survive this process. I think that
“I think the whole culture with selfies and all of this business has it’s the only way that you do. It’s not by withdrawing, I think it’s
made us more and more self-conscious and less and less attached by understanding that... that you now have a light that you can
to our tribe.” turn on, information that people aren’t getting to give to make
refugees less of a concept and to give them a humanity. Then
Feeling disconnected in person, even from her fans, is something you’re using it.”