Dead Man Walking
courtesy everett collection
This September, Sarandon appears in the highly anticipated Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps from Twentieth Century Fox, the very timely yet cautionary sequel to the 1987 Academy Award-winning hit Wall Street. Michael Douglas reprises his role as the “greed is good” financier turned parolee Gordon Gekko. The drama revolves around a reformed Gekko, who attempts to advise Wall Street before the stock market crash as he also repairs his relationship with his daughter and avenges the death of a colleague. Sarandon plays Sylvia Moore, a nurse who gets caught in the real estate crunch and has to borrow money from her son, a young hedge-fund trader played by Shia LeBeouf (who just happens to be the fiancé of Gekko’s daughter, played by Carey Mulligan) in order to keep her house. Her character’s predicament is indeed a sign of the times.

While Sarandon has never been very interested in trading and playing the stock market (“any money I have is very boringly invested”) she feels the global economic downturn is “an opportunity for people to reevaluate what is important in terms of consuming, how we spend our time, and our priorities. It is a time to be real and to lead more authentic lives. We need to find joy in ways that are not dependent on finances,” she notes.

Although her résumé is dotted with every genre of film — comedy, thriller, and drama (she has even lent her voice to children’s cartoons), the candid actress is stumped when asked to pinpoint a role that is the closest to her persona. “I think that actors infuse their choices with some piece of irony, intellect, and sense of humor when they take on the skin of someone else. There are certain roles that were empowering, and certain parts very difficult that needed me to completely surrender vanity and control in order for them to work. I guess that is the fun of it, as you get away from who you are.”

Peacock
courtesy everett collection
The former model’s foray into acting came quite by accident when she accompanied then-husband and actor Chris Sarandon to a casting call for the 1970 film Joe, which was about the death of the hippie daughter of a business executive. She was cast in the role, and her husband was passed over. Since this time, many of her film characters have not lived to see the ending credits. “I would like to stop dying in films,” the New York native notes. “Love stories instead of dying would be good! Movie choices — much like your life — are all about framing, how you see and live life, how you take what is dealt, and how you choose to see the bigger picture. People that are having the most fun and are the most resilient are the ones who have learned to frame their lives — and what comes into their lives — in a joyous, curious, open, and unafraid way,” she explains. Her film choices have led to an Oscar for her role as Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking, as well as four other Best Actress nominations.

And fear is certainly not a word associated with Sarandon. An ardent activist, she has championed the rights of the sick and needy, promoted women’s issues, and devoted her talents to helping those with HIV/AIDS worldwide, with several of her principled protests leading to arrests. As a child of the 1960s, Sarandon saw activism take root in her early when she came of age during the civil rights movement and the era of the Vietnam War. She has been fortunate to use her fame for the public good, and her causes are as varied as her film roles.

During her empty-nester stage, Sarandon plans to travel and work as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and Heifer International, an organization that donates a farm animal to families in need. Her travels have already taken her to Tanzania and India, where she “saw how difficult it is to lift you up from poverty when you’re struggling just to feed yourself. Heifer International gives people a dairy cow that helps them feed themselves and to earn a little income. Then, they become responsible for helping lift up a neighbor through ‘passing on the gift’ of animal offspring. It’s the best possible solution to the problem of hunger,” she explains.