Seventeen years ago, actress and political activist Susan Sarandon went to Rome and experienced a miracle. Arriving to film Mussolini & I, she was already a star from her performances in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pretty Baby, and Atlantic City. Born and raised in New Jersey, she started life as Susan Abigail Tomalin. Yet in Rome she was reborn, falling in love not only with the city, but also a Roman, who fathered her first child. "I just fell in love with the light and the people and the food," she remembers of her first visit. "The fact that there's so much history . It's reassuring that when you have evidence of the past, it somehow makes you feel there could be a future." She returned to the U.S. and broke through the Hollywood actresses' normally dreaded age-40 barrier with a series of strong, sexy roles, including The Witches of Eastwick, Bull Durham, and Thelma & Louise. Then she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Dead Man Walking. This month, Sarandon's back as the voice of Ivy, a wise dog who provides guidance to a confused beagle puppy tapped for spy duty in Cats & Dogs, a family comedy combining live-action puppetry and computer imagery. Though Sarandon now lives in New York with actor Tim Robbins, their two sons, and her first child, daughter Eva Amurri will always remain, at heart, a citizen of Rome. Here's a weekend with Susan Sarandon in the Eternal City.
"The De La Ville Inter-Continental hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. It's smaller, which I love. It's actually where I got pregnant, which was like a miracle for me. It's one of those hotels that have little tiny balconies. If you're in the front, you overlook the whole city, and if you're in the back, you overlook one of those strange, magi- cal little views of everybody's laundry hanging out. I stayed in the room where Lennie Bernstein had stayed. There was this amazing light and the birds were all singing. It's just idyllic."